Thursday, April 24, 2014
This week could turn into one heck of a 50th anniversary around Moosehead Lake, because this is the week Squaw Mountain Ski Area atop Moose Mountain may open its doors again.
A friends group incorporated last February pushed into high gear two weeks ago to raise money and turn the once defunct small ski area into a family-affordable, not-for-profit ski mountain once again. They plan to open to the public Saturday.
First the Friends of Squaw Mountain need to pass a weight test by an out-of-state tramway board and then pass an insurance company inspection this week. If they clear those hurdles, it will be a godsend to the Moosehead region.
"Back in the 1980s, it was the largest employer in Piscataquis County with 145 employees. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to parties or dinners and someone mentions Squaw Mountain. Virtually everyone I meet in the world has skied there," said Bob Hammer, director of the Moosehead Region Chamber of Commerce.
"It's been a labor of love for years by many volunteers. This year is different from previous years in that the volunteers are doing everything. We're giving them all the support we can. When they send us word, we're putting it out on Facebook."
The driving force has been Amy Lane, the treasure of the Blue Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club in Rockwoods. The owner of sporting camps and fan of winter sports, Lane said that since the ski area closed in 2010, the area has felt the loss.
"I was downtown, to Greenville, last Saturday and went out to dinner. We were the only ones in the restaurant except the owner," Lane said. "I have 11 rental cabins and just two of them rented. These are just examples in my experience."
Lane formed the friends group last January and received nonprofit status from the state in February after she attended her great-uncle's memorial service.
Ray Titcomb started a community, volunteer-operated ski mountain in Farmington 60 years ago. Lane thought she could do it, too.
"I have no experience running a ski area, but I do have nonprofit experience. And I've helped run the snowmobile club, that's what we've done up here the past 14 years. It's kind of the same thing. We work with 35 to 40 landowners. Here there is just one landowner," Lane said.
The club has leased the land for a year for $1 from Jim Confalone.
"As long as he has given us permission and we have a passionate group of people we can do this. I've been approached by so many people. I don't know these people. It's quite moving," Lane said.
There will be eight trails served by one chairlift. It's not a high-speed operation. Good food, good views and old-time trails — that's what the ski area's fans will return to, Lane said.
Squaw Mountain Ski Area — the friends group decided not to rename the mountain — opened in 1963 and enjoyed a cult following and booming business in the heyday of early skiing.
Back in the 1970s and '80s the mountain not only employed a sizeable crew, weekends meant live music, dinner theaters and dances.
"I remember the dances, having the big hall packed," said Bill Fling, the friends' secretary and a retired Greenville teacher.
Since work began in earnest two weeks ago, Fling, a friends board member and full-time volunteer, said the donations have poured in to the nonprofit.
Lane said its bank account is up to $21,000.
"We expect 200 skiers a day," Fling said.
Of course, the old ski area, loved as it is, will need more. But the members of the friends group have that single-minded, blind faith the way people caught up in a thing with an outdoor cult following do.
The mountain has no snowmaking and needs a new groomer. The restaurant lacks a permit, Fling said.
But the food already has been ordered.
And Fling, the previous owner of Greenville restaurants, said it will be more than the basic burgers and hot dogs, just the way Squaw Mountain always used to be.
"We'll have a barbecue pulled-pork sandwich, a homemade meatball sub, a steak bomb. I'm toying with the idea of once a week having a nice meal. Maybe next weekend have 'Bill's famous haddock sandwich,' " Fling said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: