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June 28, 2017 | last updated June 29, 2017 1:56 pm

Australian company buys Saddleback, plans investments at mountain resort

Courtesy / Saddleback
Courtesy / Saddleback
After being closed for two seasons, Saddleback Mountain Resort has a new owner. Majella Group, an Australian company with diversified holdings and an office in Portland, announced today it has purchased the ski area from the Berry family for an undisclosed amount.

An Australian company has agreed to buy Saddleback Mountain Resort from the Berry family, giving the ski resort new life after being closed two seasons.

Majella Group, which has diversified holdings and an office in Portland, signed an asset purchase agreement to secure ownership of Saddleback Mountain Resort in Rangeley. The purchase includes all holdings of Saddleback Mountain Resort, including the resort, base lodge, ski lifts and surrounding timberland, totaling 6,337 acres, according to a press release. The sellers were Bill and Irene Berry of Farmington. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal was announced at a press conference Wednesday morning in Rangeley.

Majella Group, which is based in Brisbane and led by CEO Sebastian Monsour, has an office in Portland at 32 Thomas St., according to its website.

"On behalf of my entire team, we look forward to getting to know the western Maine community and working with the Town of Rangeley to revive this magnificent property," Monsour said in the release. "Our team understands the importance of Saddleback to the people of Maine, not only as an exceptional ski mountain, but as an economic driver for the entire Rangeley region. We hope to attract more people to the area and expose them to all it has to offer. We are excited to dig in and get to work."

Immediate investment planned

Saddleback has been closed the past two winters.

Monsour said the Majella Group and its local management team recognizes that reopening the mountain is a "top priority for the Rangeley community and its loyal constituents, including the many property owners on the mountain," it said in the release.

"Replacing the Rangeley Chair and T-Bar are at the top of our list, and from Mother Nature's perspective, we are already up against the clock," Monsour said.

The Majella Group has engaged Doppelmayr, the world's leading manufacturer of ski lifts, to begin the process.

The Rangeley Double Chair will be replaced with a new TRISTAR Fixed Grip Quad Chair Lift that can support 1,500 skiers per hour. The Cupsuptic T-Bar will be replaced with a new Wind Resistant, Higher-Speed Surface Lift that can support 1,200 skiers per hour. When completed, Saddleback will feature one of the newest lift systems in all New England.

An opening schedule has not been set.

"Our commitment is not to over promise, but to move expeditiously and communicate transparently. We have much work to do. Please know, as soon as our team believes we can deliver a skiing experience that is consistent with our values and meets the needs of our skiing community, we will announce our plans for reopening," Monsour said.

A long history in Maine

Saddleback opened on Dec. 31, 1960, with a T-Bar and a lodge. Including this deal, the 4,120-foot mountain has just five owners, including Guy Gannett Publishing Co., former Sugarloaf General Manager John Christie, Massachusetts businessman Donald Breen and, since 2003, Farmington residents Bill and Irene Berry. The Berry family invested in the mountain, added a new base lodge, installed two new quad chairlifts, added new trails and expanded snowmaking and glade skiing.

"Saddleback is a fantastic place. I have skied there since 1971," said Bill Berry in a prepared statement. "Hearing that Saddleback was closing in 2003, my family purchased and upgraded the mountain to the best of our ability. We had a vision we pursued for 12 years. For the past two years, the family has been looking to turn the mountain over to a group that we thought could accomplish what we couldn't. We trust the Majella Group will do that. We believe that Majella has the vision, the economic horsepower, and the will to develop Saddleback into the four-season resort we have long envisioned. We wish them success and providence on their journey."

Enter the Aussies

Sebastian Monsour and his father Frank discovered Maine in 2011. The pair spent a few nights on the Portland waterfront and "quickly fell in love with the city and its surrounding area," the release said.

In 2011, Frank Monsour purchased the Williston West Church in Portland, at 32 Thomas St., for his wife, Elizabeth, and began renovations to include offices and accommodation for the Majella Group. Several years later, Sebastian toured the western mountain region with retired Maj. Gen. John W. Libby and Fred LaMontagne, Majella's CEO for the western region.

In July 2015, the Berry family announced they would not start winter operations unless they could replace the Rangeley Double Chair lift. The mountain has remained closed since that time.

"We believe Saddleback requires a plan to create more lodging, more restaurants, and additional on-mountain opportunities," Monsour said. "We want to attract significantly more visitors to Rangeley in all four seasons and create a mountain experience that complements and energizes the Rangeley business community," he added.

The Majella Group plans to retain a local mountain operations management team. Long-time Saddleback manager Jim Quimby will head up mountain operations. Rangeley residents Greg Andrews and Perry Williams will complete the management team, along with Majella CEO-western region, Fred LaMontagne, who will focus on long-range planning and strategic operations. John W. Libby will continue to advise Majella.

Wolfe Tone, acting executive director of the Saddleback Mountain Foundation, issued a statement following today's announcement: "The Saddleback Mountain Foundation applauds the effort of the future owners of Saddleback Mountain and the Berry family. We wish them the best for this vibrant mountain and are excited for the lifts to be spinning again."

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