RANGELEY — As he pumped gas in Rangeley last week, snowmobiler Steve Waugh lit up at the prospect of riding his sled to Saddleback Mountain – should the ski area open again. Building a snowmobile trail to the Saddleback lodge is one of the goals of a group of local residents and business owners trying to buy the ski area.

“It would help the economy in Rangeley and bring in more snowmobilers,” said Waugh, who lives in nearby Mexico. “Black Mountain in Rumford is open to snowmobilers. I’ve ridden my sled there.”

However, opinions about the proposed trail were mixed among snowmobilers riding last week around Rangeley. Some said it would make the lodge a key destination for riders, while others said a trail would not add much to an already popular snowmobile region.

Saddleback has been closed since September 2015, when owners Bill and Irene Berry announced they could not secure funding for a $3 million chair lift deemed vital to maintaining business. The Berrys have been trying to sell Saddleback since 2012.

After the ski area sat idle last winter, a group of skiers and local business owners formed the cooperative Saddleback Mountain Foundation in an effort to purchase the resort. On Oct. 27, they announced they had reached a verbal agreement to buy the core ski area from the Berrys for $6 million. But to do so, the group announced they would need to raise $4 million. Crystal Canney, spokesperson for the cooperative, said last week the group is 34 percent of the way – approximately $1.36 million – toward its fundraising goal.

Should it succeed, the foundation said in a newsletter to members, it would link Saddleback to the region’s vast snowmobile trail network.

“We believe that many snowmobilers are also skiers and many skiers are also snowmobilers,” the newsletter stated. “We would like to create an operations center below the Royal Tiger run or South Branch lift, offering snowmobile access. We would also like to link Saddleback to the Rangeley Region snowmobile trail network.”

Some Maine ski areas provide trails to their restaurants for snowmobilers. Mt. Abram’s Loose Boots Lounge in Greenwood does a big snowmobile business, often with a few dozen sleds parked out front. Black Mountain welcomes sledders to its pub, and even holds a snowmobile hill climb each year. But Maine’s two biggest ski areas – Sugarloaf and Sunday River – do not have snowmobile trails leading to their base lodges.

Some snowmobilers in Rangeley last week felt access to the Saddleback lodge would be a positive for the region. “This is what we’ve been waiting for,” said Mark Henderson of Eustis.

Gary Winters of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, who has been traveling to Rangeley for 30 years, said riders would enjoy the view from Saddleback and the idea of helping Rangeley’s rural economy.

“Definitely we’d ride up there,” Winters said. “Last winter, not having skiing killed the area. We would love to stop in the lounge there. It’s a beautiful mountain with a beautiful view.

“It’s just too bad it’s closed. It’s a shame. Rangeley is one of the best places to ride and we ride all over – New Hampshire, Vermont, Canada.”

However, Robert Atkinson of Windham just shrugged at the idea as he loaded his sleds with his 16-year-old son, Samuel. Atkinson did not think a trail to Saddleback would add much because he said snowmobilers have little in common with skiers. He said snowmobilers are more outdoor-oriented, more rugged. He believes the two sports draw different groups of outdoor enthusiasts, much like mountain biking and road cycling.

“You go up to Canada, they do it right,” Atkinson said. “They have (snowmobile) clubhouses in the middle of the woods. We don’t have that in Maine.”

Andy Lund of Windham, who was out riding with his son at the other end of Rangeley, said snowmobilers simply want to hang out with other snowmobilers.

“It’s not really a sport you want to do at a ski resort,” Lund said. “You want to ride for the day, and get lunch. We’ll ride over 100 miles today. The only benefit would be if it’s a really good place to eat. But snowmobilers are kind of a different type of people.”

 


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