Ragged Mountain Sports shifts to rental skis management

Camden Snow Bowl to contract with Sidecounty Sports for mountainside ski and bike business

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 8:15pm

    CAMDEN — The winds of change continue to blow through the Camden Snow Bowl, as the municipality-owned ski mountain reevaluates contracts with vendors who operate private business operations there.

    Most recently, the Camden Select Board approved, 4 to 1, to pursue negotiating two new contracts for retail sales of skis and mountain bikes, as well as overseeing the ski rental operation during the winter.

    At their April 10 meeting, the board directed Camden Snow Bowl Director Beth Ward, Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell and Town Attorney Bill Kelly to work out the details of the two business deals. They include:

    1) A year-round contract with Sidecountry Sports LLC, owned by Andrew Dailey and Brian Kelly, to sell and service skis and bikes for the general public at retail shop space currently occupied by Ragged Mountain Sports; and

    2) a contract with Ragged Mountain Sports, whose owner is Charlie Pearson, to oversee the maintenance and upgrades of the Snow Bowl’s ski and snowboard rental fleet.

    The board’s approval of the new retail and rental plan following the endorsement of the town’s Four Season Committee. (Click here to read the proposals in entirety in the Select Board’s April 10 meeting packet.)

    As approved, Sidecountry, which operates ski and bike shops in Rockland and Belfast, will move into the space currently occupied by Ragged Mountain Sports, while Pearson will move his equipment to the current Snow Bowl rental shop, and oversee the Snow Bowl’s rental ski fleet (280 pairs of skis, 80 snowboards, and all bindings).

    Financially, it is to be a break-even: Sidecountry will pay the Snow Bowl $1,000 per month, annually, to rent a portion of the trailer, as well as 8 percent of its profits accrued through ski, bike and other mountain business. 

    Pearson will get paid $1,000 a month, annually, by the Snow Bowl to keep the rental fleet in tip-top shape.

    But it was not a decision made lightly, and the Select Board discussion reflected concern for Ragged Mountain Sports and Pearson, who, as Chairman John French said, has been integral to the Snow Bowl community for decades.

    Select Board member Bob Falciani wanted to know if $12,000 was adequate enough to pay Pearson for his efforts, and board member Marc Ratner opposed both motions, saying that while the business plan was sound, and both companies were excellent, it would not be a “great human decision.”

    Sometimes, he said, “the heart has to enter, as well” in making business decisions.

    Pearson’s presence at the Snow Bowl goes back to the 1960s, when he started skiing, and then working at Haskell and Corthell, in downtown Camden, at the ski shop that was created by the Dickey family, itself one of the community’s strong Snow Bowl benefactors. 

    Pearson eventually bought Ragged Mountain Sports from Haskell and Corthell, and in 1992, moved it to the Snow Bowl.

    But it was not a decision made lightly, and the Select Board discussion reflected concern for Ragged Mountain Sports and Pearson, who, as Chairman John French said, has been integral to the Snow Bowl community for decades. Pearson has operated Ragged Mountain Sports at the Snow Bowl since 1992, selling and tuning skis and boards, as well as hats, helmets, gloves, wax and other skiing essentials. 

    His shop walls are papered with photos and artwork from his career serving the local ski community and he is a repository of Snow Bowl history.

    Over the years, he strengthened safety protocols at the mountain, focusing on the maintenance, testing and record-keeping of the Snow Bowl’s rental equipment, and from 2014-2017, he managed the day-to-day operations of the rental shop.  Pearson regards the Snow Bowl as reflective of “our community’s longstanding values of family orientation and accessibility for everyone,” and as a former president of the Ragged Mountain Ski Club, Pearson is a strong supporter of the Fourth Grade Learn to Ski Program. 

    “Charlie has been so good to so many people and kids,” said Camden resident Dave Dickey. “Charlie has been there all the years it has rained, and has had to go to the bank and suffer through those years.”

    Dickey said Pearson’s generosity toward outfitting all the children, and not just those who could afford a whole new set of gear, is indicative of his basic goodness.

    The Select Board acknowledged those sentiments at its meeting, as various members expressed concern for Pearson and his business.

    “I have been very vocal in support of Charlie,” said Chairman John French. “But after talking with Beth today, I feel comfortable that this was something on the horizon or plan to to make his retirement. It’s a good compromise.”

    French said, “I can’t say enough good words about him, but he will still be there.”

    French and others supported Ward’s decision to go with this new plan, and as she admitted at the podium April 10, “this has been a long process, and in the works for three or four months.”

    She said, “It’s been a hard place to be.”


    The vendor process

    In 2017, the Town of Camden began reviewing its Snow Bowl vendor contracts, with a more formal process discussed at meetings of the Four Season Committee.

    That committee, consisting of citizens, Snow Bowl staff and a Select Board liaison, was tasked in 2016 with exploring other revenue streams to support the town’s Snow Bowl and larger Ragged Mountain Recreation Area, and grow the facilities in line with the outdoor economy that town leaders have been citing for almost a decade.

    In 2017, the Snow Bowl reopened the proposal process for the food vendor contract at the lodge. Four bids were subsequently submitted last fall, and the town ultimately chose to contract with the Bagel Cafe.

    In January 2018, Snow Bowl staff circulated an invitation to submit proposals to run the retail ski shop at the Snow Bowl. The Snow Bowl asked for a winter retail concession proposal, as well as a three-season retail operation.

    Sidecountry responded with two proposals: one for the winter, the other for the three-season venture.

    Ragged Mountain responded with a winter-only proposal.

    In a memo to the town manager and the select board, she wrote: “Sidecountry’s proposal included both winter and three-season retail, giving them a year-round presence at the Snow Bowl. Sidecountry proposed to pay $1,000 per month in rent. Sidecountry also provided a proposal for how they could service and maintain the Snow Bowl’s rental fleet. They estimated the cost of servicing the rental fleet to be approximately $22,000.”

    Ward said she spent considerable time reviewing the proposals, and ultimately recommended going with the Sidecountry bid, primarily because that business has the capacity to rent, sell and service mountain bikes and winter sports gear, which fits into the broader plan of making the Snow Bowl, and the larger town-owned Ragged Mountain Recreation Area, a four-season destination for outdoor recreation.

    Over the last decade, the Snow Bowl has evolved into a popular mountain biking destination for all ages, and is considering a pilot lift-serve program this coming summer so that riders can transport their bikes partially up the mountain on the double chairlift. (Read: Mountain biking gets a lift at Camden Snow Bowl)

    But Ward wrote in her memo to the Select Board and Town Manager that she did not recommend that Sidecountry assume maintenance and oversight of the ski rental fleet. She instead recommended contracting with Ragged Mountain Sports for $12,000 to provide the service.

    “Charlie has decades of experience servicing the Snow Bowl rental fleet and is committed to working in partnership with us to train our staff so that at some point, we can completely fulfill our rental fleet needs in-house at the Snow Bowl,” she said. 

    Since 1986, Ragged Mountain Sports has been providing service of the rental fleet in lieu of paying rent on the retail space the business occupied at the mountain. 

    In January, Pearson wrote to Ward, in his bid proposal: “This process has been a great opportunity to perform a careful review of my business. After doing so, I find that I am both willing and anxious to continue. I am, however, quite comfortable with any outcome. As always, the best interests of the Snow Bowl remain my principal concern.”

    While the terms of the contracts are now under negotiation with Sidecountry owners Brian Kelley and Andrew Dailey, with Camden Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell and Town Attorney Bill Kelly, the intent is for Sidecountry to gear up for summer biking activity at the mountain, and to move into the Ragged Mountain shop space.


    Select Board approval

    At the April 10 meeting, four members — Alison McKellar, Bob Falciani, Chairman John French and Jenna Lookner — approved the concept, while Marc Ratner voted against it.

    They questioned details of how Sidecountry would run the business and service skiers’ needs, and what products would be sold at the shop.

    Brian Kelly was at the meeting and he told the town that Sidecountry would be at the Snow Bowl in the winter from pre-opening hour to post-closure, so that skiers could drop off or pick up their gear.

    Sidecountry would tend to binding and boot adjustments, or waxing and edge preparations at its Snow Bowl location, but any full service maintenance and repairs on skis would be completed at the company’s Rockland store, with a specified turn-around time period.

    “Full reconditioning will go back to the Rockland store and come back the following day,” he said.

    The size of, and noise generated by, the ski maintenance equipment supersedes available space at the Snow Bowl, he said.

    Gear, such as gloves, helmets and more would be kept in stock at the mountain, he said.

    Kelly also said that the bike shop would be set up at the mountain this summer, and would be open to support any warranted mountain events, including evening bike rides and pancake breakfasts in the fall. Sidecountry would also sell tickets for the bike lift-service, should that program get started this summer. 

    Board member Jenna Lookner said the town had received opinions significantly concerned about the proposed contracts and said it was unfortunate that Pearson was not at the Select Board meeting.

    She said that she liked the idea of Pearson sharing in the future planning, and added that the mountain biking aspect of Sidecountry represents the future of the Snow Bowl. She wanted to hear what Pearson’s thoughts were on the proposed changes.

    “I think Charlie would like to continue in Ragged Mountain Sports retail,” said Ward. She added, however, that they had discussed over the last few years what the future would look like for Ragged Mountain Sports when he stepped down.

    “This seemed to be best case scenario for everybody,” said Ward.

    Camden resident and Four Season Committee member Dennis McGuirk complimented Ward for proposing a creative solution, but said: “I don’t think it is the right solution now. Sidecountry can do everything hit needs to do without taking over winter operations.”

    McGuirk said he spoke with Pearson, and relayed that Pearson felt betrayed, “by the fact the that the town was going to do something else despite the fact that he is proposal was cheaper.”

    McGuirk said: “It is a bad way to treat somebody who has been so loyal for 26 years.”

    “This is also my concern but the other piece is that we need to transition into the future,” said Lookner. “Charlie will want to retire in a few years. I don’t think we can push either party away. Both are friends of the Snow Bowl.... I would love to hear from Charlie.”

    Chairman French said that Pearson is part of the community and has done much for the Snow Bowl.

    “I don’t want to support it for that reason but will support it in support of Beth,” he said. “She did a good job in negotiating this.”

    Ratner finished the conversation prior to the vote by agreeing with the business plan, and said Sidecountry will bring energy to the mountain.

    “I don’t know that we needed to rush into this,” he said, adding his points about using heart in making decisions.

    “One of the problems of the world that we have right now is when business trumps eveything,” he said, and concluded by opposing the proposals with “a protest vote.”



    Related stories: 

    Mountain biking gets a lift at Camden Snow Bowl 

    Camden and the Snow Bowl redevelopment: One citizen's inquiry into the cash flow (Feb. 2, 2017) 

    Camden Snow Bowl Manager resigns; Camden commences new town manager search (Jan. 27, 2017)

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    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657