RANGELEY — People in this mountain town known for brook trout and bull moose still were wondering last week about the fate of their local ski area. And many said they’re worried.

Saddleback, which employs more than 300 people, announced on July 20 that it would close in two weeks if the owners did not secure the $3 million needed for a new chairlift.

The 51-year-old Rangeley Double Chair works. However, the Berry family, which owns Saddleback, said the outdated lift holds the ski area back from becoming economically viable.

Five weeks later, many in town still didn’t know whether Saddleback would open this winter.

Out of a sample of a dozen locals interviewed Thursday, all expressed grave concern for those who work at the mountain, and also for their community. Saddleback amounts to part of the economic lifeblood of this western Maine town.

Karen Ogulnick, the executive director of the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce, said Saddleback is the fourth-largest employer in Franklin County. And while snowmobilers bring a flurry of business to this town of 1,200 year-round residents in wintertime, that sport season doesn’t start until January.


Ogulnick said if Saddleback closes, the negative impact on the town will be significant.

“Just about everyone coming to Rangeley in December is a skier,” she said. “I know (Saddleback is) important both in terms of employment and what they bring to the local economy. All the people they attract support our local businesses.”

Several shop owners, families in the town’s lakeside park, even the town’s lifeguard who lives in nearby Stratton, expressed concern.

“I worry they will get rid of a lot of jobs. That’s the biggest thing,” said Rangeley lifeguard Reed Stevens, 15.

Stephen Richards, the 16-year owner of Parkside and Main Restaurant, said if his employees who work on the mountain lose that second job, they may lose their car or home.

“It will affect everyone,” Richards said as he hung his daily specials out front.


Only Brett Damm, owner of the local fly-fishing shop, voiced hope that the financing the ski area needs would come through simply because he “can’t imagine the mountain not opening. It is incomprehensible.”

But his wife, Susan, waved off his comment as one from an “eternal optimist.”

“There are a lot of young families who work on the mountain,” Susan Damm said. “They’re looking for jobs. Some people have already left. We have a lot of regular customers who work there. That announcement in June touched a lot of nerves.”

Others in town said if the mountain didn’t open it would affect the spirit in town.

“The school has Ski Tuesday for kids in grades two through eight that won’t happen if it closes,” said Roman Schinas, a junior at Rangeley Lakes Regional School.

Dave McMillan said he didn’t know whether to buy a season pass for his family of seven. As McMillan helped his son and daughter repair their boat in Rangeley Lake, he said his friends are all wondering, too.


“It’s like Deflategate. It just keeps going on and on, and doesn’t end. It’s discouraging,” McMillan said. “I’ve been buying a season pass for the last 15 years. I don’t know where we will be skiing. People who plan trips here are hedging their bets.”

For Sandy McDavitt at the Alpine Shop, the questions are more grave. She and her husband, Ken, bought the store in June and don’t know how to stock it now, whether to buy ski gear to sell. But worse than that, they don’t know if they should sell their home in Wakefield, New Hampshire, and move to Rangeley full time as planned.

“I’ve been coming here for years with my family to ski at Saddleback. This is a dream for us. But we’ve had no answers,” McDavitt said. “It’s very upsetting. This affects every business in town.”

Bill and Irene Berry of Farmington bought the mountain in 2003 and their family invested $40 million in the ski area to help the community, including putting in two new quad chairlifts and a new base lodge.

Saddleback General Manager Chris Farmer – who declined to comment on the current situation – told the Portland Press Herald on July 20 that the family has had to supplement the operational costs since 2008.

Meanwhile at Saddleback on Thursday, where it’s located seven miles above Rangeley Lake and the town’s Main Street, the parking lots held only a half-dozen cars as the “World Cuisine” night was set to begin.

The evening event that celebrated the food and music of India was on schedule, with Indian music playing softly and tables covered with white linen cloths set in the main dining room, and upstairs around the bar room. But the lodge was empty.

Only two employees waited for customers in the bar, where expansive views look out over the Rangeley Lakes.

They said they were not allowed to talk about the mountain’s future.

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