As skiers settle into the New Year, a new model of ownership and operations is in the offing for the Mt. Abram ski area.

Rooted in a concept of community-based cooperative, the new plan has been in the works for several years, and its advocates say that details will be made public in a few weeks.

Meantime the mountain’s incredibly loyal cadre of longtime skiers, many of whose personal and family ski histories date back to Mt. Abram’s early years in the 1960s, are both apprehensive and hopeful.

The cooperative plan originates with Mountain Riders Alliance and its two founders, Dave Scanlan and Jamie Schectman, both of whom have experience in the business end of skiing on the west coast. Both have spent two seasons working at Mt. Abram. This year they’re in the top management, with Scanlan serving as general manager and Schectman as marketing director.

At present, Scanlan and Schectman are running the mountain, which is still owned by Rob Lally and Matt Hancock.

Scanlan and Schectman believe that the present profit-oriented “corporate model” for small ski areas should be superseded by a community-based paradigm that will be directed by various stakeholders who are usually not represented at the present time under the present regime.

They may be on to something. Mt. Abram has a passionate group of longtime skiers — including a number of personal friends — but has suffered a rather checkered financial history, especially over the past 25 years.

Schectman emphasizes that the co-op will technically be a for-profit entity, but that whatever profits accrue will be re-invested in the mountain.

Says Schectman: “Instead of private ownership, the ski area operations will be owned by a community of skiers that will make decisions based on what is best for future generations.”

To date, Scanlan and Schectman have held a number of informational meetings with stakeholders, describing their vision in very general terms. They promise that details of the cooperative will be presented “early in 2014.”

Shortly after Christmas, I visited Mt. Abram to ski and talk with some of the longtime skiers. I wanted to learn their feelings about the proposed regime change.

I spoke with three people who have been skiing the mountain for decades. All three have been season pass holders and/or members of the ski school through five changes in ownership, beginning with the founders. All own vacation homes in the area.

All three have attended at least one of the preliminary informational meetings in which Scanlan and Schectman have adumbrated their vision for a community-based cooperative that will be environmentally and economically sustainable.

Albert “Buzz” Hollander, of Hingham, Mass., represents the second generation of a four-generation Mt. Abram family. He awaits MRA’s formal proposal, but so far he is puzzled by what he heard at one of the early informational meetings.

“It wasn’t real clear exactly what they mean to do,” said Hollander. “I heard a lot of mumbo-jumbo, lingo-ese and culture-speak.”

As a child, Laurie Fitch, of Portland, learned to ski with her family at Mt. Abram. She has been teaching there since the 1970s. So far Fitch likes what she sees of the new Mt. Abram team.

“I think that the new management seems organized, energized and committed to maintaining this place as a family ski area,” Fitch commented.

She’s also hopeful of MRA’s plans to turn the mountain into a cooperative. “It’s a very community-focused concept and it gives Mt. Abram skiers a chance to have a say in how the mountain operates,” Fitch added. “I think there are a lot of people in Maine who would be interested in owning a piece of Mt. Abram.”

Fitch acknowledged that much confusion surrounds the idea so far. “The concept of the cooperative is new to a lot of people, and may be hard to understand,” she admitted.

Rick Luthe, of Portland, has been skiing Mt. Abram since childhood. In the 1960s, his parents — Merrill and Jane — built Chalet Luthe, a picturesque red A-frame which holds the honor of being the first vacation home at the base of the mountain. Rich still spends his winters at Chalet Luthe, which is stuffed with memorabilia of Mt. Abram and its five-plus decades of skiing history.

Luthe is optimistic about the new management team. “I like their attention to detail,” he offered, citing recent improvements to snowmaking as a prime example.

Luthe eagerly awaits the formal announcement of the cooperative, but for the moment he hopes for the best.

“I’m not sure I understand what they want to do,” conceded Luthe. “But if it works, I’m all for it. I’m in favor of anything that keeps our mountain open.”


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