RUMFORD – The Maine Winter Sports Center is the white knight every ski area has been praying for, said one northern Maine town official.

“They have a vision for what life should be like in Maine for the winter,” said Mars Hill Town Manager Raymond Mersereau. “They do a fabulous job with great presence and a great vision.”

Mersereau couldn’t say enough nice things about the Limestone-based nonprofit firm that has turned around the northern Maine small ski area known as the Big Rock.

Maine Winter Sports announced yesterday that it has purchased Black Mountain of Maine Ski Resort and will soon be expanding and renovating the River Valley’s small, family-oriented recreational facility.

“They have improved Big Rock and laid out a five-year plan,” said Mersereau.

Along with the improvements came a doubling of skier participation, he added. The small mountain jutting out of the potato fields in Aroostook County was privately owned by someone who tried hard to keep it going but didn’t have the resources.

With Maine Winter Sports and its financial backing from the Libra Foundation, the funds are there for Big Rock, Quoggy Jo in Presque Isle, two other northern Maine ski areas and, now, Black Mountain.

Presque Isle City Manager Tom Stevens was also enthusiastic about the positive changes brought to his town.

“They’ve brought a resurrection of alpine and cross country skiing to this area. They are a wonderful corporate entity,” he said. “They are a top-shelf organization.”

Lots more skiers

Just as Mersereau said, Stevens said Maine Winter Sports came into the small mountain ski area and, with the help of local people, began fixing it right up. And skier participation there, too, has greatly increased since the work was begun about three years go.

“I can see vehicles as I drive by. There are a lot more families and lot more youngsters,” said Stevens.

Black Mountain is the first full-fledged Maine Winter Sports venture outside of Aroostook County.

Andy Shepard, the mover and shaker behind the Maine Winter Sports, said he saw the success the centers brought to northern Maine, which has had a high rate of unemployment, and decided he’d try the same thing in Western Maine, which also has high unemployment.

“In the last four years, I’ve seen the success in reaching out to the community and to the kids. I’ve seen the positive impact and economic benefits,” he said.

Besides reintroducing skiing as a way of life and bringing the potential economic benefits, another of the company’s major goals is improving health.

“We want to create a healthy community,” he said.

New ski director

One way that will be done is through the hiring of Peter Phillips, a skiing director from Montana and Washington state who will be moving to the area next week. He will develop programming, operate the base lodge and work with the local healthy communities group to increase participation.

Shepard isn’t wasting any time on the Black Mountain project. Thursday night he met with a newly formed Black Mountain Ski Club to start planning the changes that will be made at the local mountain.

Many more details will come out next week, but for certain at this point: The vertical drop will be more than doubled to 1,120 feet. Teams will be organized, responsibilities assigned and roles defined, he said.

“I want people to look at each other and say, ‘We made this happen,'” he said.

All changes at the mountain are expected to be completed by November.

If the same results happen in Rumford as happened in Mars Hill and Presque Isle, the area should be pleased.

“Rumford should thank their lucky stars,” said Mersereau. “They’ve been the answer to my prayers as a town manager. I didn’t want to see an industry go under.”


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