Jared Emerson, Director of Mountain Operations since February of 2020 once again finds himself amid Saddleback (SB) history in the making as further upgrades show a continuous upward trajectory. He has spent half of his life working at Saddleback and from speaking with him it seems like the expression that time flies while you’re having fun is appropriate here.

His story starts with his grandfather Paul Emerson, who, back in the 60’s would go on regular outings with his wife, son and daughter in the search for great skiing. “It was just the four of them that started checking out different ski areas in Maine. There were a lot of ski areas in Maine back then similar to the Rangeley area, with Bald Mountain and the Ellis Farm and those little areas where you could go and ski on a rope tow or a T-bar. It wasn’t very long after they started exploring these smaller areas that they ended up at Saddleback and fell in love with the place, and kind of never really left.”

The family would visit year after year and eventually Paul became a ski patroller. Then when Paul’s son, Jared’s father, Don Emerson was just old enough, maybe 15 or 16 years’ old, he too joined ski patrol. Back then this junior patrol was essentially the first generation of real SB ski patrol training. “In the eighties we called it “Pony Patrol” because everything was all Western themed up here at that point”.

“So not very long into their career (grandfather’s and father’s) all of a sudden they were both on ski patrol”. They volunteered every weekend together throughout the 70’s. This continued until the 80’s when Jared was born, and the skiing was still a large part of their life. Although the family lived in Topsham, Brunswick, Freeport area, they made the drive every weekend.

Along with his sister’s Elise and Elaine, who all learned to ski at a young age, skiing was a regular weekend activity. “It’s all we did. Every weekend. Our dad was on ski patrol, and we were ski patroller kids, hanging out at the mountain every weekend and that was a lot of fun”.

Traveling the distance to Rangeley was no small feat and so the family found an alternative solution. “When I was really little, we had a camper set up behind the base lodge and so we would drive up on Friday nights for Saturday mornings to ski for the weekend and we’d sleep in the camper. So that was a lot of fun. I don’t remember having bad memories at all of staying in there. I remember it always just being an adventure and we always just had a ton of fun”.

Winters followed the same pattern, and his dad would allow Jared to pack some friends in the minivan with the rest of the family.

Not surprisingly when Jared was 16, he too volunteered as a ski patroller. About two years later he officially became a paid ski patroller on staff. “That was my first transition setting roots up here in Rangeley”.

Jared Emerson, Saddleback Director of Mountain Operations Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

In December of 2003 he finally moved to Rangeley full-time and in Spring of 2004 he started getting into lift mechanics, snow making and groomer maintenance. “The list just goes on of all the things I had my hands into.”  One of those things was continuing as a ski patroller. Remarkably, less than five years after being paid to do what he loved as a patroller, he went on to become the youngest Ski Patrol Director in the country at age 22. “That was kind of a cool moment when I was told that”. He did this for about 15 years and only just stepped down from that position just a couple of months ago.

For Jared, as well as the rest of the community, the first part of the decade was an exciting time for SB as the Berry family was putting capital improvement money into the ski mountain resort. “We built the South Branch chairlift, and we also extended the Rangeley chairlift.” In addition, the mountain had purchased the new equipment from Dopplemeyer as a non-turnkey installation. “So Dopplemeyer was here to install the concrete in the ground and do the lift line profile work, and then once the concrete was in the ground it was up to myself and this other fellow to build the lifts. And so, we started putting steel together and painting towers and assembling tower heads and building terminals and doing that work all summer of 2004 and that was super fun. A lot of good memories from that summer. It was kind of the first new equipment that Saddleback had seen in a really long time. I mean in my whole history of skiing at Saddleback I had never seen a new chairlift go in or any real money be invested into the resort. So that was a pretty monumental summer for us to be installing new equipment.” That was also the summer that the new base lodge was built. They also installed a ton of snowmaking infrastructure, water pipe, electrical wire, pump houses. “We started drawing water out of Saddleback Lake- that was the first time we’d ever done that before”.

There were ten years of a life of ski patrol and mountain operations which included high points like building another non-turnkey chairlift, the Kennebago, and leading the crew that cut the Casablanca glade area. “Basically, what it comes down to is I was involved in all things mountain operations for a whole bunch of years”.

“I could go on and on about all the cool projects that we’ve done over the years and all the crazy stuff that we’ve done. Got a bunch of just insane stories of crazy moments up here summer and winter. But man, all in all it’s just been a life of skiing, mountain operations and it’s been a life so far of working with a bunch of really cool people, developing some of the coolest friendships that you could ever imagine having. Either between co-workers or the relationships that we are able to develop with our customers as well, because we have such a strong just core customer base that a good portion of that customer base have just become amazing friends of ours up here. That’s been a really amazing experience.”

