“Come up and ski.” Unfortunately, those words that Jeff Kuller used to end many interviews will no longer be heard.
The dynamic leader of the Camden Snow Bowl in Maine tragically lost his life earlier this month when a tree he was cutting at home struck him. The loss, which extends beyond the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area, is palpable.
“It leaves a big hole in our hearts,” Town Manager Patricia Finnegan told the Penobscot Bay Pilot.
Kuller, who left behind his wife and two children, was the head of local parks and recreation as well, and had been in the region eight years. In that time, he created attitudes of fun and motivation to make the snow bowl a year-round attraction, particularly for families and youth. And it didn’t matter what season. He was as excited for new Nordic trails as he was for additional biking paths.
“There will definitely be a learning curve,” Andrew Dailey, Camden Snow Bowl’s director of marketing and ski school, told SnoCountry.com. “But he built an incredible team around him.”
Part of that unit, Beth Ward, has been elevated from Kuller’s administrative assistant and office manager to interim general manager of the Camden Snow Bowl.
The 56 year old also took charge of the United States National Toboggan Championships, created by longtime snow bowl contributor Ken Bailey who passed away in the recent months. Kuller elevated the event into its best weekend of the year, achieving 10 percent of the venue’s operating budget and creating an economic impact of $400,000.
Camden Snow Bowl and environs appreciated Kuller’s efforts, as evidenced by the 500 mourners who packed the Camden Opera House for his service. The members of the ski patrol wore their uniforms and came as one in a display of respect.
At the time of his unfortunate death, the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area was in the midst of a $6.5 million initiative to renovate and improve their facilities. Kuller became a driving force; Dailey told SnoCountry.com this was going to be Kuller’s legacy.
He was also adept at negotiating through a municipality with the approach of an entrepreneur, truly a rare skill. Now as other ski areas in Maine are preparing for the start of the season with the crucial Christmas holidays approaching, they are rallying to Camden’s cause.
Approximately half of the $6.5 million has been raised, and Dailey hopes that figure will jump to $3.5 million in December. With matching funds and a $2 million town bond on the June ballot, the initiative could come to fruition next year.
To that end Ski Maine, headed by Executive Director Greg Sweetser, rallied a number of ski areas in the state. Kuller was the organization's treasurer. Sugarloaf has made a donation. Volunteers from Sunday River will run the snow bowl’s employee orientation, something Kuller had always assigned to himself. Black Mountain and Big Rock have also called to offer help.
“We’re a small area, but Jeff touched many lives,” concluded Dailey. “It’ll feel strange, but we’ll channel our inner Jeff this year.”
Photo: Holly S. Edwards (Penobscot Bay Pilot)