The first snow flakes have fallen on Maine mountains, but the future of one ski area is up in the air.
Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley has been up for sale for years, and last season it did not open at all. The closure halted the region's winter tourism economy, and cost an estimated $15 million in revenue.
"It was devastating," said Steve Philbrick, owner of Bald Mountain Camps. "When Rangeley suffers, the state of Maine suffers."
In the last year, rumors have been circulating about the future of Saddleback. Representatives for the ski area eluded to potential buyers, and kept delaying the start of the season. It frustrated season pass holders, and kept residents waiting for news about a buyer.
On Thursday, a group of skiers and nonprofits announced that buyer would be the community.
"This initiative gives this gem of a mountain back to its loyal skiers and to the greater community and state of Maine forever," said Peter Stein, chairman of the Saddleback Mountain Foundation.
The foundation has been quietly negotiating with the Berry family, Saddleback's owners, for months. Stein announced Thursday that the parties have come to an agreement about purchasing the resort and creating a non-profit to oversee its operation.
The Trust for Public Land and the New England Forestry Foundation will also purchase an aligning piece of land from the Berry's for conservation.
Stein said the foundation needs to quickly raise $4 million to secure exclusivity with the Berry's. Then, they will begin a larger fundraising campaign. Stein said if they work fast enough, they could open Saddleback this winter.
More details are explained on the foundation's website, skisaddlebackme.com.
Representatives for Saddleback Mountain posted a statement on its Facebook page Thursday afternoon. In part, it reads: "We continue to work with the Saddleback Mountain Foundation, in addition to the other qualified buyers who are also in the process of pursuing the purchase of the resort. When a trail is clear we will update you."