RUMFORD — The owner of Black Mountain ski area on Wednesday closed the alpine trails in the midst of a funding crisis that left the facility $51,000 short.
Whether that decision also includes the Nordic trails had yet to be decided, said Andy Shepard, Maine Winter Sports Center president and chief executive officer.
"I'll be working through those issues over the next couple weeks," Shepard said.
Town voters on June 11 defeated, by a vote of 497-939, an initiated article that requested $51,000 to fund Black Mountain as a recreational resource.
"The timing is unfortunate, coming off our best season ever," Shepard said Wednesday. "Several years ago, we took on the challenge of turning Black Mountain around with an understanding that we needed strong community support to make the economics work. I know the mountain still has a lot of support within some sectors, but the electorate told us clearly that there are other priorities and we absolutely respect that."
The Maine Winter Sports Center has owned Black Mountain since 2003.
The money was to help carry the ski area through the summer, get it ready for winter and pay wages for three employees, according to Roger Arsenault, president of Black Mountain's board of directors.
Because of a previous charter change, there is no recourse for initiated article requests that are defeated.
Black Mountain had changed its business model radically last year, looking to make skiing more accessible to the region and to reach profitability, Shepard said.
The ski area reduced day tickets to $15 and season passes to $150, added a new snow-making system, expanded the Last Run Lounge, added a retail shop and upgraded its website. It also added a 1.5-mile intermediate trail, Allagash, which quickly became a major new attraction, Shepard said.
"Day ticket sales last season were up 197 percent, rentals were up 93 percent and lessons up 426 percent," he said. "Overall revenue was substantially up and the mountain was making progress. That said, the nonprofit community mountain still posted a loss, which required outside sources to cover."
After a careful review of the financials and discussions with financial backers, Maine Winter Sports Center was contemplating future operations, but the town vote to eliminate funding to the mountain made the tenuous decision untenable, Shepard said.
"We invested in the operation of Black Mountain for 10 years because we saw the mountain as an important part of the economy and skiing heritage in the region," said Craig Denekas, president and CEO of the Libra Foundation.
"That partnership has been a success for many seasons and we were pleased to play some role in that," Denekas said. "But we also understand that the people have spoken and we simply have to recognize that."
The Maine Winter Sports Center is a nonprofit corporation with a mission to create a sustainable model for rural communities in Maine.