More in Featured
Black Mountain will open for 2013-14
RUMFORD -- Following news that ownership of Black Mountain Ski Resort was transferred Friday to its volunteer board of directors, a community-based, nonprofit corporation, there is no doubt now that the ski area will open for the upcoming winter season.
But there is much to be done after Maine Winter Sports Center announced it has transferred ownership to Black Mountain’s board of directors.
Board of Directors President Roger Arsenault, president of the Board of Directors, said, "We have a board to organize. We have new articles to corporation that need to be clarified, insurances, all the things you need to do on a new startup business. Everybody is just fast tracking everything so that today, the Maine Winter Sports Center; Monday, it will be Black Mountain, a 501c3 corporation."
He announced that many of the current board members will serve on the new board. "And we're looking to add additional board members to try to get some strength in marketing and some strength in fundraising."
Other current board members include Rumford Selectman Jolene Lovejoy; J.J. Bartash, its secretary; Timothy Buzzard, its treasurer; John Aylward, Sherry Milligan, Skip MacFawn, Chummy Broomhall, Peter Everett, Mark Bolduc and Paul Jones.
Andy Shepard, president and CEO of Maine Winter Sports Center, said, "With the new ownership, they want to make sure they round out the board with some of what Maine Winter Sports Center used to provide, especially fundraising and marketing."
Asked about trying to maintain the level of fundraising that's been seen over the past month for Black Mountain, Shepard responded, "You won't be able to an annual basis, and the expectation will be that it won't be necessary on an annual basis. But there should be an annual campaign, so that it will engage the community and businesses, but without the $200,000 goal that we have to get the mountain started again."
Shepard said the purpose of this fundraising will be to build up a "rainy day fund. The mountain will starting being profitable in the near future. That will help add to the rainy day fund."
He said the fundraising will cover the projected loss for this year, "and then allow the mountain to also develop a rainy day fund, so as it gets through this year and is profitable next year in all likelihood, then the draw on that rainy day fund wouldn't come right away. It would come at some point down the road; if you have a bad year every four or five years, you've got the resources to get through that."
To date, the fundraising effort has raised more than $125,000 toward a goal of $200,000. That's not nearly enough to operate the ski area, which cost $650,000 to run last season, Arsenault said on June 26.
He said the ski area had an annual loss of $195,000, which the Maine Winter Sports Center quietly funded as it invested millions of dollars in capital improvements.
This past season, Black Mountain went from losing more than $200,000 to losing about $180,000, which had to do with some of the mountain's expansion and cost overruns, Arsenault said.
Arsenault and Shepard explained the lack of profitability.
"We're in a ski area mecca and we were charging $34 for a lift ticket and we had a season pass price of $249," said Arsenault.
Simultaneously, Sunday River offered a season pass price of $350, but had a much longer season that went from November 15 to May 1. Black Mountain opened on weekends from late December through mid-April.
"It was hard for us to compete," said Arsenault. "Dropping it to $15 made people aware of our darn good value."
Shepard shouldered the blame.
"The mountain's been operating in the red because we haven't found the right business model," he said. "If you want to fault anybody for the mountain being in the red for the last nine years, I would fault me, because it took me nine years to come up with a business model that made sense, and I think this ($15) one does."
Arsenault noted, "All along, Andy and the Maine Winter Sports Center were the owners, but it was still our mountain. It was our mountain to succeed or fail."
Shepard added, "Maine Winter Sports Center wasn't on the board. It was Roger and his board who was running the mountain."
Arsenault said, "When I said Black Mountain was being turned over, my wife asked me, 'Does that mean that you own the mountain?' I said no, the corporation and the community own the mountain. We're the operating board. If anything changes at the mountain, profits don't come to us. It is a community facility."
Shepard noted, "It is a 501c3 charitable and benevolent corporation. It's purpose is to introduce kids to a healthy, active outdoor lifestyle, and to serve as an economic engine in the region...Black Mountain is one of the more positive things that Rumford has to offer."
Asked if the mountain would be able to maintain the $15 day lift ticket if things got really tough financially, Arsenault responded, "Our vision right now is to maintain the $15, but everything is on the table. We need to discuss that, but for this winter, we're at $15 and possibly a bump up in season passes."
Shepard added that that $15, or something in that range, "is all about being affordable and that is what's going to make this work. The 197 percent increase in day ticket sales (last winter, first year of $15 day ticket) -- that pretty much speaks for itself. We got four times the amount of traffic coming through the mountain. Everything else works -- retail, cafe, rentals -- everything you're trying to offer people. Four times more people makes the whole economics of the thing work."
"The $15 price point isn't a gimmick to try to get people to come; I think that's the future of alpine skiing. Sunday River and Sugarloaf are never going to charge $15, but that's a resort experience. And what Sunday River and Sugarloaf, and resorts in general, are not particularly good at is introducing new people to skiing because the size of a large resort is too intimidating for someone who's never skied before, or too expensive for most people," he said.
When it was noted that the new ownership no longer has the financial backing the Libra Foundation had given in support, Shepard responded, "That investment has already been made. This is a pretty remarkable ski area right now and there aren't a lot of capital needs here. I think the mountain has everything it needs to succeed, but this business model being one of the most important pieces. Roger and the board -- the leadership is superb. The staff is superb."
Libra Foundation, over the previous 10 years, invested almost $9 million to the ski area.
Arsenault admitted that "Black Mountain has been polarizing to people. You either like it or you don't like it. For those that like it, enjoy it, it's fantastic. It's in our backyard. For those who don't like it, I don't think they can criticize the fact that we're an economic tool for the community."
Black Mountain will focus on recreation and attracting families and children. The board will also pursue competitions and try to push midweek and even night racing.