Clouds envelop South Crocker and North Crocker mountains as an early morning sun lights up snow-covered trees along the Timberline lift at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley in January. A nonprofit formed a year ago by the five towns around the ski area hopes to build small apartments or townhouses that those who work in the region could own. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Trinity Ryder commutes more than two hours round trip from Skowhegan every day for her job at Sugarloaf. That involves taking a free shuttle that the ski area provides, transportation she is grateful to have.

But Ryder’s lifestyle – working in a tourism region where she can’t afford to live – is rife with uncertainty and daily challenges. Owning a condo or small apartment, something Ryder dreams about, seems unattainable. 

“Last week, my friend posted an article on Facebook about (the need for) employee housing from five years ago. She reposted it because nothing has changed,” said Ryder, 23.

Matty Meaney, who works in the Bag and Kettle Pub at Sugarloaf, said affordable housing in the region is hard to find. And for those new to the area “it’s nearly impossible,” he says. Deirdre Fleming photo

Maine’s housing crisis is amplified at outdoor tourist destinations like Carrabassett Valley, where businesses are unable to attract and retain employees because of the lack of affordable housing. In the past year, more businesses and nonprofits in outdoor destinations in Maine have built or purchased buildings to provide affordable housing for employees, many of whom are seasonal workers. Most of these efforts are focused on offering low-cost rooms to rent.

A nonprofit formed a year ago by the five towns around Sugarloaf is working on a more permanent solution. It hopes to build small apartments or townhouses that those who work in the region could own.

When Dakota Leeman of Bingham heard about that possibility as he helped Ryder park cars at Sugarloaf last weekend, his tired eyes opened wide. 


“That honestly sounds amazing,” Leeman said. “It’s definitely expensive up here. Right now, I could never live up here.”

Leeman works during the winter at Sugarloaf and during the summer at a rafting company, while he saves to live closer to the ski area. The 18-year-old lives with his parents in a trailer near Bingham and commutes to Carrabassett Valley on the same shuttle that Ryder takes, making a roughly two-hour round-trip commute every work day.

Last spring, Sugarloaf purchased the Herbert Grand Hotel in Kingfield and opened it for employee housing in November, offering rooms for about 50 workers and a common area for cooking at a monthly cost of about $500, said Dana Clukey, Sugarloaf’s vice president of lodging and property support. The ski area also provides a free shuttle for employees between the hotel and the mountain.

Sugarloaf employs 900 in the winter and 200 in the summer.

It’s a similar approach taken by businesses in other regions of the state where outdoor tourism is the economic driver.

The Kingsleigh Inn in Southwest Harbor was purchased by the Friends of Acadia in March to help provide the National Park Service with workforce housing for seasonal workers at Acadia National Park. Courtesy of the Friends of Acadia

In early March, the Friends of Acadia purchased the Kingsleigh Inn in Southwest Harbor to provide workforce housing for seasonal employees at Acadia National Park, which the nonprofit friends group supports. The building will be managed by the national park and provide housing for 10 employees. The friends group’s goal is to add 130 new beds for park employees over the next decade.


Acadia employs about 150 seasonal employees each year, though last year it filled only 116 of 165 seasonal positions that were open, said Amanda Pollock, a public affairs officer at the park.

“The issue is that jobs at Acadia are really only affordable for people of greater economic means right now,” said Stephanie Clement, vice president of conservation for the Friends of Acadia. “Because housing is in scarce supply and rent is so high, it’s just not currently something a lot of people can swing financially.”

This summer, Saddleback will open doors to the new employee residence building that the ski area built. The two-story Saddleback House located near the South Branch lift was paid for, in part, with a private donation. It will offer 62 rooms that can accommodate 90 people, said Chris Massi, Saddleback’s director of planning and development.

Saddleback employs more than 200 people at the peak of ski season. 

Massi said employees will be charged no more than 30% of their annual salary for Saddleback House rent. He also said more needs to be done.

“In particular, I think we need to look at how we support families who want to move here and live here on a permanent year-round basis,” Massi said. “It’s an industry-wide issue we’re all aware of. It’s a big issue around the state. Tourism is such a big part of our economy. We have to make sure there is a place for folks to live. We can’t price out the workers.”



The towns of Carrabassett Valley, Eustis, Coplin Plantation, Stratton and Kingfield recently formed a nonprofit to approach the problem in a new way. 

Using a $308,275 grant from the Franklin County Commissioners, the nonprofit Workforce Housing Coalition hopes to purchase seven acres in Kingfield in the next year to build small affordable apartments or townhouses that families could own, so they could envision setting down roots in the community where they work, rather than having to commute from an hour away as many Sugarloaf workers do.

In the wake of the pandemic that drove people to buy second homes in popular outdoor regions of Maine, housing prices in the area increased between 25 to 40%, according to a study conducted by the New-York-based consulting company Camoin Associates, which the coalition commissioned for $20,000.

The study determined that between 104 and 300 units of year-round housing is needed in the region, in addition to another 225 to 330 units for seasonal workers, because the median sale price of homes in the region ($380,000 in 2021) requires a household income double the median income in the region: $53,000.

Mark Green, the coalition’s executive director, believes the problem was made worse with the increase in Airbnb and vacation rentals, which usurped much of the rental units that were available a dozen years ago.


“This is not just about Sugarloaf. Certainly they are the biggest employer in the area, but there is the Stratton lumber mill and a whole bunch of restaurants,” Green said. “The biggest problem is that the medium sale price of a home in this area is (nearly) $400,000.”

That was why Althea Grogan left Sugarloaf two weeks ago. She worked as a bartender at the Widowmaker in the ski area’s base lodge while living at the Herbert, paying $520 a month for a room. Grogan said it was a short-term fix. 

Last year, Sugarloaf ski area purchased the Herbert Grand Hotel in Kingfield, offering about 50 employees rooms and a common area for cooking at a monthly cost of about $500. Deirdre Fleming photo

A Portland native who worked previously in the Belfast area, Grogan, 32, would like to own a home so she could be part of a community in Maine. She’s thought of buying a small cabin, just to put her money toward something other than rent. In the end, she left Kingfield and headed to the Carolinas to look for work there.

“The room was quite small,” Grogan said of the Herbert. “If I had gotten a roommate, I would have looked for something else. It’s very stressful.

“I looked for other places in town. I saw a Facebook group for people looking for roommates. That was more reasonable than down on the coast. But it was still expensive. I know a lot of people who are getting creative with camping.”

One-bedroom or studio apartments in the region currently run around $900 to $1,200 – and that’s in the offseason. Grogan said at the start of the winter, she couldn’t find anything for less than $1,000, even for just a room in a house.

Matty Meaney, who has worked at the Bag and Kettle Pub on the mountain for 12 years, said the housing situation at Sugarloaf is uncertain for those who have worked in the area for years. But if you’re new to the area and not connected with the locals and veteran staff at the ski area, the odds are against you finding housing, Meaney said.

“If you’ve been here, it’s not too hard to find a place to rent. If you’re new to the area, it’s nearly impossible,” Meaney said.

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