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Whaleback Names Manager, Must Raise $100,000 to Open

Enfield — Ski industry veteran Dick Harris has been hired as the Whaleback Ski Area’s new general manager by the Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation.

The nonprofit organization, which has been leasing Whaleback over the last year and has agreed to pay Randolph National Bank and another owner $640,000 for the properties, is in the midst of a public effort to raise $100,000 in working capital by Tuesday in order to open on Dec. 26. It hasn’t disclosed how much has been raised to date.

Harris, a Colebrook, N.H., resident, oversaw operations at The Balsams Wilderness Ski Area from 1988 to 2009 and previously ran Alaska’s Alyeska Resort. He describes himself as having been in “semi-retirement” and designing and installing snow-making systems.

From 1993 to 2008, Harris was on the board of Ski New Hampshire, an industry group that coordinated marketing and promotions efforts.

Hamstrung by more than $1 million in debt, Whaleback closed in March after eight seasons of operation by a group led by former Olympic skier and Tunbridge native Evan Dybvig. There has been skiing at the ski park’s site since 1955 under various owners, but Randolph National Bank foreclosed on the property earlier this year before failing to attract bidders at an August auction.

John Schiffman, a Hanover accountant and the foundation’s chairman, said Harris brings financial and ski operations experience not previously enjoyed at Whaleback, which stands alongside Interstate 89 in Enfield.

Schiffman said that recruiting Harris was recommended by Sunapee Resort vice president and general manager Jay Gamble, and that Harris has agreed to a 1-year contract for a salaried position with benefits.

“Mr. Harris knows how to run a ski area in every way and that’s great news.

“Without an experienced general manager, it would have been foolish to undertake this operation. We know we’ve got the right person who can do this thing,” Schiffman said.

Harris said his start date is Nov. 1 but that he’s already inspected the hill, lodge and lifts and anticipates some maintenance and cleaning upon arrival.

“I like a challenge and I felt good about trying to help a community effort to get Whaleback back up and functioning,” said Harris, a Fitchburg (Mass.) State graduate who declined to give his age. “As a nonprofit, we don’t have as much of a financial burden to contend with. The (foundation’s) board is a real crosscut of the community and they have a lot of business and financing and fundraising experience. All of that adds up to a positive outlook.”

The good feelings will only continue if the fundraising goal can be met. Schiffman declined to say how much money has been raised so far, but said school and recreation groups from Grantham, Lebanon, Hartford and Plainfield have committed for the upcoming season and that he expects others to follow. Roughly 400 school children used Whaleback last season and Schiffman said he expects an equivalent number this winter.

“It’s up to the community to make this thing happen,” Schiffman said. “We know it’s a short time window, but we’ve done everything else you have to do in order to get the area open.”

The foundation is launching a mail campaign and sending letters out to whom it hopes will be major donors, Schiffman said. The organization is also able to accept tax-deductable donations through a website, he added, noting that the foundation is working to finalize its status with the Internal Revenue Service.

Schiffman said the hope is to sell 400 season passes at a preseason rate of $199 per person, although that revenue would not count toward the $100,000 fundraising goal, which is part of a larger drive to raise $2 million in the next year. He added that the foundation has received a “challenge grant” from a source he declined to identify, so that if the organization can raise $1.4 million, it will receive the remaining $600,000 from that source.

There may be annual fundraising drives, Schiffman said, but he’s hoping it won’t be necessary. The hope is to eventually cover operating expenses with revenue, and any profits would be plowed back into the ski park, he said.

Schiffman said the foundation will refund donations if the $100,000 goal isn’t met. However, he said he’s confident that won’t happen.

“There isn’t a 100 percent guarantee until the community steps up, and if people wait until December to give, it’s too late,” Schiffman said. “But we’ll hold off spending any donated money until Oct. 22. Are there anxieties? Of course. But we are positive we’ll get to that goal.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

Related

Letter: Help Save Whaleback 

Friday, October 18, 2013

To the Editor: By now you may have heard the exciting news that the Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation has plans to re-open Whaleback Mountain this winter for the 2013-2014 season. Just last week, the foundation moved forward by hiring an experienced general manger, which is very encouraging news for winter-sports enthusiasts in the Upper Valley. The re-opening of our …