AlpineZone Challenge 2012 – Chris Farmer of Saddleback
The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Chris Farmer, General Manager at Saddleback in Rangeley, Maine, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 4/1/2013:
riverc0il: Three questions
- Saddleback took the lead in New England with its major glade expansion in Casablanca. Will additional glading be performed in other areas of the ski area?
- While the new Quad has made lapping the upper mountain easier than ever, it is not without its shortfalls given that surface lifts are less prone to wind holds. How often does the new Quad go on wind hold relative to the old T-bar?
- A lot has changed at Saddleback in just a few years. Congratulations on going from relative obscurity to the worst best kept secret in New England! There was quite an extensive expansion map posted in the not so distant past. Could you provide an update regarding Saddleback’s long term expansion plans and an updated timeline
- The plan is to do additional glade work this summer as far as expansion and of course maintenance of current glades.
- Not very often, in fact we have had great success with the low profile chair.
- We are currently evaluating our long term planning. By placing the resort on the market and assessing various collaborative options, I think we will find the right combination
Many forum members asked questions regarding the Rangely double:
riverskier: I want to express my interest in your plans for replacing the Rangely double. I am a Sunday River skier primarily that discovered Saddleback on a blackout day a couple years ago, and fell in love with the place. I would love to visit a couple/few times a year on blackout days, and perhaps more in the future, but am hesitant due to the current lift situation. The last time I was the there, the line for the Rangely was over 30 minutes long, and then once on the lift it is not a short ride. Do you think in some ways you are becoming a victim of your own success? A high speed or even high capacity quad would solve this problem, and would definitely increase business from this customer, and I suspect many others.
riverc0il echoed these statements: It seems like replacing the Rangeley Double with a High Speed Quad would be the most pressing on mountain upgrade. Could you comment on if and when this will happen?
Tipsdown also echoed this, stating have you considered installing a true base-to-summit lift in lieu of the Rangeley double? Given the aging lift system (excluding the Kennebego) the mountain doesn’t ski as big as it is and a lift and trail network that offers top-to-bottom skiing like most other big mountains would go a long way in providing that. Having another lift to the summit would also take some pressure off of the Kennebego Quad for 2 reasons as I see it. a) Longer runs means skiers are on the trails longer and in line less and b) it could potentially unload at the entrance of the proposed West Bowl spreading skiers and riders out even further)
Chris Farmer: Ahhh, the future of the Rangeley Double, my number one question. Our goal is to replace the Rangeley with a quad. We have talked about a base to summit lift but the challenge is a combination of the terrain and the Appalachian trail as to permitting. From 2 years ago until now we have solved many of the long lift line issues. If you talk with folks that regularly ski the mountain they will tell you even on the busiest days we are running 15 minutes max. People are learning to take the Sandy and then the Cupsuptic Tbar as an alternative. . A high speed quad will not be in the mix, they run 6.5 million and are double the fixed grip quad costs. Also all a high speed does is dump a ton of people at once at the top, what is great about Saddleback you don’t feel crowded on the hill.
xwhaler: multi part question
- The lodge can get quite crowded on busy weekends. I know that a full scale expansion may be costly and not in the financial cards at this time but what about setting up some type of bag check system? I’ve also noticed there are lots of non-skiiers who monopolize a large table and have their kids bags on them all day long. I know it is tough if not impossible to ask them to leave but I think either adding additional cubby space and/or having a bag check system could help alleviate the crowds to a certain extent. Skimaine also echoed the statement on the cramped atmosphere in the lodge.
- In the event of wind holds that may shut down the Rangeley but could keep the upper lift running, are you prepared to run the Cupsuptic and the Kennebago so folks can access the entire mtn? Or is the decision made to shut down both Kennebago and Rangeley at the same time and only run the T on very windy days?
- Any way to possibly speed up service for lunch upsairs in the Swig and Smelt during lunch? Sometimes on the busy days I’ve gone in hoping to buy something from the food court only to realize the tables are all full. So I hed upstairs for what I hope will be a quick 30 mins burger/beer that turns into an hour and a half because either the kitchen is backed up or there are not enough servers to accmodate the volume. The food is quite tasty and I enjoy going up there but the time to complete a lunch can be extensive at times.
- Any way to possibly glade some of the trees off the true summitt? The few times I’ve hiked up there usually is real tough picking your way through the trees and down onto Black Beauty or Warden’s. Unless the tops of the trees are completely covered it is almost impossible to fight through the growth up there. Not sure if there are any AT restrictions on this?
- Any thought to seeding and maintaining bumps on Tightline all season? Usually they go in in Early March but wondering your position on having a longer mogul season?
- How about adding some snowmaking to the headwalls of Wardens, Frostbite and Black Beauty? I’m sure its a real challenge given the exposure and wind up there but sometimes those trails can be off line for an extended period of time if it hasn’t snowed so wondering if anything could be done to help with snow rentention in these tough spots.
- Any planned grading projects on Dazzler to help with the haul out to Casa and Muleskinner
Keep up all the great work you guys have done so far!
