Maine’s Black Mountain Loses Funding; Closes Immediately
UPDATE: 6/28: Brian Gagnon, CEO of Boston-based BMG Partners, a "problem-solving company," said at a public meeting of about 100 people last night he had launched the "Friends of Black Mountain of Maine Fund" at Crowdrise, an online fundraising platform. The fund had raised nearly $5,000 of it's $55,000 goal the first day. That money, if raised, will keep the resort functioning until ski season.
UPDATE 6/27: "The latest development is that there is a community meeting tonight (June 27) at 6:30 p.m. at the Black Mountain Base Lodge to brainstorm ways to keep the area operating," Greg Sweetser, executive director of Ski Maine told SnoCountry.com.
ORIGINAL STORY: "Black, like so many community ski areas, does have a passionate core of supporters who keep these areas going through the good times and the tough times. I am optimistic, that they will find a positive outcome to their funding issue. I am not surprised how quickly the meeting has come about – there is a long history of winter sports support in the greater Rumford community," Sweetser said.
Another vintage ski area has bitten the snowdust until, and if, new money can be found. The Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC), which has owned and operated Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford since 2003, has announced it will close the area down immediately.
“The timing is unfortunate coming off our best season ever,” said Andy Shepard, MWSC President and CEO. “Several years ago we took on the challenge of turning Black Mountain around with the understanding that we needed strong community support to make the economics work.”
Rumford Selectmen had approved $50,000 to carry the ski area through the summer and get it ready for the 2013-14 season and to pay wages for three employees. However, the total proposed Rumford budget was defeated at the polls by almost a 2-1 margin and under the Charter, there is no recourse for defeated requests.
“That pretty much took the wind out of our sails,” MWSC Board Chairman Roger Arsenault told the River Valley Sun Journal newspaper. “We had a tremendous year last year and we were keeping are lodging establishments, well I won’t say full, but we made an impact, and the restaurants were busy.”
Shepard said he knows the mountain “still has a lot of support within some sectors but the electorate told us clearly that there are other priorities and we absolutely respect that.”
The ski area’s business model changed direction last year in an attempt to make the sport more accessible to residents and to reach profitability. Day lift tickets were reduced to $15 and season passes, $150. A new snowmaking system was installed, the Last Run Lounge expanded, along with a retail shop and new website.
That, Shepard says, resulted in a rise in lift ticket sales by 197 percent, rentals up 93 percent, and lessons up a stunning 426 percent. Still, a loss was posted, requiring outside resources to cover it.
Another investor in the project is the Libra Foundation because, as Foundation President and CEO Craig Deneka puts it, “we saw the mountain as an important part of the economy and skiing heritage in the region.”
The winter sports operation at Black Mountain began in 1924 by the Chisholm Ski Club, with a primary focus on cross-country skiing. It jumped on the map, so to speak, in 1950 hosting the FIS World Nordic Championships when Lake Placid bowed out with too little snow. The modest alpine operation – primarily a simple T-Bar, stayed modest for many years.
The hill, with its 470-foot vertical saw double chair added in 2003, expanding to 20 trails, six of those operating for night skiing. The area put up the “no smoking” sign in 2004.
Shepard and the others say the are working to find a new partner “to continue our long history of skiing.” But, for now, Black Mountain is not in the black. It is, sadly, closed. Photos: Black Mountain of Maine; Vintage Ski Poster