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Business and Economy

Lost Valley Ski Area Finds Buyer

Susan Sharon
Lost Valley's lodge in Oct. 2014.

AUBURN, Maine — Lost Valley Ski area here is under contract with a new owner. Supporters hope the sale will give the small and struggling ski hill the financial foothold to ensure they hit the slopes for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, fans of Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley are still awaiting word on whether negotiations with a potential buyer will be successful and keep that ski resort afloat.

Things got so bad for Lost Valley that in June 2014, the longtime ski area's owners announced they would be unable to reopen. The ski hill, they said, was $1.6 million in debt. But then a group called Friends of Lost Valley came to the rescue.

The group raised about $27,000. Not enough to cover the debt, but enough to open the slopes for another season.

"To have a place where you can just pop over for an hour to do some night riding or whatever," says one of Lost Valley's friends, Auburn resident Karen Bolduc. "Get out there, get active, be with your family, be with your friends. We're pretty lucky to have a resource like that in our community."

But Bolduc says Lost Valley is overdue for a new vision.

"It was in need of somebody with a fresh view like, 'Wow! Look at this mountain. Look at all of the opportunity it holds,'" she says.

"I've always thought that it was a great little place and has a lot of potential," says Scott Shanaman, the pending buyer of Lost Valley. He's also the owner of a New Hampshire-based lift inspection and maintenance company that has serviced Lost Valley for about a decade.

Shanaman says he has learned from his line of work that small ski areas are often the most profitable. While prices at Lost Valley will stay relatively consistent, he says, the focus of the ski area will shift from the previous owners' emphasis on its banquet and conference facilities.

"We're going to go back the other way," he says. "This is going to be a ski area first. Our focus is going to be on improving the ski experience. Our money is going to go into snow making and trail improvements and lift improvements."

Major upgrades likely won't start till next season. For now, Shanaman is focusing on getting Lost Valley ready for the upcoming ski season that's just six weeks away.

Under the contract, he has taken over operations until final closing, which will likely happen early next year.

Bolduc says her piece of advice is to embrace social media marketing.

"Get a little bit on that bandwagon because I think that was a pretty crucial piece of the puzzle that was missing," she says.

As hopes for Lost Valley's future are high, so are the hopes for Saddleback Mountain, about 80 miles north. In July, the owners announced they needed to raise $3 million in order to buy a new quad chairlift and open for the season.

By early October, Saddleback posted on its Facebook page that it was in serious negotiations with a buyer who planned to open for the season. But the status of those negotiations remains unclear.

Saddleback spokesman Chris Farmer declined comment for this story. And as the clock ticks toward ski season, Rangeley Chamber of Commerce executive director Karen Ogulnick says businesses are concerned.

"Saddleback brings a lot of people to town," she says. "It employs a lot of people. So those two things together add up to it's a very important piece of the economy here."

Saddleback employs about 300 people in the winter and 25 year-round.