Maine's third-largest ski area, Saddleback Mountain, is getting a second chance. The shuttered resort has been purchased by Australian developers, who promise to upgrade the mountain and re-open the region’s largest employer.
"It is with great pleasure that we take on this responsibility," Sebastian Monsour, CEO of the Majella Group, which is based in Brisbane, Australia. "My family, and my team, have a long history of taking these types of projects and bringing them to the next level."
Saddleback, which was owned by Bill and Irene Berry in Farmington, Maine, closed in 2015. The Berry’s said they needed millions of dollars to replace the chairlift, and entered into years of negotiations to sell the resort.
"It’s been a long time coming," said Rangeley Town Manager Tim Pellerin. He said the resort had employed more than 300 people, and was the major draw to the tourism-dependent area.
Saddleback’s new owners said they aren’t sure if the resort will open by next winter.
"We have a lot of things we need to pull together," said Saddleback CEO Fred LaMontagne. "We’re definitely up against the clock."
LaMontagne said Majella’s vision is to turn Saddleback into a "premiere four-season resort," with more lodging, restaurants, and activities.
The new owners have not announced if prices for tickets or passes will go up.
Majella plans to replace the Rangeley Double Chair and the T-Bar, to support more skiers per hour. LaMontagne said these big changes will take time.
"We’re here to do it once, and do it right," he said. "When our team has [an opening] date, and when our team can deliver the kind of skiing you deserve, you will know."
The Berry family said they are happy to turn over the mountain to Majella, a group they said has the "horsepower" to take Saddleback to the next level.
"It’s been tough without them," Pellerin said, explaining that the economic impact of the closure has been far-reaching. He said many of Saddleback’s seasonal workers would stay in Rangeley for the summer, working at small businesses. When the mountain closed, many of those workers left the area, leaving summer businesses short on staff.
Rangeley residents have responded to the news of the sale enthusiastically.
"I’m thrilled, I love it," said realtor Brent Quimbly, who grew up skiing Saddleback.
They say they aren’t too skeptical of a group of Australians, who have never run a ski resort before.
"They’re not going to invest in a place that they don’t think they can make work," said Rangeley resident Ron Festa.