MARS HILL, Maine — For the second time this summer, The Maine Winter Sports Center has announced it is ending its relationship with a Maine ski area.
On Tuesday the organization issued a press release announcing it is turning over ownership of Bigrock Alpine Ski Area in Mars Hill to the community.
“When we bought Bigrock Mountain in 2000 with funding from the Libra Foundation, the intent was to give the mountain a meaningful opportunity at being sustainable for the long term,” Andy Shepard, president and CEO of Maine Winter Sports, said in the release. “At that time we envisioned turning the mountain over to a nonprofit, community-based ownership [and] that time has now come.”
Maine Winter Sports officials announced on June 25 that it would be stepping away from Black Mountain in Rumford after 10 years of ownership.
By mid-July, a community organization had raised the necessary funds to take over operations of Black Mountain, which was donated to the group by Maine Winter Sports and the Libra Foundation, the charitable trust set up the late Betty Noyce, the ex-wife of the co-founder of Intel.
Shepard said the Mars Hill ski facility, while not making a profit last year, did have “a good year” due in part to a new business model and ticket pricing schedule.
“We want to do the same thing [with Bigrock] as we did with Black Mountain,” Shepard said. “Black Mountain has become a success story [and] that community stepped up in the most profound way to keep it open.”
Shepard said he has no doubt the same scenario will play out with Mars Hill.
“Our hope is Bigrock will find the same success,” he said. “It is a terrific mountain and and has been an important part of the region for 50 years.”
Over those five decades Bigrock has been a huge draw for Aroostook County, according to Theresa Fowler, executive director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce.
“Closure of Bigrock would certainly be detrimental to the area,” Fowler said Tuesday afternoon. “But I think there are certainly residents of the area who are interested in seeing it remain open and operating it [and] I have been hearing rumblings of people who are interested in continuing the operation.”
Fowler said the ski facility annually attracts visitors from around Maine and New Brunswick.
Hotels and others providing accommodations in Mars Hill depend on it, she said. “The loss of it would be quite dramatic. It is an exceptional property.”
With 980 feet of vertical drop, Bigrock Mountain is the tallest ski area in northern Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, according to Shepard.
Maine Winter Sports purchased the ski area in 1999 and since then with the Libra Foundation invested more than $6 million in improving the facility including expanded snow making systems, a new triple chairlift and a tubing park.
Maine Winter Sports also owns the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle and the 10th Mountain Ski Area in Fort Kent, and Shepard said there are no plans to step away from those two nordic ski facilities.
“I don’t see that as an inevitable connection to what is going on with Black Mountain and Bigrock,” he said. “It is more that we are focusing on transitioning our alpine operations to community-based ownership.