- We agree on certain days the lodge is crowded. We have implemented a system with Staff speaking to people as they arrive and this has helped the problem.
- We have quite often run the Cupsuptic/Kennebago option. If it is real windy then just the Tbar.
- We have offered this year a quick serve, soup chili chowder and some quick grab and go. The size of the kitchen in the pub is our biggest challenge. We have modified the menu to cut wait times but it will continue to be a challenge on those busy days until we can expand the kitchen.
- There are AT restrictions they own the top of the mountain and have a few easement down about 100’ on to our property. Sorry.
- We try to leave the bumps when we can, sometimes it is in the best interest to piste them. For instance right before that 2 foot storm in Mid March we groomed all the bump trails so the fresh powder has something to grip to.
- This is in our long term plans, it requires blasting, welding and some tricky excavator work.
- See Answer above, it requires blasting which is quite expensive, but it is in our long term plans.
riverc0il: The hut at the bottom of the Kennebago Quad is awesome! Any possibility on expanding the hut into a permanent mid-mountain lodge (think Sugarbush’s two mid-mountain lodges). The hut is limited services and can be quite tight and uncomfortable. But it is a preferable option for expert skiers who want to stay high up on the mountain. Expanding the hut would also help alleviate crowding and long food lines in the main lodge. A deck with outdoor grilling and adult beverage service would probably be well received.
Chris Farmer: We are permitted for a larger structure, we do offer a deck and outdoor beverages as well as a beer garden. Come try some April skiing and check it out!
- Kudos on a great job of bringing this mountain along. Really enjoy the trails, the balance of groomer vs ungroomed, Kennebago quad, lodge, the hut, Casablanca and the value. Any plans on new snow making or some strategy (snow fence?)on the head-walls of Black Beauty et al is needed. These seemed to get scrubbed.
- One of the disadvantages of Saddleback, Sugarloaf and to a lesser extent Sunday River is location and remoteness. Any thoughts on creating a multi-mountain promotion to create a more compelling product to visit the “Maine Alps”? A promotion that combines lodging, transportation and lift-tickets that gives customers a chance to get a good sampling of each mountain (e.g., 2 days each).
- It is 13 miles from my condo at that “other mountain” to the base of Saddleback, but it takes nearly a hour to drive there. On my way to Saddleback, there is a great view on route 16 that makes you think you are nearly there, only to have to drive in Rangely and back to add another 15 to 20 minutes of driving. How about cutting another access road from the East or better yet installing an inter-mountain gondola. 😉
Keep up the good work!
- It is a Challenge we hope to add snowmaking in those areas. See my previous answers
- I have tried, at this time Our western Maine counterparts have not shown interest.
- That would require a bit of negotiation with Mr. Brochu and Poland Spring Water, (They have a spring in there). We have talked about it often.
salsgang: Great Mountain. Great Vibe. We are passholders and love the place. Early season snowmaking plans: Just a comment – I like the “bury it once and move on” philosophy. It provides a really good early season experience on the trails with snowmaking.
- T-Bar opening: I think more emphasis needs to be made to get the T-Bar open by Xmas break. Last year the Xmas week crowds were huge and no t-bar which created 45min rangeley lines. I think possibly a lot of business was lost due to people not wanting to experience that again the rest of the season. Has that been a topic of conversation this summer?
- Communication: I find the “social media” communication inconsistent at best. Most other mountains have someone other than the GM spearheading facebook, twitter, forum activity etc. I think we hear about the official events pretty well, but would like a more consistent flow of information from ‘behind the scenes’. The blog you had a couple of winters ago that was updated daily was quite informative. A more consistent flow of information in these mediums would be helpful by someone dedicated to this task.
- I echo comments on snowmaking on top of Wardens Worry, Frostbite and Black Beauty. Great entrance to trails we rarely got to ski last year. Any chance we could get some glading on the skiers left side the rangeley? There is some really great terrain over there that could be opened up that is not quite so gnarly as up top which would give the beginner glade skier something bigger to sink their teeth into before going deep off the top.
- I find for new skiers, the terrain jump from the lower quad to the rangeley is quite a step. They are forced down hudson highway, or they have to tackle the blues of Gray Ghost or Green Weaver which is a big step up from the lower greens. Any of your expansion plans accomodate an ‘easier blue” to make the step up a bit easier for new skiers? I have to say the lower quad is the best learning area of any mountain I know in the northeast.
- Will you stay open weekends late april to May? I loved skiing May 1. I hope it was somewhat financially feasible to do so.
- Terry also echoed the season length statements: Are you planning on staying open as long as the conditions allow again this year? I don’t know how financially feasable it was, but we had some awesome skiing there on May 1st. I couldn’t believe that we were still skiing Casablanca then.
Thanks for participating! Looking forward to the answers.
- We were ready this year with the T-bar. Our plans are this April to put it “to bed” ready to go when we start the season. Hopefully we get another pre-Christmas dump!