And then in 2015 when the mountain closed, there was a skeleton crew working and of course Jared was one of them. “Those years I spent, man, doing just all things. Everything that I could do to help keep the place from falling apart from keeping a close eye on the property to mowing and weed whacking lawns to picking up trash to in the wintertime, making sure buildings are heated and roads are plowed and sanded and all of that stuff. It was just Jim (Quimby) and I for most of that period of time and we did all that stuff together and also spent a bunch of time with potential buyers that would come through the property to inspect it.”

But he could only hang on for so long and after about three years he went to New Hampshire. “It totally, totally killed me to leave that fall of 2018 but I was just in a situation where things were not looking good at Saddleback, and I was young enough that I really wanted to keep my resume and my value high in the ski industry. So, I went to a ski area that was open and operating that I could work at and do a bunch of stuff, keep my name relevant and my skills sharp and so I did all of that.” He lasted less than a year. He laughed, “In April of 2019 (I) packed up all my stuff and moved right back to Rangeley. That wasn’t the place for us.” By us, he means his wife Katie and their children.

Back in Rangeley he found mechanical based work that he felt comfortable with. “Spent a little bit of time working at Boss Power Equipment, all the while knowing that if Saddleback sold, I was coming right back up here. That was kind of the mutual agreement between the Boss Power Equipment folks and myself and sure enough the day that I got the text message that Saddleback sold I left Boss Power Equipment. I actually, literally walked right out of the garage down there when I got the text message. I went to find Katie, she was working down at Bald Mountain Camps, I wanted to find her and tell her before she got word that it sold but by the time I got down there she had already heard. Typical small town” he laughed.

Present day Jared is obviously thrilled to be back. “We have assembled an amazing team of people and pulled off some pretty astronomical amount of work in the summer of 2020 amidst a ridiculous summer of supply chain issues and virus concerns and every other complicated aspect that the entire world dealt with that summer we dealt with here. And we got the resort open, had an awesome winter last winter. We had a ton of fun. It’s cool to be back open.”

Gearing up for this season, he and his team hit the ground running. “Now this summer we’ve been focused again on large capital improvement projects, snow-making improvements, installation of a T-bar, of a learning carpet, of a rope tow, installation of new primary high voltage power line that is mostly buried up the mountain, new groomers, larger and stronger team of people, just the list just goes on and on. The A-frame village, the Parmachenee housing site. That projects been pretty huge, the mid-mountain lodge project’s been pretty huge. It’s been a pretty insane summer, but things have gone really good. I’m really proud of the team we have assembled, the fun that we have the friendships that we keep making, the culture that we keep just trying to maintain here is just this culture of a whole bunch of people: employees and customers that just love having a good time, that love to enjoy the outdoors and employ a staff that just lives for producing the best, highest quality product that we can produce for our customers. That’s what we’re all here for. Our customers love that. They experience that. They know it exists. They know that that high quality product exists, but they have no idea how it gets there or what it takes to create that product or what it takes to develop that sort of culture that allows you the ability to have just a bunch of rock star employees that all care about the product and the customer equally. There’s a lot of moving parts there- mechanically and culturally and everything else, but we’re pulling it off and we’re pretty proud of it and we all love this place to death. We all understand that we have to be extremely responsible with every one of our business decisions so that we can keep this place open forever and we never have to go through the heartache of closing down again. We care about that and that’s what keeps us going every day. There aren’t employees up here that just come to work because it’s just a job. The employees that come to work up here come here because it’s a fun job, it’s an interesting job, it’s a job with strong reward as long as you are satisfied with that reward being smiles on customers faces and strong friendships being developed through co-workers and customers. So as long as those are the rewards that your after in life it’s an extremely rewarding job and it’s a ton of fun.”

So what about the next possible fourth generation of Emersons on the mountain? Well, older children Joseph and Lily seem to be forging their own paths, but he told me that his two youngest boys Wesley and Henry are “attached at the hip”, and they love the mountain life. “The two little boys I can see them definitely being here as soon as they can find a way to manage that. They’ve spent a lot of time in the snowcat with me over the years learning all the tricks of the trade for sure. I don’t ever pressure them but they love skiing. The two boys, they love skiing, they love snowboarding and all they ever talk about is coming to work at Saddleback.”

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