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Whaleback Strategizes Way Back

Nonprofit Signs Lease To Reopen Ski Area

Enfield — A group working to reopen Whaleback Mountain has negotiated a lease agreement to operate the ski area this winter, and now it’s going out into the community to raise money.

The Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation announced the agreement Friday morning with Randolph National Bank, the ski area’s owner, and has committed to purchasing the mountain next May, said foundation chairman John Schiffman.

An official at Randolph National Bank was not available for comment on Friday.

The lease agreement is expected to be signed Oct. 25, and a big factor in opening this season will be whether the foundation can raise $100,000 by Oct. 22, Schiffman said. The foundation also is trying to sell $85,000 worth of season passes, which are available through its website. If all goes as planned, Whaleback will be open for skiing the day after Christmas.

“We have done everything necessary to open the area,” Schiffman said Friday. “But it’s time for the community to step up and contribute money.”

The foundation has been moving quickly to reopen Whaleback. It has raised some money toward its $100,000 target — Schiffman declined to say how much — and launched the website this week. In addition, Schiffman said, they are close to hiring a general manager. The foundation has applied for non-profit status and is awaiting approval from the Internal Revenue Service, which would make donations tax-deductible. The long-term goal is to raise $2 million to buy the property, upgrade snow-making equipment and pay for other improvements.

Whaleback has struggled financially for decades. Weighed down by more than $1 million in debt, the ski park closed in March after eight seasons of operation. The mountain has passed through different owners since it was founded in 1955, closing in 1990-92 and again from 2001-05 before the most recent owners, a group headed by Olympic skier and Tunbridge native Evan Dybvig, reopened it.

Randolph National Bank foreclosed on the property this year but failed to attract buyers at an auction.

A nonprofit business model is one that Schiffman, a Hanover accountant, believes can work for Whaleback.

Other small ski areas, beloved by their communities but which struggle to compete with larger resorts, have thrived as nonprofit organizations, Schiffman said. Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond, Vt., is among them.

The nation’s first 501c3 ski area, Cochran’s converted to a non-profit in 1998 with a mission to “provide area youth and families with affordable skiing and snowboarding, lessons and race training,” according to its website.

Located in Northern Vermont, Cocharan’s attracts 500 school children each year and organizes outdoor educational programming to groups ranging from the Abenaki to low-income children from New York City.

Cochran’s had $553,533 in revenue for fiscal year 2012, according to federal tax records, more than $200,000 of which came from program revenue and the balance coming mostly from contributions and grants. Meanwhile, the costs to run it totalled $282,122 that year. The year before that, Cochran’s brought in $340,495 and spent $266,222.

Schiffman and fellow board member Mark Lindberg are confident that Whaleback can be just as successful. They were also sure it would open this year.

“It’s going to happen,” Lindberg said Friday afternoon. “There is absolutely no question in my mind it’s going to happen. It’s such an important community asset.”

The great unknown is what Mother Nature will do. Winter sports live and die by snowy forecasts that entice people to go outside and play. Improvements in snow-making equipment will enhance conditions on the mountain, but Whaleback will need winter weather to attract people to Enfield.

And so, even though Halloween hasn’t arrived, Schiffman is already looking forward to a white Christmas.

“If the weather cooperates, we will be there,” he said.

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.