SANDY RIVER PLANTATION — Bill Berry, former owner of Saddleback Mountain Resort, passed a symbolic ski Wednesday to Sebastian Monsour, chief executive officer the Australian-based Majella Group, the new owner.
The Monsour family took a tour of the United States in 2011. They arrived in Maine and discovered Saddleback and “fell in love” with the beauty of the state and Saddleback, Monsour said.
He paused to compose himself as he spoke about his mother who recently passed away. She really loved this state, he said.
The owners plan to turn the mountain into a premier ski area in North America and a four-season resort, Monsour said during a news conference at Saddleback’s base lodge.
The sale includes the base lodge, ski lifts and surrounding timberland, totaling 6,337 acres.
Monsour said his family and his team understand the importance of Saddleback to the people of Maine, not only as a premier ski area but as an economic driver for the entire Rangeley region. They hope to attract more people to the area and expose them to all it has to offer, he said.
The Majella Group and its local management team recognize that reopening the mountain is a top priority for the Rangeley community, ski and outdoor enthusiasts, including the property owners on the mountain.
The new owners signed a full purchase and sales agreement for Maine’s third-largest ski area with Berry and his wife, Irene, Monsour said. The sale will be finalized this summer. The deal was less than 24 hours old when the announcement was made.
Majella, a Brisbane, Australia-based company, operates around the world, specializing in property development, project management, design, technology, consulting and financial services. It also has offices in Portland, China and the Philippines.
Majella Group is a Maine registered LLC owned by Monsour.
Many months of discussion, planning and due diligence led to the purchase, Monsour said.
Turning out to hear what was termed “great” news for the area were members of the Rangeley Lakes community and leaders, representatives of the Maine congressional delegation, the Berry family and Majella team members.
Representatives of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin read letters of congratulations to the new owners and thanked the Berrys for their dedication and what they have done with the resort.
The Berry family bought the ski area in 2003 after hearing it was closing. They invested more than $40 million to upgrade it. In July 2015, they announced they wouldn’t start another season of operations unless they could raise about $3 million to replace the aging Rangeley double chairlift. They could not secure financing or find a buyer and they closed the ski area.
At the time, Saddleback employed 300 people in the winter and averaged 80,000 to 100,000 skier visits per year.
In October of last year, a number of mountainside condo owners and others, led by Peter Stein, started a campaign to raise money to buy the mountain, hoping to create the Saddleback Community Mountain Resort. Within days, the co-op, called the Saddleback Mountain Foundation, had raised $600,000 toward the $4 million down payment.
The goal had been to raise $25 million to buy the mountain and surrounding land.
Shortly before Wednesday’s news conference, Wolfe Tone, acting executive director of the foundation, released the following statement: “The Saddleback Mountain Foundation applauds the effort of the future owners of Saddleback Mountain and the Berry family. We wish them the best for this vibrant mountain and are excited for the lifts to be spinning again.”
Monsour thanked the Berry family for entrusting his family and Majella to take Saddleback into the future.
A top priority is to replace the Rangeley chairlift and T-bar. They know they are already against the clock to get the resort and mountain area prepared to open, said Fred LaMontagne, former Portland fire chief and CEO of Majella’s western region and now of Saddleback.
The group has engaged Doppelmayr, “the world’s leading manufacturer of ski lifts, to begin the process,” LaMontagne said.
The Rangeley double chairlift will be replaced with a new TRISTAR Fixed Grip Quad Chair Lift that can support 1,500 skiers per hour, LaMontagne said. The Cupsuptic T-bar will be replaced with a new wind-resistant, higher-speed surface lift that can support 1,200 skiers per hour.
When completed, Saddleback will feature one of the newest lift systems in all of New England, he said.
An opening schedule had not been determined.
The group’s commitment “is not to overpromise, but to move expeditiously and communicate transparently. We have much work to do,” he said.
LaMontagne said his role will be to support the hardworking men and women who will be getting Saddleback ready to open. He will work with a local mountain operation team made up of longtime Saddleback Manager Jim Quimby and Rangeley residents Greg Andrews and Perry Williams.
“This is really good news for the local economy,” Dave Sanders of Phillips said. He was surprised to hear about it Tuesday. There had been a lot of “go’s” and “no-go’s” during the past two years, he said.