Saddleback Maine is expected to be sold to Arctaris Impact Fund of Boston in December. Local businesses and supporters are excited to hear the resort may be slated to open next year. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

RANGELEY — Brett Damm heard the news Thursday before it officially broke. Saddleback reopening would mean only good things for his business.

Likely expanded hours, expanded services.

“A lot of skiers are fly fishermen, a lot of fly fishermen are skiers,” Damm, owner of the Rangeley Region Sport Shop on Main Street, the oldest fly-fishing shop in Maine, said Friday.

As word spread of the agreement reached between the Berry family and Arctaris Impact Fund of Boston to restart Saddleback Mountain ski resort next year, the news was met with joy and caution — agreements have been announced before — and a feeling that this might be the one.

Michelle Smith, who helps run the family-owned Rangeley Saddleback Inn, said she is “super excited — unbelievably excited to see the word ‘sale’ being used.”

The resort, then Maine’s third-largest ski area, closed four years ago.

“I think everybody around here is very excited about it,” said Town Manager John Madigan.

With Saddleback physically in Sandy River Plantation, it doesn’t mean an immediate boost to the tax base, but the indirect benefits are many, he said.

“They’ll use the restaurants, they’ll use the hotels,” said Madigan. “I wasn’t here when they were operating prior, but what I understand is a lot of the people who were here to work the mountain in the winter were also here to work restaurants and things in the summer, because they have quite a year-round tourist population. That seems to have been a problem once they closed.”

The resort’s new general manager has said new owners plan to hire 200 to 240 full- and part-time employees.

Smith said the Rangeley area has been doing well lately with new restaurants and stores despite the shuttered Saddleback. Its reopening, she said, would mean “one more feather in the cap for this oh-so-wonderful area.”

Madigan attended a community forum hosted by Arctaris back in August that drew a full house.

“A lot of people with questions, especially the condominium owners,” he said.

Arctaris representatives briefed the room on their five- to six-year plans for restarting operations and making improvements. At the time, Madigan said, it included the possibility of opening up in a very limited way this year.

“I’d love to see a ribbon-cutting or something scheduled to actually open it up, even if it’s just the T-bar for the winter,” he said. “It would get people excited and get them up there.”

Charlie Woodworth, executive director of the Greater Franklin Development Corp., called it outstanding news for the region and expressed hope there might be more year-round activity connected to Saddleback in addition to its wintertime options.

With “trails, trails, trails,” he said, there are many possibilities, including mountain biking.

Smith said she hopes the new owners will marry snowmobiling with Saddleback’s traditional skiing to offer opportunities for both, something she said is becoming common on the West Coast. As someone who likes to do both, she said, that would work out great.

Damm said he was initially skeptical after hearing whispers Thursday of a new agreement.

“We’ve been hoping for it and praying for it because it’s a major contributor,” he said.

Right now, his shop only opens for weekends after Christmas vacation.

“I see that changing a lot with winter ski traffic — we’ll definitely see an increase in business,” Damm said.

Rangeley Fire & Rescue Chief Mike Bacon, whose department covers 21 towns and townships, including the mountain, picked Friday morning to do his regular Saddleback drive-by.

The reactions he’d heard in town?

“Mostly cautious,” Bacon said. “I think the community has been maybe burned in the past. They just want to make sure. I don’t think they want to celebrate until that line is signed.”

Woodworth said that if the reopening news is real — which he believes — people are going to be very excited.

Saddleback, he said, “is a wonderful asset. Let’s put it back in play.”

In announcing the agreement, Arctaris said it expected the sale to close in mid-December.

Saddleback reopening would potentially mean great things for the whole area, Bacon said.

“(There’s) very eager anticipation to what the outcome is going to be,” he said. “A lot of people were speaking, if this deal doesn’t go through, that’s it for the mountain. How many times can they do this before you get to the point where you just can’t recover, the equipment can’t recover, because it’s not being used? How far can you go, how many years can you go?

“I feel like it’s going to go through. I feel it’s positive,” Bacon added. “We’ll see.”


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