March 14, 2024

If you read our last article on Jay Peak we labeled that ski area as the Phoenix of resorts given it tortured history and current rebound (Jay Peak Resort – The Phoenix of the Ski Industry). There is another eastern resort worthy of this perhaps dubious honor. And that is Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley, Maine. The Maine ski scene has long been dominated by two resorts – Sunday River and Sugarloaf. (The former is among our least favorite ski areas, but we shall leave that discussion for a later day.) Sugarloaf has a well deserved reputation as one of the better hills in the northeast. But after being closed for over five years, Saddleback has reentered the picture, and is providing some stout competition for nearby Sunday River and Sugarloaf.

A little history is needed so lets back up a bit. The original developers of Saddleback secured a 45 year lease on the land that is now Saddleback from Hudson Pulp and Paper Company who had operated a longstanding logging camp on the land until 1957. Saddleback ski area first opened in December 1960 with a single T-Bar serving the bottom portion of the mountain, and a second T-Bar to access the top half terrain opened shortly thereafter in January 1961. The ski area expanded and thrived much through the end of the century, but fell into trouble in the early 2000s with ownership exchanging hands a number of times.

The interesting part of Saddleback’s story really starts in 2015 when the Berry family (who then owned the resort) surprisingly announced that they would not open for the upcoming season. After the area languished for several years, the Berry family announced a sale to the Australia-based Majella Group who had grand plans for the area (including an eight-mile tram from downtown Rangeley to the areas base lodge). However, less than a year later without a completed sale, the Majella Group’s CEO was arrested for investor fraud. The group’s plan had been to leverage the EB-5 program allowing foreigners to attain a green card through investing in US businesses by job creation (sound familiar? This is the same program that nearly closed much beloved Jay Peak forever). Alas, the mountain continued to remain closed.

But after lengthy negotiations, the Boston based Arctaris Impact Fund purchased Saddleback in December 2020 reportedly for $6.5M, and after a long hiatus they reopened the resort in December 2020. (Aretaris is not your average private equity fund in that it “provides capital to profitable, growth oriented businesses in underserved regions.”) It didn’t take long for the skiers to flock to the newly opened family friendly (and relatively affordable – 2023-2024 season pass cost $949 compared to neighboring Sugarloaf of $1,609) resort. Arctaris Impact Fund have pledged $38M to bring the ski area to modern times and have not disappointed thus far – three new lifts have been installed, there have been $2M in snowmaking upgrades, two eco-diesel groomers have been purchased, a mid-mountain lodge has been constructed, and A-Frame villages have been added for additional slope-side lodging.

My son enjoying the view from inside the base lodge

Now that the history lesson is over, a little about Saddleback as it is today. I can keep this part pretty short and sweet because if you haven’t been there yet (and you live and ski in the east coast) add it to your must visit list. Why are we so interested in this one? My husband and I recently experienced Saddleback for the first time and were left with that warm fuzzy feeling that very few ski areas provide these days. Right upon arrival we were welcomed by friendly faces directing us on where to park, helping us unload our gear (there’s a lot of gear when you go skiing, but add a kid into the mix and its borderline embarrassing) and pointing us towards the base lodge. The rest of our day continued in the same enjoyable, welcoming experience – we ate a delicious lunch with friends at The Pub (enormous, casual restaurant on the second floor of the base lodge) and took turns exploring the resort while the other chased our son Jack around inside. We left that afternoon positively smitten from our experience and very intrigued by both the ski area and the Rangeley region more broadly. It certainly seems that the good times will keep on rolling for Saddleback and I cannot wait to go back.



Wanting a deeper dive on Saddleback’s checkered past? Read New England Ski History – Saddleback

conSKIerge co-founder

Charlotte Miller caught the ski bug early from her dad. An avid skier and gearhead, Charlotte claims Sugarbush, Vermont and Alta/Snowbird, Utah as her home mountains. In addition, she has explored many other resorts throughout North America and northern Japan. Despite having a job in the corporate world, she skis 40+ days a year. She is an Ambassador for Atomic. Warning – while she loves to share her love for the mountains with others, don’t try to keep up with her on the hill – it won’t end well.