Saddleback Mountain, located in the lakes district of western Maine and the third largest ski resort in the state, will open to skiers this coming season for the first time in five years.
Mainers — and folks across New England — have watched for years to see what would happen to this beloved ski mountain. Deals were brokered, and then fell through, one by one. But in early 2020, a deal was finally sealed, with a surprising partner. It was not a player in the ski industry who stepped up, but the resort was acquired by Boston-based Arctaris, an impact investment company dedicated to making investments in underserved communities to effect positive social, economic, and environmental change. And, of course, making money while doing it.
It sounds like a win-win. Arctaris, which was founded in 2009 and has several successful projects under its belt, sees potential in Saddleback and the Rangeley area, a longtime magnet for outdoor enthusiasts drawn to the region’s unspoiled woods, mountains, and lakes. It’s banking that investing in Saddleback and the surrounding community, with social and environmental responsibility, will pay off for everyone. As the saying goes: A rising tide lifts all boats.
So far, it’s on mission. The company, which bought the resort for $6.5 million, is planning to spend another $18 million in improvements in the first year, with a projected total investment of approximately $38 million. The base lodge has already been dramatically renovated for aesthetics and social distancing, along with a significant investment in a new, state-of-the-art HVAC system to reduce health risks. A brand-new, detachable quad chairlift, serving all levels of terrain, more than triples the mountain’s uphill capacity and reduces ride time from 11 minutes to 4. It continues to invest in snowmaking, and plans are already underway to develop a solar farm that will power snowmaking equipment.
The company will employ about 180 to 220 people, promising above-average pay scales and benefits packages for its full-time employees. It’s working with the community to secure year-round employment for its seasonal workers, and housing for new employees. “We’re also looking into long-term plans to address the local housing issue,” says Doug “Doc” Tulin, Saddleback’s director of marketing.
At the time of publication, Saddleback’s lift prices had not been announced, but the company says it’s committed to fair ticket pricing, with the goal of keeping skiing accessible to all. Already, it’s secured a six-figure donation to fund season passes for Rangeley school kids for the next five years.
There’s definitely a buzz in town. “We’re very excited!” Joanne Dunlap, president of the Rangeley Chamber of Commerce, says. “Saddleback has almost been sold a few times, now it’s really happening! We’ve been watching the improvements, the helicopters flying overhead and the new chairlift going in, and it’s really exciting.”
Saddleback has always had a loyal, near fanatic following, but as word gets out, the resort is hoping to draw new skiers and boarders to its slopes. “We expect to see new guests from a number of states, coming here for a wide variety of reasons,” says Tulin. “Families will be drawn to the laid-back welcoming environment and the legendary steep terrain will draw adventurers across the region.
“People have been waiting five long years for this beautiful resort to reopen, so the draw across numerous groups will be strong,” he continued.
But, we wondered, will this unpretentious, outdoorsy outpost change too much? We like that apres-ski fashion (words locals would never utter) runs more Bean than Bogner, and tastes run more PBR and BBQ than chardonnay and charcuterie.
Tulin doesn’t think so. “The core of what makes this mountain and region special is strong and resilient,” he says. “Its character is inherent in the community. That unique vibe and welcoming culture will endure for a long time.”
Or, put another way, as one old-timer said when we asked if he was worried about more folks coming from away. “Honey, we don’t do fancy.”
On Dec. 15, or thereabouts, depending on the weather, Saddleback will open, with 67 trails and 2,000 feet of vertical, the most natural snowfall in Maine, some of the toughest terrain in the East, and silly gorgeous views of northern Maine’s mountains, deep woods, and pristine rivers and lakes. Welcome back Saddleback; we’re anxious to ski you again.
For more information, visit saddlebackmaine.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org