Saddleback Maine, one of the state’s most popular ski resorts, announced Monday that it will not open for the 2015-16 winter season unless it comes up with funding to replace an aging chairlift.

In both a Facebook post and a press release, the ski resort said it needs to raise $3 million in the next two weeks to replace its Rangeley Double Chair – a 51-year-old lift that brings skiers from the base lodge up the mountain – with a four-person chairlift. That would enable the resort to double the number of skiers per hour who can be transported up the mountain, according to the Facebook post.

A new chairlift would also provide long-term economic stability for the resort, the third-largest in the state behind Sugarloaf and Sunday River.

“Getting (the lift) in would mean a return to sustainability, to profitability,” said Mark Berry, one of the Berry family members who own Saddleback. “We know that putting that lift in will bring us additional skier traffic. We know that putting the lift in will spur interest in our real estate. With more skiers here, we can do a lot more with the community.

“It is a very important piece of the economy here and for the local economy as well.”

Berry said the family has been looking to replace the Rangeley Double Chair for several years and has applications out to multiple financial institutions. “We’re pushing hard, but not getting any answers,” he said.


But he said work on a new lift would have to begin by early August for it to be ready in time for the upcoming winter.

“Realistically, it has to be ordered by Aug. 1 or we won’t have time to get it in,” he said. “It’s a matter of the weather turning here. We start seeing snow in late October and you have to have your ground work done.”

Saddleback, located in Rangeley, is one of Maine’s tallest mountains, with an elevation of 4,120 feet. Bill and Irene Berry of Farmington bought the resort and 8,000 acres in 2003 and have since put at least $40 million of improvements into it, including the addition of a new base lodge, two new quad chairlifts (similar to the one sought to replace the older Rangeley lift), new trails and glade skiing opportunities, and expanded snowmaking capabilities.

But the resort has operated at a financial deficit since 2008, according to Chris Farmer, the general manager at Saddleback. That’s when real estate sales bottomed out, he said. “The family has had to supplement the operational losses since the real estate turn in 2008,” he said.

Both Farmer and Mark Berry said the new lift would bring in more skiers and help the resort become profitable again. While Saddleback routinely scores high in customer satisfaction and has received several national and regional honors, the biggest complaint from skiers has been the Rangeley lift. With only two skiers going up at a time, it often leads to bottlenecks at the base lodge. Even at its age, the lift is safe – “It passed its annual inspections,” said Farmer – but its size limits how many skiers can go up the mountain.

“The perception is that during busy times, we have long lift lines,” said Berry. “It does impact your vacation and your weekend traffic.”


Berry said Saddleback has drawn between 80,000 and 100,000 skiers each year for the last four or five years, but that the traffic has plateaued. “In order to get beyond that plateau, we feel Rangeley needs to be replaced,” he said.

Saddleback is the third-largest employer in Franklin County during the winters, when it employs about 350 people. Farmer said the Facebook post was put up on Monday to let not only skiers know what was happening, but also the employees. “We felt we owed it to them to let them know two weeks in advance what was happening,” he said. “One of our strongest assets is our employees and this community and we felt we needed to be transparent where we are at.”

Since the posting, Berry and Farmer said they have received many positive messages, as well as suggestions on how to raise the money. “We’re optimistic that this will give us an option to make this happen,” said Berry.

News of Saddleback’s dilemma caught the Maine skiing community by surprise. Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association, said he learned of it from the release. “From the association’s standpoint, we are disappointed to hear that one of the members is having such significant trouble to send out a release containing that information,” he said.

Sweetser said Saddleback is one of four “destination resorts in Maine” for skiers, along with Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Shawnee Peak. “Saddleback is a very important member of the Maine ski industry,” he said. “Like everyone else, I’ll be watching to see what develops.”

Officials at other ski areas are certain Maine’s remaining resorts could handle additional traffic if Saddleback closed. But they don’t want that to happen.


“It would be a huge blow to the area and the industry if Saddleback is not able to open,” said Ethan Austin, the director of marketing at Sugarloaf. “Our first thought is to work with them to see if we can be of any assistance in helping them get the financing they need for the lift.”

Austin said Saddleback provides its own unique experience for skiers. “It offers things no others can,” he said.

The Berry family put the resort and land up for sale in December 2012. It remains for sale. In the meantime, it’s one of the few family-owned ski mountains in the Northeast.

Mark Berry said the a new lift could provide incentive for a new owner to come in.

“It would reinforce the bottom line,” he said. “We’ve talked to a number of suitors and the Rangeley always comes up as the weak link in our operation. We have great snowmaking, an unbelievable variety of trails. The lodge is one of a kind. All the pieces are in place except for Rangeley.”

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