RANGELEY, Maine — As you get closer to Rangeley, via northward way of Route 17, long past Fryeburg and Bethel, the trip turns into its own metaphor. For the potholes and frost heaves on this remote stretch of road, located in the backwoods of Maine, present some rocky stretches, much like nearby Saddleback Mountain has had over the past decade.
It was in 2015 when the ski area’s former owners shuttered operations, leaving Saddleback dormant for five years. That time period included some false belief in the likes of an Australian developer eventually charged with fraud, but nothing that gave the town of Rangeley the hope it had when Arctaris Impact Fund of Boston purchased the ski area in 2019 with the intent to invest in the mountain and the community. “This is going to be, legitimately, one of the top resorts in the East when we’re done,” former general manager Andy Shepard, who was instrumental in the deal being struck, told New England Ski Journal at the time.
I had fallen in love with Saddleback following my one, and only, visit to the mountain in 2010. There was a minimalist vibe that I immediately appreciated at the ski area, where “fancy” might mean a napkin. I reveled in the uniqueness of the glades in the Casablanca Steeps, burned my thigh muscles on the challenging bumps of Muleskinner, and soaked in the majestic views of the Rangeley lakes. I had no idea then that it would be 13 more years before I returned.
When my kids secured season passes to Saddleback as part of their equipment leases with Country Ski and Sport last fall, a visit to Maine became a no-brainer for this winter. We became even more excited upon the revelation that there were no holiday restrictions on the pass. That allowed us to plan February school vacation at Saddleback.