This is a column that I take a great deal of pleasure in its writing. Most specifically, its main message, “The mountain is in very good hands!” That, I plan to make clear, is detailed in Part II.

First, Part I:

So, the first thing some of you might ask is: What is a “host” at Saddleback? Well, a lot of ski areas have them. As I recall, Sugarloaf calls them “ambassadors”. Our role is to welcome skiers to the mountain, and answer any questions that they may have and/or information that they need to know (especially in this era of the disruptive and dangerous Covid 19 virus), as they unload their collective skis and poles before the vehicle’s driver heads to a parking lot, or as they enter (or try to enter incorrectly) the main lodge.

Hosts are not employees. We are not paid by the hour. Most are hosts because they are themselves skiers…interested in hosting’s primary “perk”; …a season ski pass! However, lusting for that season pass (during and after 20 half-days of hosting) isn’t the only qualification to be able to wear one of those easy-to-spot yellow jackets with the helpful name tag. (Not surprisingly, mine says ALLEN on it).

As I see it at least, there are other qualifications that makes one a good host: As noted above, you need to enjoy downhill skiing. And not just downhill skiing in general, but downhill skiing at Saddleback in particular. It is a wonderful mountain to ski (many in Maine and New England already know that). Being deprived of that experience for five years, then being turned loose on this fine mountain, now equipped with a new and very fast, detachable “quad” chairlift, almost makes that 5 year wait worthwhile. Almost.

More on that enhanced skiing experience later.

A good host, therefore, should have a working (skiing) knowledge of the mountain and at least most of its trails. Next, a good host must be personable and enjoy verbally engaging with the arriving guests, with a demeanor that demonstrates a love for Saddleback specifically, and the entire Rangeley Region in general….summer, fall, winter, and spring. A stated disdain for April’s mud season is OK, however. It conveys a certain truthfulness and objectivity.

And finally, a host must be able to tolerate somewhat inclement weather for extended periods of time. If an arriving skier demonstrates a slight bit of misgiving for being talked into skiing on a given day by a friend or parent, I sometimes share a valuable saying from my youth, growing up in Minnesota; “There is no such thing as bad weather…just bad clothing choices”.

Part II:

From the first bit of good news after a long hiatus of good news about a possible purchase of the mountain, that being that Arcteris Impact Fund was getting its ducks in a row for a major, and solid, investment in Saddleback, and by the same token, in the greater Rangeley community, the news kept getting better. First and foremost, Arctaris’ mission is to make substantive investments based on solid economic acumen, that also lifts up local communities in turn.

Months before the sale was finalized, I got to know a member of Arctaris’ leadership team, Uche Osuji. We were instant friends, based on a set of common interests, and I knew he had the strong academic background required by a solid financial organization like Arctaris.

I also had the opportunity to serve on a statewide council for a few years with Andy Shepard, the knowledgeable Maine native, and new General Manager of SaddlebackMaine who knows skiing in this state, and the development and operation of skiing venues from Aroostook County to nearby Black Mountain in Rumford. My growing confidence in the future of “our” mountain was clearly enhanced by the involvement of these two very fine gentlemen.

From the end of January, 2020, when the purchase of Saddleback was consummated and immediately announced, Arcteris & Company rolled up their sleeves and got to the huge task of bringing to life their due diligence and planning…with a goal of opening the mountain by mid-December, 2020. Little did they know that the country would soon be entering the very impactful era of a worldwide pandemic. No matter. Plans moved ahead, while incorporating Covid-safe construction practices and skier/employee-safe enhancements to be in place for that planned December opening.

Fast forward to December 15th, 2020, Opening Day at Saddleback as planned.

After an information-sharing meeting a few days earlier, the entire cadre of newly yellow-jacketed hosts were in place to greet an incredibly enthusiastic hoard of skiers who just had to experience the rebirth of their favorite mountain on opening day. Even though everyone…skiers and employees alike, were wearing masks…I swear I could extrapolate, by looking at each set of eager eyes, a broad smile on everybody’s face that first day.

It was wonderful to be a part of it all…answering questions and directing skiers when we knew the answers…and quickly finding those answers when we didn’t. The skiing public that first week was incredibly understanding regarding the challenges facing the re-opening amid rules and inconveniences necessitated by the over-arching goal of keeping everyone virus-safe. It was a reinforcing thing to experience. And I cannot go any further without giving a large measure of credit to the Mountain Operations team under the leadership and know-how of Jim Quimby and Jared Emerson. The ski conditions, though on a limited number of trails, was very good thanks somewhat to Mother Nature, and a lot to the snowmaking and groomer crews. Wow! …a job very well done for that first week of skiers.

Then…we all remember Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Rain. Nothing but nonstop rain !!

It was with a great deal of trepidation that I drove up Saddleback Road that next Monday noontime for my first stint of afternoon hosting, post-monsoon! Lo and behold, I was met with skiers wrapping up their morning of skiing by stating emphatically that the skiing conditions were very good given what the mountain operations crews were up against. Fortunately it was cold enough for a couple of days of snowmaking, but still….

Not wanting to sound redundant but those mountain operations crews worked long hours to accomplish a miraculous rebound after a weather disaster. I tip my hat again!

I stated up front that the mountain is in very good hands. That holds true for for what I have seen demonstrated by all of the staffs. The ticket sales folks who were working hard to accommodate skiers despite a late delivery of the computerized ticketing system, to the food service team who had the unenviable task of setting up, and utilizing socially-distanced tables dictating a limited capacity at key times of the day, and an outdoor “take-out” facility, the Fat Tire

Mountain Bar…with three nearby large olive-drab, yet warm, quonset-hut-like tents acting as seated eating and warming facilities.

I run the risk of leaving somebody out, but the Roger Page Ski and Ride School, the retail shop, the skis and boots rental shop, the custodial staff, the busy maintenance crew…the list continues. From my position as a host, I had ample opportunity to gauge the satisfaction level of the skiing public who eagerly anticipated the return of Saddleback. They were universally complimentary at most every turn, and sincerely understanding if something wasn’t perfect in these early weeks…they know it will soon be fixed, improved, or groomed to near perfection.

To conclude this early review of “The Return of Saddleback”, I want to compliment “Ally”, the writer/compiler of the 6:30 a.m. “Snow Report” email from Saddleback. I have read a lot of snow reports over the course of the past half-century. None hold a candle to Ally’s conversational approach. Her zeal to “tell it like it is” Cronkite-style makes one want to read the entire report….and I do. This morning’s report on New Year’s Day…ended with her GOOD EATS TODAY section. I shall take the liberty to reprint it here:

Have you stopped by our FAT TIRE MOUNTAIN BAR yet? We’re serving up breakfast and lunch and even beers- that’s right beer thirty can be 8:30 a.m. this New Year’s Day if you wish, or need a little hair of the dog to get your day started.

#thisismyMaine

#thisismyMountain

This. Is. Saddleback.

See you slope side!

~Ally

Like I said earlier: “The mountain is in very good hands!

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

Garrison Keillor

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome. Simply fire off an email in the direction of [email protected] Thank you, in advance

 

Groomers ready, and snow guns firing uphill at noon…soon to creat the “terrain park” above the main Saddleback lodge. AllenWicken

The snow making and grooming crews warming up the equipment at 5 p.m., an hour after the lifts closed for the day for a night of expert trail preparation. If you are alarmed by what appears to be an alien invasion via flying saucers…relax. They are reflections of ceiling lights. Allen Wicken

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