In the year since owners of Saddleback Mountain announced they might be forced to close the ski area outside Rangeley, two things are clear:

Nobody knows when or if Saddleback will reopen. And the longer it sits idle, the harder it will be to rebuild the business.

The owners, Bill and Irene Berry of Farmington, announced on July 20, 2015, that unless they could secure $3 million for a new chairlift, they would be forced to close Saddleback. The Berrys failed to get the financing, but by September announced they were in negotiations to sell the ski area. As winter arrived, the Berrys announced they were close to a sale. Saddleback would open by late January, they said, and anxious season-pass holders were offered perks to keep from seeking refunds.

But Saddleback never opened last winter, and details of a sale never materialized. Neither the Berry family nor Saddleback General Manager Chris Farmer returned phone calls for this story. Updates on Saddleback’s future have been communicated almost solely through its Facebook page, with the last post on Feb. 8.

“I think the longer (Saddleback) sits idle the more difficult the resurrection will become,” said Les Otten, the former CEO of American Skiing Co., which operated several resorts, including Sugarloaf and Sunday River, in the 1980s and ’90s.

“I don’t think that the closure the past year is necessarily a long-term negative. But a buyer would rather buy something that’s operating. So I think it complicates it.”


The Berrys bought Saddleback and 8,000 acres around it in 2003 and invested $40 million worth of improvements, including a new base lodge, two quad chairlifts, new trails and improved snowmaking equipment.

Their son, Mark, said in a statement last July that his family invested their “heart and soul” into providing an affordable ski area for Maine families. Farmer said at that time 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.

“The (owners) brought it to the brink of sustainability. The next person to invest will have to spend a fraction of what the Berry family invested, and then they will have this three- or four-season resort opportunity,” said Andy Shepard, president and CEO of the Maine-based nonprofit Outdoor Sport Institute.

“But there aren’t enough (Saddleback fans) to create a sustainable business model. You’ve got to get people who are not passionate about the mountain. You get enough of those people, that’s a successful business model.

“That mountain and that whole region is too remarkable a resource for something not to happen. The sooner it (reopens), the less expensive it will be to turn it around.”


Otten recently bought The Balsams Resort, a New Hampshire ski area that had been idle for five years. He said Saddleback is not likely in danger of becoming a “lost ski area,” as Maine ski areas that close for good are known.

“It has been a 60-plus-year fixture on the scene. It is a great region of the state. That won’t change. That lake is still there, that mountain is still there, it still snows there,” Otten said.

Shepard also believes Saddleback will endure. But he said another year of sitting idle will hurt the ski area and the entire region.

“What is clear is that the longer it stays closed, the more expensive it will be to open and the more problematic it will be.”

Sunday River General Manager Dana Bullen echoed Shepard’s concerns.

“Resorts require constant attention and ongoing maintenance, and there is a real risk in sitting idle and having folks who enjoy your mountain drop out of the sport all together,” Bullen said. “Our industry needs to keep every skier we’re able to.


“My sincerest hope is that Saddleback finds its way, not just for the citizens of Rangeley or the skiers and riders who frequent its trails, but to benefit our state and industry as a whole.”

Otten, a former minority owner of the Boston Red Sox, said making ski areas profitable is difficult even in the best situations.

“It’s never been easy when you’re dealing with any business that’s heavily winter-dependent. I’m involved in a project that closed for five years. It just presents another set of challenges. It’s a different set of buyers who take over something that’s closed,” Otten said.

Meanwhile, Saddleback’s season-pass holders remain loyal, but they’re growing weary of the uncertainty surrounding Saddleback. If Saddleback stays closed another winter, their devotion may shift.

“We skied some bigger places and we missed Saddleback,” said Freeport’s Michael Salisbury, who blogs about skiing. “We’d like to go back home (to Saddleback). But my personal feeling is if they don’t open this winter that would be tough to recover from. If they don’t open for two straight years, I think, for me, that would be a tough one to get over. The equipment and the lodge will go into disrepair. Maybe they are maintaining them. But you lose that momentum, that energy.”

Many others are bothered that the Berry family has released no information since February about what’s next – even on the Saddleback Facebook page, which has been the owners’ mode of communication the past year. It’s been more than five months since the last post about the ski area not opening for February school vacation week, which said: “The Berry Family has made the decision not to pressure the buyer but to be supportive of the situation.”

“I feel disappointed in the owners and the management for not being more forthcoming about what is really going on,” said season pass holder Tony Scilipoti of Cumberland. “If I was a condo owner I’d feel more strongly that way. I have been very frustrated with the lack of transparency to the extent that the mountain communicates at all through its Facebook site. And the Facebook site doesn’t actually say what’s going on. I feel loyal customers deserve to hear it from the horse’s mouth as a courtesy for spending money there.”

Nelson Goodwin of Tremont, who owns a property in Rangeley, does not trust the owners any more. Goodwin, 78, saw the ski area in Greenville close during the years his family skied there – and he had to sell his camp beside Moosehead Lake and look for another ski mountain.

“Nobody knows what the Berrys are up to because they are not talking,” Goodwin said. “If they walk away from it and it just sits there and goes to hell, it will take someone with enthusiasm to get out from underneath it. I don’t even believe they had a (potential) buyer. They never disclosed about that. I want to be optimistic, but it’s getting more difficult.”

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.