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Seasonal ski workers move into new affordable housing complex on Saddleback Mountain

The $10-million Saddleback House opened on Nov. 17 after two years of construction. With enough space to house 80 people, the seasonal workers will be able to live near the slopes at an economical price.
Nick Song
Maine Public
The $10-million Saddleback House opened on Nov. 17 after two years of construction. With enough space to house 80 people, the seasonal workers will be able to live near the slopes at an economical price.

Kyle Lutz fell in love with Saddleback Mountain five years ago while hiking the Appalachian Trail. He’s worked the past couple ski seasons as a lift operator at the Saddleback Mountain ski resort, taking advantage of the employee ski pass on the slopes in his free time.

"I’m looking forward to those days you wake up and there’s just two feet of snow waiting for you first thing in the morning," Lutz said. "That’s everybody’s dream: waking up under two feet of 'pow.' "

Seasonal workers are the lifeblood at any ski resort. They’re the ones who operate the lifts, serve customers, and make the mountain a destination. But finding affordable long-term housing for hundreds in a destination ski town is not easy. That’s why Saddleback Mountain opened the Saddleback house for this season — a $10 million dormitory to house seasonal workers like Lutz right on the mountain.

The Saddleback House can accommodate up to eighty employees and 2 RA's. There's Wi-Fi, on-site laundry, communal kitchens and living spaces. There's a full equipment room to store employees' personal skis and snowboards.

"There’s a ski-in/ski out [entrance] on the North side of the building," said Amber Grey, the assistant facility and property manager for Saddleback Mountain. "You can come down from the mountain and be able to ski right to your door."

Best of all, monthly rent will be based on wages — with a cap at 30% of an employee's gross pay.

"[This first season,] we’re going to house 60-to 70-people," Gray said. "[Rent] is going to be between $130-to-$250 depending on if you want your own private room, or if you have a roommate."

Since the resort reopened in 2020, more seasonal workers than ever are coming to Saddleback and struggling to find long-term housing. Just over a thousand people live in nearby Rangeley; the larger town of Farmington is an hour's drive away. The properties that are available to rent in Rangeley cater to short-term renters on platforms like Airbnb.

"There was no lack of short-term rentals, but the need for long term rentals became pretty severe at that time," said Anna Pines, a local broker at Allied Realty and a member of Rangeley’s chamber of commerce. In 2021, Pines launched a Facebook page that connects local landlords with seasonal workers.

The Saddleback House hopes to have a ripple effect on Rangeley itself by opening up more space for seasonal workers in the town’s tourism industry. Additionally, in non-winter months, the facility will house seasonal workers from other Rangeley businesses.

"Rangely is a tourist destination," Pines added. "But we also survive off of the employees that work and live here. Commerce definitely does pick up when we get those employees back in town during the busy seasons. If there’s no place for them to live, we’re in a bit of a pickle."

Saddleback up until now has housed twenty-two staff in a couple condos around Rangeley. One of those tenants is Nikki Camrie, a full-time grounds-crew member who will be moving into the Saddleback House this season. Camrie believes the guarantee of affordable housing can attract seasonal workers from across the country to Western Maine.

"I had worked at other ski resorts before," Camrie said. "I think this is a great selling point for people to come work with us that way we can grow bigger we can support more guests with more employees."

Beyond the practical housing it provides, Kyle Lutz believes the Saddleback House will help foster the already strong sense of community on the mountain.

"[There's a sense of] camaraderie at the start of every day," Lutz said. "When I'm working, I'm working with friends. The day goes by so quickly because we really love coming here. This place is our home."

Nick Song is Maine Public's inaugural Emerging Voices Fellowship Reporter.

Originally from Southern California, Nick got his start in radio when he served as the programming director for his high school's radio station. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and History from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University -- where he was Co-News Director for WNUR 89.3 FM, the campus station.