PORTLAND — Supporters of Saddleback Maine ski area near Rangeley announced Thursday that if they can raise a $4 million down payment, they will take over the ski area — possibly opening in 2016-17 — with the goal of eventually turning it into a community nonprofit.

Peter Stein, organizer of the effort to buy Saddleback, said at a news conference that as soon as the newly formed Saddleback Community Mountain Resort — which he described as a private, community-owned company — can raise $4 million, the current Saddleback owners have agreed to transfer the operation.

“There is no doubt — none — that we can raise $4 million. The faster the better,” Stein said from The Trust for Public Land office. If supporters are able to raise that amount, Saddleback “will be owned by the community forever,” Stein said.

More than 1,000 people have committed to donate money, he said.

Anyone who donates $2,000 or more would become a member of Saddleback Community Mountain Resort, Stein said. Residents of Rangeley, Dallas Plantation and Sandy River Plantation are automatic members, he said.

When $4 million is raised, Saddleback Community Mountain Resort will gain exclusive rights.

“Opening in any fashion in 2016-17 depends on how much we raise and how fast, and a lot of what Mother Nature does for us,” Stein said. “The good news is, it’s looking like a really snowy season.”

If the resort does open this winter, it could be that in the short-term skiers use T-bars and not the chairlift, which needs replacing, Stein said.

Saddleback is the third-largest ski mountain in Maine (after Sugarloaf and Sunday River). Its owners, the Berry family, have had it on the market since 2012. The resort stayed closed for the entire season last year after multiple attempts failed to secure money for a new, faster lift, or to find a new owner.

The resort had employed up to 300 people in the winter. In 2003, it was bought by the Berrys, who poured $40 million into upgrades such as new lifts, a new base lodge, condominiums and trails.

As Stein and others work to raise the initial $4 million, two other organizations, The Trust for Public Land and the New England Forestry Foundation, are working to buy 3,249 acres of forestland adjacent to the mountain.

Their goals, said Bob Perschel of the New England Forestry Foundation, would be to preserve the land and wildlife while promoting recreation and sustainable forest jobs. For example, Perschel would like to see a new manufacturing plant in Maine that would produce Maine timber for buildings.

The $4 million would be the first part of fundraising for Saddleback. More would have to be raised to buy it from the Berrys, whom Stein said are only interested in getting out of debt and transferring ownership.

The cost to buy Saddleback would be $6 million. As planned, there’d be a long-term, $25 million capital campaign, much coming from grants and gifts. The $25 million would buy the ski resort and the forestland, provide operating cash, replace the chairlift, and expand the base lodge, trails and snow-making. 

The campaign to reopen Saddleback “has the potential to inject over $20 million into the mountain with no need for payback,” Stein said. That would result “in a thriving resort. This is absolutely an incredible opportunity for skiers, outdoor enthusiasts, the Rangeley region and the state of Maine.”

The initiative started six months ago with a few phone calls and meetings. “It has snowballed into literally hundreds of meetings and thousands of man hours,” he said.

Opening the news conference, he smiled at the crowd. Dozens of people wearing Saddleback garb applauded and cheered the news.

When a question was asked about whether Saddleback skiers may have found a new place to ski and wouldn’t return, the crowd answered: “No!”

“This is personal for many of us who ski Saddleback,” Stein said. “We all have a deep love of the surrounding communities and their people.”

Among those attending were Bob and Bonnie Grant, who live in Falmouth and have a home on the mountain. They support efforts to reopen Saddleback, and plan to become active members of the Saddleback community.

“We love Rangeley,” she said. Even with the ski resort closed, last winter they spent time in Rangeley snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, eating out “and enjoying the people.”

But they miss skiing at Saddleback, she said. “We’re all just anxious to get back on the mountain.”

For more details, visit www.skisaddlebackme.com.

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