News that a coalition of groups is working to purchase Saddleback ski area got a mixed reaction Thursday, with some business owners in Rangeley remaining skeptical while ski industry experts were cautiously optimistic.

The Saddleback Mountain Foundation, a group of Rangeley-area businesses and season-pass holders, announced Thursday that it had reached a verbal agreement to purchase the core ski area from the Berry family for $6 million, $2.2 million in cash and a $3.8 million loan financed by the seller, foundation chairman Peter Stein said. The Berry family also would receive royalties from land sales during any development, he said.

The $6 million sale would transfer ownership of the 723-acre ski area and another 2,330 acres around it for real estate development, he said.

Neither Saddleback General Manager Chris Farmer nor Bill and Irene Berry, who own Saddleback, responded to requests for interviews.

In conjunction with the sale, the Trust for Public Land and the New England Forestry Foundation said they reached a verbal agreement with the Berrys on Wednesday for the purchase of 3,294 acres of working forestland near Saddleback that would provide wildlife habitat and a recreational corridor near the Appalachian Trail.

“In Rangeley, recreation has long played a role in the community fabric of the region,” said Wolfe Tone, Maine state director for the Trust for Public Land. “We are not in a position to buy a ski area. But we could well be part of half the solution. That plan only works if we align with our conservation partners. This is an opportunity.”


Though Tone said the price for the 3,294 acres had not yet been agreed upon, the website for the Saddleback Mountain Foundation,, says that the trust had agreed to purchase the land for $2.7 million. The foundation eventually hopes to raise money and buy the land from the trust, in part by selling conservation and logging easements on the conservation land and other appropriate areas.

Many Rangeley business owners had only just learned of the deal Thursday, and while some were hopeful, others were skeptical. Some said they needed more information before they could decide whether to donate to the initiative.

“I think it’s too soon for me to comment on it,” said Travis Ferland, owner of the Rangeley Inn and Tavern. “I literally learned of this an hour and a half ago. I’ve only heard a few things about this particular initiative through the grapevine.”

Stacy Vorous, owner of the Farmhouse inn, said if her family had not bought their inn two years ago, they would contribute.

“We’re not able to only because of our investment into remodeling. We are not in a financial position to. But otherwise, I would say we would,” Vorous said.

Others were skeptical of the venture.


Lynn Noyes, at Lakeside Convenience and Marina, said she won’t believe an agreement is reached until money changes hands.

“I don’t think it’s anything different from the news of what we’ve heard several times,” the marina’s owner said. “Honestly, as far as I’m concerned, there is no deal until they raise money and they sign on the dotted line.”

However, ski industry experts were hopeful.

Les Otten, the former CEO of American Skiing Co., which operated several resorts in the 1980s and 1990s, including Sugarloaf and Sunday River, saw no impediments to the sale.

“In business, we like to get involved in complex transactions and I’m not sure in this day and age if a simple handshake and a public announcement on what you’re going to do is not more valuable than 3 inches of documents,” Otten said. “It sounds to me like good news for the Rangeley region.”

Sunday River General Manager Dana Bullen was excited at the prospect.


“I am thrilled to hear that the discussion surrounding Saddleback is moving things in the right direction, and that there is a verbal agreement in place,” Bullen said.

And Andy Shepard, president and CEO of the Maine-based nonprofit Outdoor Sport Institute, called it a positive development.

“I am optimistic,” Shepard said. “It is a uniquely perfect option for Saddleback. It will operate to make it sustainable. I think that is a workable solution. The question is, are there enough people willing to invest in that kind of enterprise? That question will be answered in time.”

Though the foundation hopes to create a nonprofit that eventually would own the land and ski area assets, it’s currently organized as a limited liability company that is not designed to make a profit. It’s simply looking for donations to secure Saddleback’s future and allow a sale to take place, Stein said.

“It’s like homeowners contributing to pave a road. Everyone benefits from the paved road, but nobody makes money,” said Vittorio Pareto, a financial adviser and member of the foundation. “It is community property. It benefits everyone in the area. The people who donate money will do so with no expectation of financial return.”

Pareto, a Saddleback skier, invested much of his time in the project because he believes in this vision.


“I thought it was viable if it’s not a money-making venture,” Pareto said. “It’s never going to make money. It just has to pay for itself.”

For now the foundation is focused on raising $4 million to provide the $2.2 million for the down payment and another $1.8 million for operating capital.

Stein said an online survey by the foundation this summer showed 860 Saddleback supporters committed to collectively contribute $5 million. He said these “commitments” ranged from $50 to $250,000.

“I’ve never done this before. I don’t know how the money will flow in. As long as people honor their commitments, it will go fast. I’d love to see it happen in a matter of weeks,” Stein said.

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