AUBURN, Maine — The owners of Lost Valley announced Wednesday that they launched a fundraising drive in hopes of raising between $50,000 and $100,000 in an effort to open for the 2014-15 ski season.
The resort hit financial troubles after losing nearly $200,000 per season for several years. Its owners, Lincoln Hayes and Connie King, are reaching out in hopes that private donors will deliver the capital the resort needs to put at least one of its two chairlifts into operation.
The resort’s historic significance includes being the birthplace in Maine of tower-mounted snowmaking, snow grooming and other innovations developed by its original owner, the late Otto Wallingford.
Wallingford was an apple farmer, and the 200-acre resort was part of his orchard properties.
The Ski Museum of Maine credits Wallingford with being the inventor of the modern snow grooming system, which he called the Powdermaker.
The resort, which opened in 1961, also can lay claims on being the training ground for a host of skiers and snowboard riders who went on to worldwide fame, including former U.S. Olympian Julie Parisien.
Parisien competed in slalom and giant slalom events in the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Games. She also was a successful World Cup skier and was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and the National Ski Hall of Fame in 2006.
Parisien started her skiing career at Lost Valley at age 2, after her family moved to a farmhouse about a mile from the resort.
Hayes and King also have developed a new business plan for the resort. It is designed to drastically reduce energy costs and may be key to a long-term restructuring, which would help the resort become solvent.
Hayes said he believes the new business plan, which involves more high-efficiency snowmaking equipment and low-energy lights, will save the company about $50,000 per year.
The owners also are working closely with the Auburn Ski Association, a nonprofit group that promotes Alpine ski racing and helps fund local ski racing clubs.
A third informal organization calling itself Friends of Lost Valley, which also includes some ski association members, is forming and holding weekly meetings in an effort to develop a plan to possibly turn the ski area into a nonprofit organization.
Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said Wednesday that he was pleased with the community effort that was emerging and optimistic it would move the resort in the right direction.
“It’s a real testament to the community that’s benefited from Lost Valley over the years, but it’s also a testament to just how important a community institution this place is to the city of Auburn,” LaBonte said.
Hayes and King said they have been operating the resort at a loss for years and short of selling the property, the only way to open for this season is to reach out for community support.
Karen Bolduc, a spokeswoman for Friends of Lost Valley, said members know the resort has several long-term needs for changes and improvements.
“We know there are problems,” Bolduc said. “But while we chug away at finding more long-term solutions to get Lost Valley on a sustainable trajectory, in the short term, the resort needs cash now just to stay in the game. That’s why we’ve organized this campaign — to rally immediate community support.”
The group has set two benchmarks, according to Bolduc. The first is $50,000 that would allow the resort to open its primary chairlift. If the group can raise $100,000, both of the ski area’s lifts would open for the coming season.
If they do not reach the fundraising threshold, Hayes said he and King have pledged to turn over all funds to the Auburn Ski Association, Central Maine Adaptive Sports and other local nonprofit organizations that support skiing in the community. Should that happen, all donations would become tax-deductible.
Hayes also said that he and King, who have owned the resort for the last decade, frequently donate to a variety of nonprofits.
Without the resort, the local nonprofit Central Maine Adaptive Sports, which provides alpine skiing-related activities for children with developmental disabilities, would be at risk. Central Maine Adaptive Sports serves about 125 children each year.
King said she was hopeful the resort could reach its goal by its Oct. 17 deadline, and that as they prepared for the upcoming season, other facility improvements and changes were in the works.
The resort has faced years of equipment and infrastructure decline and simply does not have the cash it needs to open for the coming season, its owners said.
Greg Sweetser, the executive director of Ski Maine, said the ski hill’s story is similar to that of many local ski hills. He said its niche is providing healthy outdoor winter activity for families and athletes in Lewiston-Auburn.
“Community areas dot the state from Powderhouse Hill in South Berwick to Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent and touch the lives of thousands each winter,” Sweetser said. “These areas are located close to where the people live, and Lost Valley is probably the closest to such a major population center.”
Sweetser said the resort’s outreach to the community for help is an extension of similar efforts across Maine. He said the role small ski areas play in the larger economy of Maine’s ski industry is vital.
“Lost Valley introduces tens of thousands of new skiers and snowboarders and fills that important feeder ski area role,” Sweetser said in an email to the Sun Journal.
He said the effort to raise funds through a social media campaign would help raise awareness of the role Lost Valley plays in Maine’s winter sports and tourism economy.
“This social media campaign will certainly raise the awareness of Lost Valley and its success,” Sweetser said. “That strong core of individuals creates the stability for the area and generates enthusiasm among others.”
Sweetser said a new national campaign called “Bring A Friend” seeks to build on the “passion of existing skiers and snowboarders to introduce their friends and neighbors to these winter sports.”
Lost Valley, likewise, has launched its own “Bring A Friend” program, which Sweetser said combined with the social media push would be key to keeping the resort viable.
King said Wednesday that she was fielding calls from people who want to buy season passes or who are inquiring about the coming season.
She also said a number of area business people have voiced an interest in helping the resort move forward as have a variety of volunteer groups involved in the Lewiston-Auburn skiing community, but the resort’s most pressing need is cash to get its chairlifts in running order.
Chip Morrison, executive director of the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce, noted the resort has been a member since 1967. Morrison said the chamber would do all it could to help as well.
Still, he said the economic challenges for small ski hills have mounted over the years and not just for Lost Valley. He said zoning changes in the area allowing the resort to either establish some lodging opportunities or to develop real estate might be one way local government could help keep the ski hill going in the future.
To donate to the resort, visit www.crowdrise.com/savelostvalley.