RUMFORD, Maine —The Maine Winter Sports Center, which has owned and operated Black Mountain in Rumford since 2003, has announced its intention to close the alpine mountain, effective immediately.
“The timing is unfortunate coming off our best season ever,” Andy Shepard, president and chief executive officer the MWSC, stated in a Wednesday morning news release.
“Several years ago we took on the challenge of turning Black Mountain around with an understanding that we needed strong community support to make the economics work,” he said.
“I know 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.”
He was referring to the recent town vote not to fund Black Mountain as a recreational resource by a nearly 2-1 margin.
In the June 11 referendum, the ski area requested $51,700, which the Finance Committee recommended raising and appropriating. Selectmen recommended $51,000.
The money was to help carry the ski area through the summer, get it ready for winter and pay wages for three employees, Roger Arsenault, president of Black Mountain’s Board of Directors, said on Saturday by email.
The initiated article was defeated 497-939. Due to a previous charter change, there is no recourse for initiated article requests that are defeated.
Black Mountain had changed its business model radically last year, looking to make skiing more accessible to the region and to also reach profitability, Shepard said.
The ski area reduced day tickets to $15 and season passes to $150, added a new snowmaking system, expanded the Last Run Lounge, and added a retail shop and a new, upgraded website. It also added a new 1.5-mile intermediate trail, Allagash, which quickly became a major new attraction, Shepard said.
“Day Ticket sales last season were up 197 percent, rentals were up 93 percent and lessons up 426 percent,” he said.
“Overall revenue was substantially up and the mountain was making progress. That said, the nonprofit community mountain still posted a loss, which required outside sources to cover.”
After a careful review of the financials and discussions with financial backers, Maine Winter Sports Center was contemplating future operations, but the town vote to eliminate funding to the mountain made the tenuous decision untenable, Shepard said.
“We invested in the operation of Black Mountain for 10 years because we saw the mountain as an important part of the economy and skiing heritage in the region,” Craig Denekas, president and CEO of the Libra Foundatio, said.
“That partnership has been a success for many seasons and we were pleased to play some role in that. But we also understand that the people have spoken and we simply have to recognize that,” Denekas said.
The Maine Winter Sports Center is a 501 c 3 corporation with a mission to create a sustainable model for rural communities in Maine.