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Skiers Excited to Hit Whaleback Slopes

  • A snowboarder waves to friends on a trail on the first open weekend at Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on Jan. 4, 2014. While the beginner's rope tow was open to guests last weekend, this is the first weekend the chairlift and many of the area's trails are open to skiing and riding. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    A snowboarder waves to friends on a trail on the first open weekend at Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on Jan. 4, 2014. While the beginner's rope tow was open to guests last weekend, this is the first weekend the chairlift and many of the area's trails are open to skiing and riding.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hattie Kahl, 12, left, and Sabin Mitchell, 12, both of Hanover, look at Kahl's phone behind a community-written wish list on the second floor of the lodge at Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on Jan. 4, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hattie Kahl, 12, left, and Sabin Mitchell, 12, both of Hanover, look at Kahl's phone behind a community-written wish list on the second floor of the lodge at Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on Jan. 4, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • A snowboarder waves to friends on a trail on the first open weekend at Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on Jan. 4, 2014. While the beginner's rope tow was open to guests last weekend, this is the first weekend the chairlift and many of the area's trails are open to skiing and riding. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Hattie Kahl, 12, left, and Sabin Mitchell, 12, both of Hanover, look at Kahl's phone behind a community-written wish list on the second floor of the lodge at Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on Jan. 4, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Enfield — When Liza Welch and her family found out last year that financial troubles meant potential doom for Whaleback Mountain ski area, they were “beyond bummed,” she said Saturday.

“It’s one of our favorite places and there’s not a lot of (mountains) locally,” said Welch, 33, of White River Junction. As a bonus, she said, lift ticket prices pale in comparison to many of the region’s bigger mountains. What’s more, Welch has been skiing at Whaleback since she was 6. The small mountain overlooking Interstate 89 isn’t just any little ski area, she said.

For her, it’s special.

So as she stood in the Whaleback parking lot with her two sons, all of them strapping on ski boots and suiting up for their first Whaleback ride of the season, the trio was anything but bummed.

“We’re just excited to be back, and glad that they’re open,” she said, her sons agreeing.

Following months of behind-the-scenes activity — including the formation of a nonprofit group to run the ski area, which closed under financial duress last March, and well over 1,500 hours of volunteer work to get it into shape — the mountain finally opened to skiers and riders last week.

Sitting in his office around 2 p.m. Saturday, with views of riders cascading down the mountain outside the window behind him, General Manager Dick Harris said an estimated 200 to 250 people had visited the mountain that day. With lifts slated to stop running at 4 p.m., it was the busiest day since doors opened on Monday, he said.

“Right from the get-go, families are just ecstatic with the fact that we were able to put this whole thing together,” Harris said.

“I cannot express enough thanks for all the outpouring of help and enthusiasm that was generated by volunteers who gave their help and time … and they continue to help.”

That enthusiasm was shared by Sean and Chris Wolfe, of Lebanon, who have been making the 10-minute drive from their house to the mountain for years and returned for the first run of the season with their children on Saturday.

“We’d have to drive a lot farther to ski (if Whaleback didn’t reopen),” Sean Wolfe said.

“We probably wouldn’t ski as much,” Chris Wolfe quickly added.

Another group visiting the mountain said they were in much the same situation. Tamara Cantlin, 18, of Enfield, who made the 15-minute drive with her mother and 10-year-old cousin, said she was “pretty excited” to return for her first run of the season Saturday. But just months prior, Cantlin wasn’t sure what she would do when the snow started flying.

“I was trying to find out where I would go (skiing),” she said.

Intermediate and advanced trails were open Saturday, and Harris said staff hoped to have novice trails available by this upcoming weekend. Lift tickets were half price last week but kicked up to the full price of $40 on Saturday.

Kitchen renovations are ongoing, but pre-made sandwiches, as well as chili, chowder and soups, are available.

Whaleback’s previous owners closed the mountain last year because of debt problems. Randolph National Bank foreclosed on the property but an auction in August failed to attract any bidders.

Following a period of uncertainty, the Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation, formed in the spring of last year, signed a year-long lease with the bank in October. After successful fundraising campaigns, the nonprofit purchased the property for $320,000 in December from Lake Sunapee Bank, which had bought Randolph National.

Harris said the mountain is generally open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 1 to 7 p.m., Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 9 or 10 p.m., Fridays from 1 to 8 p.m., and weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Times are subject to change. The mountain is closed on Mondays. The website for more informaiton is www.whaleback.com.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.