REPORT: Effort Underway to Operate Saddleback as Cooperative Entity
The Maine ski area has not operated since April 2015.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016, NewEnglandSkiIndustry.com
Efforts to form a cooperative to take over Saddleback appear to be gaining steam this summer, according to multiple sources.
Informational meetings, petitions, and surveys have been conducted in recent weeks to gain input into possibly purchasing the ski area. A group calling itself the Saddleback Mountain Foundation is involved in the process.
The Saddleback Mountain Foundation differs from the Saddleback Foundation, which was formed as a Maine non-profit in April of 2013 as part of an effort to obtain a $10 million loan guarantee from the United States Department of Agriculture with the intent of replacing the Rangeley double chairlift and operating the ski area. The 2013 effort was unsuccessful, resulting in the entity being classified as dissolved in August of 2014. The Saddleback Mountain Foundation does not appear to be registered as a Maine entity at this time.
The only area of size under cooperative ownership in New England is Mad River Glen, which has been operating under the model for about two decades. A similar model was attempted at Magic Mountain in 2009, but the effort ultimately was aborted.
As of July 2016, fan guns remain positioned on Saddleback's trails as a reminder of an aborted mid-season opening attempt. Chairlifts appear to be in various stages of maintenance. The base lodge remains active as a wedding venue. With the one year anniversary of the first talk of closure quickly approaching, no official announcements have been made about Saddleback's future.
Saddleback's last update was posted on February 8, 2016:
"We will not be open for February vacation week and any update on a possible opening date will be posted as we receive the information.
Saddleback is more than a mountain - it is a community of people. We are asking for your support as we seek to ensure the long term viability of this community. The Berry Family has made the decision not to pressure the buyer but to be supportive of the situation."
The latest Saddleback saga started on July 20, 2015, when the Berry family announced they had two weeks to place an order for a replacement for the Rangeley double chairlift, or else it would close the ski area. The family was unable to obtain financing.
Heirs to a large insurance company, Bill and Irene Berry purchased the Rangeley ski area and thousands of acres surrounding it for a reported $8 million in 2003, following an announcement from prior owner Donald Breen that it would close. Two new quad chairlifts were installed in subsequent years in conjunction with a major base lodge expansion. The Oquossoc Cove Marina was added to the fold in 2009.
After obtaining is B.S. in civil engineering from Lehigh University in 1955, M.S.T. in biology-geology from Colby College in 1966, and Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Kansas in 1970, Archie "Bill" Berry Jr. joined the faculty of the University of Maine at Farmington. A longtime Saddleback skier, Berry purchased a condo near the ski area in the early 1990s and retired from UMF in 1996. Berry's son Mark worked at Sugarloaf and ran Titcomb Mountain ski area (to which Bill Berry made significant contributions).
In 1971, the U.S. Investment Corporation was founded, which would include Mount Vernon Fire Insurance Company and US Underwriters Insurance Company. On August 8, 2000, Berkshire Hathaway acquired the U.S. Investment Corporation for an estimated $160 million in stock, mainly transferred to the extended Berry family.
On July 28, 2003, Saddleback, Inc. and Saddleback Land & Timber Corp. were incorporated in the State of Maine. Bill Berry, his wife Irene Berry, and their seven children soon took ownership of the 8,000 acre Saddleback tract via their corporations.
Since 2005, Saddleback has entered into multi-million dollar financing agreements with UnitedKinfield Bank, Camden National Bank, Skowhegan Savings Bank (via Finance Authority of Maine), and Coastal Enterprises Inc.
The Berry family placed the ski area on the market in 2012.
In recent years, members of the Berry family have loaned money to both corporations.
In May 2014, the Berrys sold 1,750 acres of land to generate funds.
In December 2015, the Berrys announced a prospective sale had delayed the start of the season and therefore offered season passholders a credit or refund.
In January 2016, Hertz placed a lien on Saddleback for non payment. Associated Design Partners, Inc. followed suit in March 2016.
The Rangeley Double Chairlift (July 2016)
A wedding sign (July 2016)
Snow guns buried in lupine (July 2016)
The Kennebago Quad Chairlift (July 2016)
An earlier version of this article referred to the Saddleback Foundation as being involved in the latest effort.