- We have talked about doing a blog for 2013-2014. The blog 2 years ago was done by our previous marketing manager, unfortunately that was his primary focus and the social media was done by me when I was still in just development so there is a balance as to time that comes in to play.
- We don’t wish to open that up too much more, because it can effect the wind on the lift, we saw that when the upper part of Grey Ghost was made wider, so we are a little weary of opening that up more.
- The widening of the Grey Ghost has helped to make it an easier blue, I don’t disagree, the question is where?
- Yes we will stay open in April into May if there are people and snow, we need both to make it work financially when one stops, we stop.
- Have you considered installing a base-to-summit lift in lieu of the Rangeley double? Given the aging lift system (excluding the Kennebego) the mountain doesn’t ski as big as it is and a lift and trail network that offers top-to-bottom skiing like most other big mountains would go a long way in providing that. Having another lift to the summit would also take some pressure off of the Kennebego Quad as a result of additional up-hill capacity provided by a new quad lift. Without another lift to the summit the Kennebego would likely get jammed up and water down the experience. Please provide your thoughts.
- Are there still plans to open up ski access to the backside? I understand there are some restrictions in regards to lift and trail development but how about some thinning below tree line and providing access either back to the front (via the proposed West Bowl lift) or scheduled cat ridesback to the summit? Formally providing access to that terrain would surely give expert skiers one of the most unique and challenging experiences in New England. With terrain of that magnitude it only seems natural to capitalize on it. It also seems as though it could be a cost-effective approach towards solidifying Saddleback’s reputation as having some of the toughest terrain in the east..
- Is it possible to do some glade thinning at treeline to provide extenstions to the trails off of true summit? Late in the season with good snow cover you can ski the extensions of Wardens and Tightline but how about some thinning above Supervisor, Frost Bite, Black Beauty and others?
- See answer above
- We have talked a lot about the Western Bowl, I think it is a good area to expand into.
- Can’t do it due to the AT restrictions, good thought though!
wa-loaf: Several questions arose on the EB5 status. How will the new EB5 status for the area impact Saddleback in the near and long term. Are the any projects in que that will get prioritized/moved up now? I was wondering if you can share Saddleback’s capital expansion philosophy. After a Rangeley replacement, will potential improvements be focused on the ski operations… or will there be a concentrated effort to make Saddleback a 4 season resort? One other thing that would be cool is some type of ‘hotel style’ lodging on-mountain. It would be great to have a hotel option where you don’t have to rent an entire condo for a bed but still be on-mountain.
Thanks a bunch!
Salsgang also followed up on the EB-5 designation: In the past few days, Jay Peak has been brought up as a comparison to what can be done with the EB-5 investment. I could be wrong, but most of their investments seems to be driven to building up the ‘four season resort’. Swimming Pools, Ice Rinks, Posh hotel etc.
Chris Farmer: Hotels are tough! Almost every resort that built a hotel in the past 30 years had to go thru Chapter 11. We wish to have a bigger bed base, an EB-5 project may work for that. Our long term goal is to grow the 4 season part of the resort. The challenge with EB-5 is these projects need to work, therefore we are being careful
Nick: My first question obviously has to do with the announced sale or potential sale of Saddleback. Could you talk a bit to the circumstances around the decisions to sell, what involvement you would like to have with Saddleback in the future, and if there are limitations to what is on the table?
Chris Farmer: The Berry’s have owned for 10 years, we felt it was time to explore all options, Sale, Partner, lease, etc.
There are no limitations except for what you have in your wallet.
- Are there still plans to open up ski access to the backside? I understand there are some restrictions in regards to lift and trail development but how about some thinning below tree line and providing access either back to the front (via the proposed West Bowl lift) or scheduled cat rides back to the summit? Formally providing access to that terrain would surely give expert skiers one of the most unique and challenging experiences in New England. With terrain of that magnitude it only seems natural to capitalize on it. It also seems as though it could be a cost-effective approach towards solidifying Saddleback’s reputation as having some of the toughest terrain in the east..
- Do you a plan in terms of laying out future terrain expansion? There seems to be a need to more intermediate trail development and as I understand it there are plans for additional glading on the current blueprint as well as the the East (of Muleskinner) and to the West (West Bowl)
- The official backside is owned by the US Government, we have not negotiated use of it at this time.
- You are right on track with our thoughts, we will see what this summer brings
Conrad: While the Kennebago Steeps are awesome, I also really enjoy skiing down the to the t-bar and doing laps there since there aren’t too many t-bars left at medium and big sized ski areas. I also have noticed that the t-bar is the #1 most mentioned lift in the lodge so other people must also appreciate it. Have you noticed this too? Do you think the t-bar is a draw for some people to Saddleback, not in itself, but as one piece of the puzzle? And do you think the t-bar will be running for decades to come or might it be replaced or removed?
Chris Farmer: I think if we got rid of the T-bar there would be a riot. Dedicated Saddlebackers have told us it is our favorite lift. I expect it to be there for a long time.
To view forum comments on this Challenge and the Challenge Results, please visit the following page: