Board votes in Sidecountry Sports as year-round Snow Bowl vendor

By Susan Mustapich | Apr 11, 2018
Source: File photo An April 10 vote by the Camden Select Board ushers in a new, year-round ski and mountain biking vendor at the town-owned Snow Bowl.

CAMDEN — Emotion played a role, but did not sway an April 10 select board vote to contract with Sidecountry Sports for year-round ski and mountain biking concessions at the town-owned Snow Bowl.

The board vote was 4-1 to accept the winter retail bid and three-season mountain biking bid from Sidecountry Sports, which has retail and repair operations in Rockland. Board member Marc Ratner cast the vote against accepting Sidecountry's bids, stating it was "not a good people decision."

The current vendor, Ragged Mountain Sports, owned by Charles Pearson, has owned and operated the ski and snowboard concession at the Snow Bowl since 1992. There is currently no mountain biking concession.

Snow Bowl General Manager Beth Ward recommended that the Snow Bowl accept two bids from Sidecountry for all ski and mountain biking retail and services, except for ski and snowboard rental equipment maintenance. She recommended the maintenance contract go to Ragged Mountain.

Both companies submitted bids in response to requests for proposals issued by the Snow Bowl in January.

Ward said Pearson wanted to continue to run the ski area's winter concession, but she has nonetheless agreed with the recommendations of the advisory Four Seasons Snow Bowl committee to go with Sidecountry's bids.

Along with the equipment servicing contract Pearson has agreed to work with Snow Bowl staff, training them so that winter equipment rental and service can be operated in-house in future years, according to Ward.

She said she and the Four Seasons committee members have devoted a great deal of time to the plan, but comments that, "It's been a very hard place for me to be."

Ward said the winter and three-season vendor contracts would be a break-even operation for the Snow Bowl. Sidecountry agrees to pay $1,000 per month in rent in its contracts for both winter and three-season concessions. Ward plans to use that $12,000 annual rent to pay Ragged Mountain to service rental skis and snowboards during the ski season.

Brian Kelly, co-owner of Sidecounty with Andrew Daily, said the ski concession would open at the Snow Bowl in October for ski sales. He said the winter concession would be open every day the Snow Bowl is open, from a half hour before the ski area opens up to a half hour after closing. They will also be available to support private events.

To start, the mountain bike concession will be a continuation of what Sidecountry does now, which is to support youth and adult rides on Mondays and Wednesdays. Daily said Sidecountry would like to start up an intermediate ride on Thursdays. The company would be responsible for ticket sales if a lift service for carrying bikes up the mountain is put in place. Additionally, Sidecountry will support events at the Snow Bowl, at Ward's request.

Select Board Chairman John French asked about contract details, including what maintenance on the ski shop Sidecountry would provide.

Ward said Sidecountry plans to do some renovation to the concession building to allow for their equipment setup.

Board members Marc Ratner and Bob Falciani asked if $12,000 was a fair and adequate payment for the services Pearson will provide. Falciani commented that while he does not personally know Pearson, he is aware of his reputation for giving away products and services to families of young skiers who cannot afford to pay. He said he wanted to make sure that the $12,000 was enough compensation for what Pearson will offer.

Board member Alison McKellar asked if the Snow Bowl could still sell its own branded products, and for a comparison in prices for goods and services between the two vendors.

Ward commented that the Snow Bowl could still sell its own branded products. Daily explained that their bid provided unit prices for servicing ski and snowboard rental equipment, and that the total cost for a season varies with the levels of service and materials used. He said that Sidecountry's prices are comparable with Ragged Mountain's bid for the same level of service and materials, but they also offer higher end services.

Daily said certain repairs can be done on-site at the Snow Bowl, while others will go to Sidecounty's Rockland store. He said there isn't enough room at the Snow Bowl concession for equipment overhauls, and that some of the work requires machine work, which is noisy and is not appropriate for that space.

Board member Jenna Lookner turned the discussion to personal aspects of moving away from the Snow Bowl's longtime vendor.

She said there were significant concerns about what Pearson's position is, and that she would like to hear from him.


"We can't alienate someone who has been a good friend to the community," she said.


She later commented that while she was uncertain of the solution the board should pursue, she did not want to push either of the parties away. "They've both been good friends to the Snow Bowl," she said.

Dennis McGuirk, who has served as a volunteer advisor on Snow Bowl matters, complemented Ward on coming up with a creative solution, but disagreed it should be put in place next year.

"I don't think it's the right decision for now," McGuirk said. "I spoke with Charlie, and he's eager to continue to do this, but he feels betrayed and is disheartened. I think it's a bad way to treat someone."

McGuirk believes Sidecountry can continue with its current level of involvement with the Snow Bowl. The business supports mountain bike group rides, bringing parts for repairs that might be needed on the spot, offers bicycle and winter equipment demonstrations at special events, and volunteers labor to improve trails.

Just prior to the select board vote, Ratner said he would register a protest vote against accepting Sidecountry's bids.

"As good as a business decision it is, I don't think it's a good people decision," Ratner said. "I can't support it. Sometimes the heart has to go over the business decision."

He talked about buying his son's first pair of skis from Pearson, and having skis serviced by Sidecountry. He recognized the excellence of both businesses.

He acknowledged that Sidecountry had a "great business plan going forward" and that the new company would "bring energy" to the Snow Bowl, and that he was aware that they currently donate their time to the town-owned recreation area.

The Four Seasons committee was created by the select board in 2016, to develop year-round use and revenue at the Snow Bowl. In 2015, the Snow Bowl's ski trails and snowmaking operation were expanded in a multi-million-dollar redevelopment. The expanded ski operation ran up a debt in 2015 and 2016 of nearly $300,000, primarily due to the lack of natural snow in both years.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Debra L Whittier | Apr 12, 2018 08:46

I agree with Jeri completely.  I'm not a skier, but my son literally grew up at the Snow Bowl.  Charlie outfitted my son with his first set of skis and did the same with his father AND grandfather.  And, amazingly, he remembered what he outfitted them with!!  Charlie has been a good friend to my family and countless others through the years.  For me, the Snow Bowl just isn't the Snow Bowl without Charlie.

Posted by: Jeri Holm | Apr 11, 2018 21:10

I don't blame Charlie for being feeling "betrayed and disheatened", I'm pretty upset too.

My husband and I are long time and life-long citizens of Camden. We skied at the Camden Snow Bowl as children and raised three children, all of whom grew up skiing there too. We have been season pass holders and were involved with the Ragged Mountain Ski Club when our kids were young.

Through many of those years, Charlie Pearson and his Ragged Mountain Sports have been fixtures at our Snow Bowl. He has outfitted all of us with our equipment and more than that, he is responsible for enabling many children to ski who would never have been able to afford it otherwise. As the Snow bowl had many lean years, so too did Charlie but he kept on plugging away so all of our kids could ski and we had a local place to buy our equipment.

Years ago when we would arrive at the Snow Bowl to pick up our kids, if they couldn't be found on the mountain or in the lodge, they were undoubtedly at Charlie's, hanging out, helping out, talking and having fun. Charlie was a friend and mentor to all of our children and many others as well. Whenever I hear the term “it takes a village”, I usually think of Charlie and am grateful.

It seems to me that something more equitable could have been done other than virtually kicking Charlie out of the business that he has had for all of these years in favor of the shinier model. Is this the way we treat a "good friend"? I don't think so. Shame on you, select board.



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