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Mt. Ashland Ski Area names new general manager

The Mt. Ashland Association has named Hiram Towle, a longtime manager at Maine’s Sunday River resort, as its new general manager, starting in September.

The troubled Mt. Ashland Ski Area, hit by a low-snow, non-season last year, is operating on a $750,000 loan from the Small Business Administration, leaving the new manager to get it financially back on track in the coming season — if it gets enough to snow to open.

At Sunday River for 12 years, Towle, 45, managed mountain operations that included conference sales, transportation, lift maintenance, worker’s compensation and the recycling program. Mt. Ashland will be his first job as manager of a ski area.

He is president of the Chamber of Commerce of Bethel, Maine, and served on the board of the Androscoggin River Watershed Council. At Sunday River, he was a member of its charitable council, which funded nonprofits.

He starts at Mt. Ashland on Sept. 11, replacing Kim Clark, whose nine-year position as general manager was eliminated by the board in May. The board has since changed its mind about whether it needed a general manager.

“We all agreed we still need a person at the helm,"  board President Lisa Beam said. "We did a search and looked for a balanced background, with nonprofit work, community-mindedness and a background in the ski industry.”

Towle, she adds, “started skiing at age 2 and has devoted a good portion of his life to the ski industry. ... It’s a nice complement for Mt. Ashland.”

Beam said his work with the Chamber of Commerce has given Towle a “good, general approach” to financial matters, management and community programs.

“Hiram is very personable, enthusiastic and is looking forward to moving his family here and settling into the valley,” she said. “He has a big affection for the mountain environment.”

In a phone interview, Towle said he hopes to get Mt. Ashland back into the black and rebuild drained reserves by “going back to our roots and start working with the community, the team of people all ready to hit the ground, the current stakeholders and do what’s right for them; then (seek) corporate partnerships and come up with new, unique ways to raise money.”

Towle said he's aware of Mt. Ashland’s difficult financial straits and vulnerability to the weather. At Sunday River, he helped broaden the resort’s mission to include summer recreation, making it more “weather proof.” This, he adds, has become a standard of the industry.

Towle said he sees opportunity for “vibrant summer business” with rope courses, zip lines, weddings, geo-caching and other activities that fit within Mt. Ashland’s Forest Service permit.

“These will be a good fit for the community. ... Mt. Ashland is basically in very good shape, a good community asset with a bright future. There’s a ton of potential here and the communities around us support it and are vibrant and strong,” he said.

On the controversial and legally entangled expansion of Mt. Ashland, Towle said, “It’s a very complex issue and I need to look into it and wrap my head around it. It’s been divisive and I have no judgments yet.”

Beam said the board is “re-tooling” for new strategies and that money and weather are always going to be concerns.

“He comes in here with a fresh approach,” said Beam, “but we don’t expect any drastic changes.”

Reach Ashland freelancer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Hiram Towle