July 12, 2013

Skiers' devotion giving Rumford resort new life

Bangor Savings Bank announces a major contribution to go with $75,000 that already has been raised.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

RUMFORD — When the Maine Winter Sports Center announced two weeks ago that it plans to close the Black Mountain of Maine ski area, Elizabeth Adley was knocked for a loop.

click image to enlarge

A snowboarder walks up the main access road to Black Mountain in Rumford in January.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Adley, 17, skis Alpine and cross country for Mountain Valley High School. She has been skiing at Black Mountain since she was 4.

"We don't really miss a day of skiing," Adley said.

"Yeah," said her friend, Adelle Oswald, 16. "It's like my whole winter. We're here every weekend."

With a significant loss already projected for the coming winter, the sports center announced the closure soon after Rumford voters decided to eliminate town funding for Black Mountain. But support for the ski area has only grown since the announcement.

Adley and Oswald were among about four dozen supporters who gathered in Black Mountain's post-and-beam lodge Thursday morning to hear about a plan to save the community ski area.

An executive from Bangor Savings Bank announced a major contribution to go with $75,000 that already has been raised.

"We will match, dollar for dollar, every single dollar raised over the next month, up to $25,000," said Yellow Light Breen, executive vice president of the bank. "We've learned over time in Maine that when you do the right thing, for the right reasons, somehow, some way, the community pays you back."

Noted for its legion of friendly and dedicated volunteers in matching red parkas, Black Mountain is more than a part of this Oxford County community. It has hosted world championships, national championships, and college, high school and middle school state championships.

The mountain has 1,385 feet of ski terrain, the fourth-most in the state, and its dramatic price cut last winter to $15 for daily tickets and $150 for season passes drew hordes of new skiers, many of them young families.

The Maine Winter Sports Center, which is funded by the Maine-based Libra Foundation, bought Black Mountain in 2003 and ran it as a nonprofit for 10 years, with the foundation pouring nearly $9 million into renovations and improvements.

The town made annual contributions to the operation, but last month residents voted down the $51,000 earmarked for Black Mountain by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio.

That vote, and the projected $80,000 operating loss for 2013-14, prompted the Libra Foundation to decide that 10 years was enough, and that it had other priorities around the state.

Town Manager Carlo Puiia said, "The sentiment, I think, was that people wanted to see the mountain become sustainable ... without the taxpayer funding.

"There may have been some misunderstanding as far as how long it was going to take," he said.

Residents will vote again July 23 on the municipal budget, which may include some money for the ski area.

Andy Shepard, president of the winter sports center, said his organization will step away from Black Mountain by the end of this month, but he is optimistic about a viable solution for its long-term operation.

"I see the trajectory for Black Mountain being profitable within the next two seasons," he said. "This is the opportunity for Rumford and the community to go back to owning this facility, and I hope within the next two weeks we're able to do that successfully."

Black Mountain's day ticket sales last season were up 197 percent from the previous season, rentals were up 93 percent and lessons were up 426 percent, he said. So there is plenty of momentum.

Shepard said the outpouring of support in the past two weeks, both financial and emotional, has been inspiring and humbling.

Messages posted on the ski area's Facebook page include tales of children and parents who learned to ski on Black Mountain, of romances that began there and resulted in families who stayed in the area.

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