RANGELEY, Maine — As Saddleback Mountain prepares to welcome skiers for the first time in five years, those leading the charge have the added challenge of keeping skiers and staff safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're doing the hard work now that'll make sure that we can offer the safest environment possible," Saddleback General Manager Andy Shepard said.
Shepard and his crew are making a slew of changes on the mountain in an effort to keep their returning ski community healthy. While there are also changes happening on the mountain, many of the improvements come with a new ski lodge.
"We're about 15 million dollars into an about 18 million dollar investment in our first year," Shepard said.
Inside of the lodge, a new HVAC system is being installed to help turn air in the lodge over more quickly. The crew is also expanding space for seating in the lodge. Shepard says he and his crew are also implementing a new ticketing system that will allow for a safer, quicker process. Skiers will purchase tickets online prior to coming to the mountain, and will only have to scan a QR code to get their lift passes.
"All of the things we're doing, that we were doing to prepare to open, have positioned us really nicely to be one of the safest ski areas, if not the safest ski area in a covid environment in the east," Shepard said.
And businesses all around town are taking precautions as well, before thousands come to the region this winter. Pleasant Street Bed and Breakfast owner Rob Welch says he's closing down some rooms to keep occupants safe.
"Sometimes people are disappointed that I don't have something available. But I do that for all the right reasons," Welch said. "Your customers come back. And they come back to places they feel safe in."
The mountain is set to reopen on December 15.
The mountain is currently offering test drive passes. Those passes are $135.00 (Adults) or $120.00 (Senior, Casablanca, College, Junior), and can be used for three days. Those who purchase the test drive pass can upgrade to a full pass in the first two weeks that the mountain is open. Those tickets will be on sale through September 8.