ENFIELD — Phase 1 to reopen Whaleback Ski Area for the upcoming winter season has been successful as a grassroots organization has raised the money needed to enter into an operation agreement.
The Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation (UVSSF), a nonprofit organization, is trying to save Whaleback and preserve it as a community mountain. Its ultimate goal is to raise $2 million for capital improvements and operating costs.
"We have raised approximately $200,000 in contributions and pledges. UVSSF signed an operating lease with a commitment to purchase the area no later than October 2014 from Randolph National Bank, who have been very cooperative and wants the community ski area to survive," UVSSF board member John Schiffman said.
The cost to purchase the area is $650,000.
Whaleback plans to open on Dec. 26; season passes are still available.
So far nine elementary schools will be using Whaleback for the after-school learn-to-ski program. Diane March has been hired as the ski school director.
Whaleback is also in discussions with Cardigan Mountain School and Kimball Union Academy about using Whaleback as a race-training facility "and we are trying to ascertain additional demand for things such as lady ski night or youth ski night," added Schiffman.
"I think the public has been very excited and anyone you talk to is really pleased Whaleback is staying opened and available for children's racing," said Schiffman, who noted World Cup Supply has donated equipment.
Richard Harris is the new general manager. Harris has worked in the ski industry for more than 30 years and was the former general manager of The Balsams.
"Our first priority will be getting snowmaking up to the 21st century," he said.
Lighting, lift reliability and the lodge are other priority areas, Harris said.
Schiffman said the ski area has "committed for four modern fan guns and a groomer. Work is being done now removing brush and enhancing the effectiveness of the lights, and it will be next year before we can make a major replacement of existing lights."
"The prices are more reasonable here and a better value than at a larger resort so it's more economically viable for local families to enjoy winter sports at Whaleback," Schiffman said.
Whaleback is one of the few mountains available for night skiing, he said. The next closest would be Pats Peak.
"Mikaela Shiffrin won a World Cup race at night and someone asked her how she felt skiing at night, and, she was quoted as saying, 'I trained at Whaleback and I felt comfortable skiing under the lights,'" Schiffman said.
The resort was closed from 1993 to 2001. It reopened, only to be shuttered again for the 2005 season. It resurfaced until March 2013, and after an uncertain summer it has opened again.
"We want to do this because Whaleback is a community asset, and if it is owned by a 501(C)(3) organization it will truly belong to the community," said Schiffman.
The nonprofit status is expected to be approved soon, and all donations made since May 31 will be tax-deductible. Tax-deductible donations can be made to UVSSF or Whaleback Project and sent to: UVSSF, P.O. Box 606, Lebanon 03766.
For more information, visit whaleback.com or call 448-5500.