Whale of an Effort
Whaleback Mountain Makes Push to Open Soon
Ryan Murphy, left, Dylan Godspeed, and Jeremy Jondro descend a ski slope at Whaleback Mountain Ski Area after adjusting the placement of the snow fans in Enfield, N.H. on December 26, 2013. Management hopes to open the resort with one ski lift on Monday. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Silas Ayres, left, and Chris Carroll, right, work in the kitchen at Whaleback Mountain Ski Area in Enfield, N.H. on December 26, 2013. Management hopes to open the resort with one ski lift on Monday, although the full kitchen won't open for another week. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
The lower outside deck at Whaleback Mountain Ski Area is seen during construction in Enfield, N.H. on December 26, 2013. Management hopes to open the resort with one ski lift on Monday. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield — This week is one of rest and reflection for some, but not those tasked with reopening Whaleback Mountain ski area. The hope is for the hill to host its first customers of the season Saturday, but the weather will need to cooperate and the crew working to ready the runs and remodel parts of the lodge can’t take their collective foot off the gas.
The recent spate of warm, wet weather did in the original plan to debut on Thursday, and general manager Dick Harris said he would decide this morning whether the nonprofit Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation can open Saturday, which was the next target date. Whenever the conditions allow, Whaleback will start off with one run and the learning area covered in snow and will offer half-price, $20 tickets for day-long skiing because of its reduced capability.
“I have reservations about the timetable,” said Harris, a ski industry veteran who’s run several other ski areas and numerous programs in the past. “I’m still going to shoot for Saturday, but the humidity has been so high that it hasn’t allowed us to make the snow volume I was hoping for.”
When guests do arrive, they’ll discover that the lodge is undergoing renovations, delaying the opening of the kitchen grille and creating an air of mild chaos.
“I don’t think we anticipated we’d have this much still to do the last week before opening,” UVSSF board member Peter Krass said. “We’d love to be more open, but I think the majority of our guests will be understanding, with a small group that will be disappointed.”
Burdened by debt, Whaleback’s previous operators shut down in March. The ski area had been open for eight seasons under a group led by former Olympic skier and Tunbridge native Evan Dybvig. A succession of owners have tried their hand at running it since 1955.
Randolph National Bank foreclosed on the property earlier this year and, after failing to attract bidders at an August auction, reached a year-long leasing agreement with the UVSSF in October. The plan then was for the foundation to buy Whaleback by May.
Krass said that earlier this month, however, Lake Sunapee Bank, which bought Randolph National Bank, offered to reduce Whaleback’s purchase price to $320,000 from $400,000 if it could close the deal by month’s end. Although the UVSSF recently concluded a successful $100,000 fundraising campaign, it was able to raise another $50,000 in less than two weeks and close the deal, Krass said.
“It was a significant response, especially coming on the heels of that first, big push,” said Krass, adding that $9,000 of that total came from online donations. “Now, we’re busting our humps to get this place ready and we’re determined to give people a really good experience.”
That’s not likely to fully happen until mid-January, Krass admitted, but there’s a lot of work that’s been done and is ongoing. Four new snow guns have been purchased at a discount and wiring has been strung up the hill to allow them to be moved around for maximum coverage. Twenty-five sets of new rental skis and boots were also acquired at a reduced cost, courtesy of a ski manufacturer.
Safety fencing also came at a cut rate, a new deck is being assembled, a new snow grooming machine is prowling the grounds and the entire kitchen is being remodeled. The water well and septic system have been updated. Monday, all the kitchen equipment had been moved into the dining area and workers were bustling about, moving in and out from the parking lot.
“We knew our backs were against the wall because of how late we got started and then all sorts of issues popped up that we weren’t aware of before,” Harris said. “Everything has had an unseen dimension to it and created another issue to be addressed.
“I’m amazed, quite frankly, that we’ve gotten as much done as we have to this point.”
Krass said he’s targeting Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 20 as the hard deadline for having all of Whaleback’s runs covered and open and the kitchen cranking out its menu at full strength. Soups, chili and sandwiches will be available initially, he added, urging skiers to visit whaleback.com for the latest update on when the hill and lodge will open.
“We’ve got to make good on this by mid-January,” Krass said. “We might not have all the runs open right away, but the goal is to have everything covered top to bottom in a couple of weeks.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.