Ski industry experts are closely watching an effort by a group hoping to raise $20 million to purchase Saddleback and create what would become only the nation’s second cooperatively owned ski resort.

Peter Stein, a home owner at Saddleback and the chair of the nonprofit Saddleback Mountain Foundation, said his group had discussions with the Berry family, which owns the Rangeley ski area.

But Stein cautions that his group – composed of Saddleback skiers and local business owners – still has much work to do, including creating a business plan. The group has yet to raise any money, he said.

“We don’t want to announce details until we have a completed (business) plan and agreement with the current owners. They’re considering it. We don’t want to get everyone’s hopes up,” said Stein, who has lived full-time at his Saddleback condo in Sandy River Plantation since June.

But, he added, “There is a narrow but viable path to open this winter.”

The Berrys announced in July 2015 that unless they secured $3 million for a new chairlift they would close Saddleback. They failed to get the financing and by September 2015 announced they were in negotiations to sell the ski area. Saddleback never opened last winter and remains up for sale.


The owners, Bill and Irene Berry, and Saddleback General Manager Chris Farmer didn’t respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday.

The cooperative effort has been in the works since March. In August, the group launched an online survey to gauge interest in their effort.

In text accompanying the survey, the group said it needs to raise $20 million over four years to make the ski area self-sustaining, and in the first year they need to raise $3 million to $6 million “and fast.” The group also wanted to see “how much people are willing to invest upfront and over the next four years so that we can demonstrate to the current owners and other interested parties that indeed the community is willing to step up and take control of the ski area.”

“The response to the survey was excellent,” Stein said, but came short of giving specifics on what was learned from the survey.

Only once have season pass holders at an Alpine resort formed a cooperative ski area where the board of directors is made up of the skiers who own shares of stock: Mad River Glen in Fayston, Vermont.

Mad River became a cooperative in 1995. Today it has 2,300 shares owned by 1,800 individual skiers.


“It became clear pretty early on that this would work,” said Eric Friedman, Mad River Glen’s marketing director for two decades.

“Within three to four years we realized, ‘OK, everything is going our way. Shares are selling. People are coming here who have an affinity for the place.’ We knew it was going to work.”

Stein said the Saddleback Mountain Foundation group has looked closely at the Mad River Glen model and it’s encouraging, but they realize it’s not a similar situation.

“Saddleback is unique. The fact Mad River Glen has been profitable 15 out of the last 20 years gives you hope,” Stein said.

Mad River Glen is very different from Saddleback.

At Mad River there is no grooming and no snowmaking. It relies entirely on natural snow. It also has old-school, two-person lifts, terrain ranked by Ski magazine as the most challenging in the East, and a mantra that boasts: “Ski it if you can.”


Saddleback, by comparison, is billed as being made up of 80 percent of intermediate terrain, according to the Saddleback cooperative group’s online survey. It requires snowmaking and grooming. And the faithful season pass holders have demanded a new high-speed quad lift in recent years.

Others in the ski industry are cautiously optimistic that the Saddleback Mountain Foundation could complete a purchase deal and successfully organize into a group that could run the ski area.

“If there is a willing buyer and a willing seller it could be a good alternative,” said Les Otten, the former CEO of American Skiing Co., which operated several resorts, including Sugarloaf and Sunday River, in the 1980s and ’90s.

“But I don’t know enough to say anything other than it’s not out of the question. I can’t see why it won’t work.”

Sunday River General Manager Dana Bullen also said there’s no reason to think it couldn’t work.

Bullen said when Boyne Resort took over Sunday River, it implemented as a complement to the Sunday River mountain operations and front-office team an advisory group made up of members of the community, similar to a board of directors at a cooperative.

“Our advisory council is made up of condo, hotel and homeowner presidents, town managers from Newry and some others. And we meet with them up to four times a year,” Bullen said.

The Berrys bought Saddleback and 8,000 acres around it in 2003, and invested $40 million worth of improvements. Farmer said last year that the Berrys had to supplement the operational costs of Saddleback since 2008.

Saddleback drew between 80,000 and 100,000 skiers in its last few seasons of operation, according to the Berrys, and was the third-largest employer in the winter in Franklin County, with 350 employees.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.