On a drizzly day in early March 2011, over 50 park skiers hiked during a storm. The rain, soaking and slushing through the icy, groomed trails, had no effect on the Salomon Jib Academy participants held at Whaleback Ski Area in New Hampshire.
The mountain, co-owned by former U.S. Ski Teamer and two-time Olympian Evan Dybvig, is a common commodity in Northeastern towns. Not unlike a local watering hole or Y.M.C.A., ski areas like Whaleback are community centers that bind neighboring towns together. Through events like Jib Academy, or Thursday Night Adult Race League, they serve as a place to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones.
But Enfield locals won’t have that hub next winter. In a letter posted this morning on Whaleback's website by Dybvig and co-owners Frank Sparrow and Dylan Goodspeed, the small ski area in the Live Free or Die State announced that it is closing its doors.
"Unfortunately, the positive gains that we have made over the years have not been enough to overcome our debt," says the letter. "We have tried numerous avenues to recapitalize the business to put ourselves on surer footing without success. Our only option at this point is to close."
Founded in 1955 as Snowcrest, the mountain was renamed in 1969 by Jim Griffiths, whi installed the Poma double chair that rises 700 vertical feet to the summit. Ownership changed hands again in 1984. The new, Dartmouth-grad owners installed snowmaking and lights for night skiing and expanded the ski season from 30 days to 100, according to Whaleback.com. From 1993-2001, Griffiths' daughter and husband, Sally and Tim Herbert, owned and operated the mountain. Whaleback was closed from 2001-2005.
Dybvig, Sparrow, and Goodspeed purchased the mountain in 2005 with the hopes of creating a year-round, action sports facility. They offered a summer camp program that featured guest coaches including Shea Flynn, Nick Martini, and snowboarder Lucas Magoon. Whaleback was a place for a blossoming East Coast skier to feel welcome.
"I remember their hospitality towards the film scene," said Martini in a phone interview. "We were so young during the early days of Stept. Not many people would give us the opportunity to do park shoots. We'd hit up Dybvig and he'd build any feature we wanted. Those guys are stoked on the East Coast kids and I feel bad hearing that they're shutting their doors."
L.J. Strenio at a Whaleback shoot in 2007 from Stept Productions' "Chronillogical"
The owners offered a glimpse of hope in their letter saying, "There have been many discussions and plans are emerging to raise money through a non-profit to purchase the mountain and continue operating." They encourage any and all ideas for continued operation to be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.