AUBURN — Snowboarder Karen Bolduc met her future husband at Lost Valley during a race.
“The meat of life is these memories we make at places like Lost Valley and that’s why I’m here today to support it,” she said Wednesday standing in front of the lodge’s massive fieldstone fireplace, sporting a colorful “FOLV” T-shirt.
Bolduc, representing the recently formed Friends of Lost Valley, announced that the community had so far raised $23,000 to help the ski resort. Owners said this past summer it was struggling and might not make it another season.
Co-owner Lincoln Hayes took the podium Wednesday and said this winter was on: Lost Valley will open at least one of its two ski lifts running.
“I will tell you, it’s humbling to ask for help,” Hayes said. “We purchased this mountain because we didn’t want to see it disappear, and we’ve spent a lot of our own personal resources to keep it going. We’re hoping the community will help us keep this mountain open, because it’s too important.”
He and Connie King bought the 53-year-old ski resort in July 2004 intending to save it. The winter before, Lost Valley had sold nine season passes.
The pair told the Sun Journal editorial board last week that the mountain has been struggling for a long while; ticket sales haven’t kept up with repairs and the rest of the year hasn’t been busy enough.
Hayes estimated overall debt at $1.6 million.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Hayes said they plan to close on Mondays to save money, form a board of directors to help lead the resort and buy 10 energy-efficient snow-gun towers. The guns will cost $25,000 but will eliminate a $14,000 rented compressor and $40,000 spent on diesel fuel each year.
“We now realize we need a business plan,” Hayes said. “We’ve been operating without one for the last 10 years. Technology has passed us by years ago.”
Cindy Dubois, executive director of Central Maine Adaptive Sports, which teaches people with disabilities to ski, talked about what it was like to see students come down the mountain smiling and how she would hate to lose that.
Ski Maine Association Executive Director Greg Sweetser said community ski resorts around Maine were important places for beginners.
“It’s step one; there’s more to go,” Sweetser said. “The entire state is behind you.”
He read a letter of support from Dana Bullen, president and general manager of Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry. Bullen had issued a challenge last month: Sunday River would donate $5,000 to the community campaign if someone else matched it. Jim Emerson and Emerson Toyota did.
Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he saw potential for a “meaningful public/private partnership here at Lost Valley that doesn’t just involve the city but may involve foundations and other partners that can really understand what a community asset it is. It is part of the community; it is at the heart of the community.”
Too many too-cold days last winter had hurt the ski resort, King said, and the recession had hurt it before that. She said it had been difficult to ask the community for help and that they’d been touched by the response. The funds will allow them to run the ski hill’s rainbow-colored ski lift, which opens access to 65 percent of the mountain.
Another $40,000 to $50,000 is needed to open the second lift, which could come from donations and early ticket sales, she said. Hoping to boost season passes, they announced special early-bird prices. An adult pass last year bought by Aug. 30 cost $295. A pass bought this year by Oct. 15 costs $199.
Lost Valley is bringing back its two-hour ticket after stopping it last year, Hayes said. It’ll also devote less space this year to the terrain park, which had cut into room to ski.
“We’re going to focus on being the best small, family ski resort in Maine,” he said. “We’re trying to do away with, ‘We’re the best-kept secret.’ That’s not working for us. We want to get out there.”
As many as 150 people work at Lost Valley in the winter but King said many were students and people who give lessons, working only a few hours a week.
The Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments helped form Lost Valley’s new business plan and Efficiency Maine is helping with some of the energy-saving work.
During the editorial board meeting last week, Hayes said the ski resort’s electric bill is $18,000 in January and February. Eighty percent of the lights on the hill are operated with a single switch. Creating zones and switching to energy-efficient bulbs should save a substantial amount, he said.
He said he was open to exploring whether Lost Valley could become a nonprofit at some point. He and King plan more fundraisers at the ski resort in the future and plan to take more people up on their offers to volunteer to mow, paint or sell tickets.
“Part of the question is, ‘OK. Are you going to be back to save Lost Valley a year from now?’ Legitimate question,” he said.