Friends of Squaw Mountain upbeat about future of ski area as improvements continue

The ski lodge at the Big Squaw Mountain Ski Resort in Greenville.  The mostly volunteer crews worked for months to reopen the ski slopes on the side of Big Moose Mountain.
The ski lodge at the Big Squaw Mountain Ski Resort in Greenville. The mostly volunteer crews worked for months to reopen the ski slopes on the side of Big Moose Mountain. Buy Photo
Posted July 03, 2013, at 2:05 p.m.
Last modified July 03, 2013, at 2:23 p.m.

GREENVILLE, Maine — It’s not hard to peg retired Greenville schoolteacher Bill Fling as a die-hard skier.

The interior of his ice cream shop Moose Scoops in downtown Greenville is decorated with racing bibs, trophies and several old signs from Squaw Mountain Ski Resort. Even though it’s summer, a pair of Elan skis leans up against the wall.

“We accomplished what we set out to do last year,” Fling said. “Now the real work begins.”

Fling is the secretary of the Friends of Squaw Mountain, a nonprofit group that brought the dormant ski area overlooking Moosehead Lake back to life last January after three years of inactivity. “We started meeting a year ago February (2012). But once the snow started last winter, things took off in a hurry,” Fling said.

The story of Squaw Mountain is like a series of roller coaster rides since it opened 50 years ago. It was operated by Scott Paper for awhile; but after reportedly losing $250,000 in the 1973-74 seasons, the company paid off a $1.1 million Maine Guarantee Authority debt and gave the resort to the state. General Manager Duane Lander then leased the area from the state and ran it for a few seasons.

By 1980, the Maine Department of Parks and Recreation decided to look for a buyer for the 2,300-acre property. Subsequent operators were the Big Squaw Mountain Corp; Pam and Kerry Kimball, who renamed it Moosehead Resort on Big Squaw Mountain; and a local group consisting of Rodney Folsom, Mark Gilbert, David Amrein, Burdell LaCasce, Wallace Raubenheimer and Chris Raubenheimer operating as Ski Squaw on Big Squaw Mountain.

Carolyn and Tom Hendrickson ran the operation in the early ‘90s and Florida businessman James Confalone purchased the ski area in August 1995.

In August 2010, Confalone offered to lease the facility to Piscataquis County for $1 per year for 30 years. The county did not accept the offer, so Confalone shut it down.

However, thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Squaw Mountain, Confalone agreed to lease it to them for $1 a year for the 2012-13 season and recently extended the arrangement until 2015.

Noel Wohlforth of Greenville, a member of the Friends of Squaw Mountain board of directors, skied there for the first time in the 1960s and worked at the mountain later in his retirement years. “They say the worst job is running upper chair lift. It’s the coldest place on the mountain, and there I was,” he joked.

Wohlforth was also on duty in 2004 when an accident on the lift injured a father and son. “The chair grip failed, but it was relatively close to the ground,” said Wohlforth. “They fell, hit and slid. A ski patroller and I got to them right away.” But the upper mountain lift hasn’t been in operation since then, he added.

Still, Wohlforth said he has never lost his love of skiing at Squaw Mountain. “When Amy [Lane] contacted a few people about starting it up as a nonprofit, I thought it was a great idea,” Wohlforth said. “But we had plenty of surprises getting it off the ground, like trying to find the well in mid-winter. Then we had about 20 plumbing leaks to fix.”

By the time the Friends of Squaw Mountain finished all the repairs, the best part of the ski season – including Christmas vacation – was over. But thanks to some plentiful snow and a lot of promotion through social media like Facebook, crowds starting flocking to the local slopes once again.

Now that the lease is locked in for the next two years, the Friends of Squaw Mountain are making major repairs at the lodge. A new roof and replacement windows were ready to be installed last week. The old green facade will eventually be replaced by log siding, giving the lodge a rustic look as well as making it more energy-efficient.

“When we put out the invitations to local businesses asking for support, one of the first ones to respond was Moosehead Cedar Log Homes,” said Friends of Squaw Mountain President Amy Lane. “But the lodge itself really needed work. We couldn’t install it when we were dealing with single-pane, broken windows on the front,” Lane said.

So the new windows and siding will be installed on the “slope side, which is the most visible and subjected to the most wear and tear,” Lane said.

The Friends of Squaw Mountain leased a 2006 Prinoth groomer last season with the option to buy the machine. But since they were only in business for a year, it was next to impossible to get financing, even though they were willing to put down $21,000 toward the purchase.

Quebec businessman Pierre Thabet and his wife, Theresa, then offered to finance the $55,000 balance interest-free. Pierre Thebet is president of Mirage Flooring in St. Georges, and he and his wife are summer residents of Rockwood.

“This was a wonderful gesture,” Lane said.

Lane said that the reaction from the community on the rebirth of the ski area has been overwhelmingly positive.

“On Moose Lottery Weekend, we set up a tent on the front lawn of the school, and sold $1,000 worth of T-shirts in two days,” Lane said.

One of the most successful fundraisers so far has been the sale of lift chair sponsorships at $500 each. In addition to a banner displayed on each chair all season, sponsors also get 20 lift tickets.

“These are ideal for lodging businesses. Their banner will be seen by hundreds of people every day, and they can use the lift tickets themselves or for their customers,” Lane said. “Our goal is to sell sponsorship for all 121 chairs.”

Some banners have also been purchased in memory of people who were affiliated with Squaw Mountain in past years, including youth skiing instructor Sue Cartwright, who passed away in 2011.

Sugarloaf USA, one of the state’s premier ski resorts, has also been very supportive of Squaw Mountain and offered to give them a chairlift drive last season.

“But as it turned out, we didn’t need it,” Lane said. “But they told us to let them know if there’s anything else they can do to help us.”

Some of the long-term goals include restarting snowmaking at the mountain. The pipes are still in place, but new snow guns are needed and the system needs to be pressurized.

Fling said that the parking lot could use some improvement as well. “It gets pretty muddy in the spring, so we need someone with heavy equipment to scrape it and add some gravel,” Fling said. “But it’s all in due time.”

Fling also credited Rodney Folsom for much of the early success of the Friends of Squaw Mountain. “He was the one who negotiated with Jim Confalone. Frankly, if it hadn’t been for Rodney, none of this would have happened.”

A huge party is now planned for Fourth of July at Lower Lincoln Street in Greenville from 12:30–10 p.m. It includes a pig roast and barbecue, a dunk tank, a monster 71-foot inflatable obstacle course and other kids games; a 50-50 raffle, and dancing to music by Jones’N.

Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for kids age 5 and older and free for youngsters age 4 and under.

For information, visit the Friends of Squaw Mountain Facebook page.

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