June 30, 2013

Supporters believe Black Mountain will stay open

Skiers are banding to help the nonprofit ski area, which said it would close because of lack of money.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Supporters in Rumford expressed enthusiasm Friday for efforts to save the Black Mountain ski area, which announced last week that it will close due to a lack of revenue and funding.

click image to enlarge

Black Mountain means a great deal to ski enthusiasts and businesses in the Rumford area, who are working to reverse the decision to close the ski area.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A meeting Thursday drew 150 supporters of the nonprofit ski area, which is a key venue for high school competitions.

"I'm optimistic it's going to happen," said Roger Arsenault, the chair of the mountain's board of directors. "We've raised $50,000 to $60,000 in the last 14 hours. It's been overwhelming."

Black Mountain of Maine has been funded and run by the Maine Winter Sports Center since 2003. That year the Libra Foundation, the financial arm behind the nonprofit Maine Winter Sports Center, purchased Black Mountain as part of a statewide effort to produce affordable Alpine and Nordic skiing.

The Libra Foundation poured $9 million over 10 years into Black Mountain, changing the look of the area with a new lodge, new chair lifts, more trails, snowmaking and a $15 lift ticket price aimed at making Alpine skiing accessible to all Mainers.

With 1,380 feet of vertical, Black Mountain is Maine's fourth-tallest ski mountain, but it's never been profitable during the Libra Foundation years of ownership.

Andy Shepard, executive director of the Maine Winter Sports Center, won't divulge the mountain's finances while he searches for a new owner, but said the ski area was projecting an $80,000 loss this past year.

At the same time, Shepard said the decision this past winter to slash ticket prices to $15 increased skier visits and put the mountain closer than it has been to profitability.

"The dirty little secret in Alpine skiing is there's a posted price but there are all sorts of opportunities to get discounts. What $15 did was change the conversation. If we brought more skiers to the mountain (who all paid the same price), we weren't losing money on our day tickets. It took us nine years to find a model that worked, but we did and I'd love to see it continue."

A KEY MONTH UPCOMING

Shepard said he needs to find a new owner, preferably a nonprofit, to take over the ski area, and a funding source, which could be in the form of a grant or philanthropist.

He said given the work needed to ready a ski area for the winter, he had fewer than 30 days to find a new owner.

He also felt it was necessary to take care of the debt the area has now, and said the Maine Winter Sports Center would do that.

Shepard said he's committed to pave the way for a secure future for the ski area. Last week he started one of the two fund-raising websites for the cause, and said Friday donations started pouring in.

He said two corporate sponsors already have committed.

Dana Bullen, the Sunday River president, said his larger ski area in western Maine donated to the cause.

"The resort is donating $5,000 in cash to the cause, but more importantly we remain in contact with Andy Shepard and will continue to assist with operational items and other programs as appropriate," Bullen said.

Shepard said efforts to save Black Mountain are moving in the right direction.

"There is support in the community, tangible support, and an overwhelming response," Shepard said Friday.

"I want to do this in 30 days. It shouldn't take more than a month to do this if the will is there."

(Continued on page 2)

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