Black Mountain owner closes Rumford ski area

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Black Mountain of Maine ski area's owner, the Maine Winter Sports Center, announced Wednesday that it had closed the alpine ski hill in Rumford.

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.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

New signs marked the entrances to Black Mountain of Maine ski area in Rumford, touting its $15 day tickets from this past season. The ski hill's owner, Maine Winter Sports Center, closed Black Mountain's alpine area on Wednesday, leaving an uncertain future for the ski hill's Nordic trails.

Black Mountain
Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

2009 file photo of Rock Maple Racing SnoX semi-pro race at Black Mountain in Rumford.

Black Mountain
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Mt. Blue's Caitlin Douglass heads toward the finish line during the 2010 Class A Classical Ski Race at Black Mountain.

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.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Phil Blampied's picture

Political hardball, badly played

This is nothing more than an attempt at political blackmail by the non profit which has been receiving a $51,000 cash donation and many thousands of dollars in-kind as a tax exemption from the town of Rumford for years.

There is an easy return serve to this amateurish volley in an ill conceived game of political hardball. Let's rescind the tax exemption the ski area receives. It really doesn't qualify under state law as the non-profit is not headquartered there and has no educational or religious function. Let's move on that quickly, town officials.

Black Mountain could be self-sustaining if it made a more serious effort at fully utilizing its facilities, but it's never going to do that if it can count on the town teat.

Does this attempt at political blackmail violate the restrictions on the non-profit status of the Maine Winter Sports Center as it is a transparent attempt to influence the outcome of voting? Hmm.

The voters chose to deny Black Mountain funding as they have been on the verge of doing for years. To say the town shouldn't be forced to trim its budget to deal with a declining population, a shrinking tax base, an uncertain revenue sharing situation, and the stated precarious situation of the town's major employer in order to continue to subsidize this questionably-managed, small time ski area is crazy.

Run your town over the cliff because you're desperate to hang on to your inflated wages and salaries and you think your bank account is more important than mine, but don't run your town over the cliff to subsidize a second rate ski hill.

Phil Blampied's picture

Strategy

I would suggest the town respond to this blackmail with the following strategy:

1. Rescind the property tax exemption. The tax revenue from a facility like that would be much greater than any supposed economic development benefit, given its remote location and on site snack bar and non resident management.

2. If the Maine Winter Sports Center doesn't pay the taxes, allow the automatic foreclosure to occur.

3. Take the now town acquired facility and sell it to Sunday River or other competent ski area management company for $1 and a guarantee of low cost or free recreation programs for the town and the correct, full utilization of the facility. Use a TIF agreement if needed, but maintain the property from that point forward as a property tax generating entity.

This will remove this problematical management from what could be a valuable asset to the community, instead of something that sucks tax dollars away in exchange for low cost skiing for a small segment of the population.

Jack Kaubris's picture

Destroy Rumford

Congratulations to Mr Belanger and his group for driving another nail into our coffin. This group has benefitted from other people paying for their children's educational and recreational needs and, now that their children have left, sees no need to participate in our community. 'Save Rumford', my a$$. They are more concerned with putting another coin in their own pockets. Hypocrisy??

Fred Stone's picture

Sad

It is sad to see this happen, but the writing has been on the wall a long time the voters have had enough.
Instead of rolling over and playing dead they should do what the GRCC is doing by setting up an account in a local bank, doing fund raisers, knocking on doors,etc.,what ever it takes to make it happen. The days of having a guaranteed donation from the town is over.

Tony Capola's picture

It's Small Obligation

The amount of money sort by BMM pales in comparison to the impact that will come from closing this facility. Those that pushed the “Just Say No” concept failed to tell people that the Rumford Charter does not allow for a reconsideration like it does for department budgets.

Not once did they say that a ‘NO’ vote would effectively kill any initiated article until the 2014 budget cycle. For some, as yet unexplained reason, that little tid-bit escaped their whoopla. One has to wonder why. Clearly they knew of this situation.

Now we are left with the closing of BMM and the real potential that GRCC will suffer the same fate. All because a select few convinced the many that their way was best; in their view anyway.

I doubt that any of us, the great unwashed, have the insight necessary to truly assess the fiscal needs of either of these entities. However, that doesn’t seem to deter any number of self-appointed ‘experts’ from coming forward, after the fact, and jumping to conclusions about what should have been done.

The results speak for themselves...

Richard Greene's picture

Mr. Capola

You are exactly right with what you said. Black Mountain was run by a non-profit agency that put millions into the area and for that, they expected that the town would continue to support it. For $51,000 the town got one of the best deals in the state of Maine. A mountain that brought thousands of people into the area that shopped at our stores, stayed in our bed and breakfast, supported our businesses, had their cars fixed at our garages when needed, ate our our restaurants and sandwich shops. They supported all those businesses that gave people jobs. It also employed a number of people that live right here in Rumford, pumping additional money into our economy. The positive effect on the economy is huge and we will all feel it's loss.

It also made our community a much nicer place to live and gave our kids and families a great activity during the winter.

If there is anyway to build support for this mountain, we all need to pitch in together to figure out how to save it.

Genise Knowlton's picture

Mr. Greene

You outline the facts...the mountain was not the only revenue coming in to Rumford! This may be a very short-sighted answer to the fear instilled to all communities by the state of the State! Rumford doesn't have a whole lot to offer the residents who live their or the surrounding communities. Seems like keeping affordable skiing would be a no brainer! Just my opinion....

Eric  LeBlanc's picture

So are you hillbillies still afraid of the casino

Maybe Sunday River can partner up with the Churchill Downs group that owns the Oxford Casino and reopen Black Mountain as a Caskino offering year round gambling to go with skiing during the winter months. Think big.

THOMAS FALLON 's picture

Rejection has been coming...

Mr. Shepard must have heard the rumblings over the years against continuing the $50,000 to Black Mountain. Last year, the vote was close: it would seem that the vote would be viewed as a warning. But, there was no contingency plan.

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