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Bank Postpones Auction Of Shuttered Whaleback Mountain

Enfield — Whaleback Mountain’s future will remain unsettled for at least another month after Randolph National Bank postponed the auction of the 154-acre ski area until Aug. 1. The sale was previously scheduled for July 11.

Michael Hanley, a White River Junction attorney representing the bank, wrote this week in an email that “in response to concerns expressed by some prospective buyers, the bank has simplified the terms of the sale. This required that we send revised notices of foreclosure and give prospective purchasers additional time to prepare.

“Numerous people have expressed interest in Whaleback,” Hanley wrote. “Some because they wish to operate it as a community ski area, some for other reasons.”

Whaleback is spread over two parcels with a combined assessed value of nearly $950,000, including numerous buildings. The plan had been to auction the parcels separately if bids were low and to sell the personal property, fixtures and furniture with no minimum bid, but all will now be sold together.

A reserve price has been set at $848,000. The winning bidders would have to come to the 11 a.m. auction with 2 percent in cash or a certified check, with an additional 8 percent due in five days. The balance is due in 45 days.

Stepping forward publicly this week as a prospective buyer was Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation. The organization is in the process of applying for nonprofit status, said chairman John Schiffman, of Hanover. The foundation’s advisory panel includes Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin and former Olympic skiers Jeff Hastings, Tim Caldwell and Tiger Shaw.

Schiffman said the foundation is in the “quiet phase” of a fundraising campaign.

“We will be fiscally prudent in deciding what price to pay, but we stand ready to enter into an operational lease to enable Whaleback to operate for the 2013-14 season,” said Schiffman, who attended high school in Miami before attending Dartmouth, where he learned to ski and graduated in 1962.

Schiffman, 73, said he’s unaware of any other groups seeking to buy and run Whaleback as a nonprofit and said landing capital to run the ski area for profit isn’t realistic because “there wouldn’t be an adequate return on the investment.” He added that his group would plan to add a second chair lift, address water and sewer issues, widen trails and double the snowmaking capacity in the first few years of operation.

Former teacher and Hanover Selectboard member Marilyn “Willy” Black, who is leading the foundation’s community relations efforts, said Whaleback has long been a recreational outlet for schoolchildren as well as for adults looking to ski and mingle on Friday and Saturday nights.

The ski area also has drawn skiers for a Thursday night racing league, said Schiffman, whose son and grandchildren live in the Upper Valley and are immersed in the sport.

“There’s a real need for affordable skiing,” Schiffman said. “We’ve been in contact with all the local ski areas that are fed by Whaleback, and they all want it to survive.”

Whaleback was founded as Snowcrest in 1955 before being sold in 1968, when it took on its current name. Another ownership group took over in 1984 and installed snowmaking and lights, expanding the facility’s season from about 30 days to roughly 100. The ski area was closed from 1990-92 and again from 2001-05 before a group headed by two-time Olympic skier and Tunbridge native Evan Dybvig reopened it.

After eight seasons and weighed down by more than $1 million in debt, Dybvig and partners Frank Sparrow and Dylan Goodspeed announced another Whaleback closure in March in advance of Randolph National Bank foreclosing on the property. The trio was on shaky financial footing from the start, Dybvig said, after several potential investors dropped out and a loan from the government-run U.S. Small Business Administration didn’t materialize.

“We fell on our face pretty hard right out of the gate,’’ said Dybvig, who’s now working for a barn building company and enjoying reduced hours and stress from his eight years with Whaleback. “We intended to run a year-round action sports and community center, but we were never properly capitalized from the start. When it was time to give up the fight, there was a sense of relief.

“I don’t know how wise it was to take on such an (enormous) project, but I’m proud that we brought skiing back to Whaleback, and I want to see the mountain succeed again as a ski area.”

So does Black, whose eight grandsons live in Georgia but have all learned to snowboard at Whaleback during holiday vacations.

“You could buy your third-grader a season ticket for $99 and that’s unheard of,” she said. “That’s what you might pay for a day of skiing at Killington. Losing Whaleback would be a huge loss for the Upper Valley. Saving it is going to be a lot of work, but it’s worth doing.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.

Related

Letter: Our Strategy for Whaleback

Friday, July 19, 2013

To the Editor: The Upper Valley SnowSports Foundation has developed a comprehensive strategy designed to preserve Whaleback Ski Area as a community resource. Your July 6 article accurately described our mission, with one small error. If the foundation acquires Whaleback, our plans include one new surface lift, not a chairlift, as this would improve daily ski access to the mountain …