The dream of Olympic mogul skier Evan Dybvig, Dylan Goodspeed, and Frank Sparrow officially ended Aug. 1. That’s when Whaleback Mountain, in Enfield, N.H., was sold at a foreclosure auction, or perhaps better yet, retained by the Randolph National Bank, the sole bidder for the 154-acre property.
The trio of owners, $1 million in debt, announced Whaleback’s closure in March after eight years. That was finalized when the lending institution and mortgage holder would not extend them additional funding to keep the on-snow recreation area afloat.
In retrospect, “we would not have started until funding was in place,” Dybvig told SnoCountry.com. “We would have opened a year later. We were under capitalized from day one.”
The bank got the property for $848,000, and is now looking for buyers. In the meantime, a group led by Hanover accountant John Schiffman is on a mission to have Whaleback open this season.
“The Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation is in the process of applying for exempt status (501-c-3), and we are fairly confident we can gain approval,” said Schiffman. “We hope to have this resolved by the end of August.” They are also in discussions with the bank.
Vermont Public Radio reported a funereal atmosphere among the 20 or so who attended the auction on the ski area’s deck. As the procedure started, a bank representative raised his auction card. That marked the beginning of the end, as the faithful immediately departed.
The inactivity was anticipated as a recent open house drew very little interest.
Dybvig, Goodspeed, and Sparrow had grandiose plans for Whaleback, which was founded in 1955 as Snowcrest before the change to Whaleback in 1968. The threesome sought to capture the adventure and freestyle markets as well as the region’s mainstream skiers and riders.
In fact, current skiing luminaries such as Olympic moguls champion Hannah Kearney and World Slalom Champion Mikaela Schiffrin spent time at Whaleback earlier in their careers.
An indoor sports facility was envisioned, but several investors withdrew support, and a loan from the Small Business Administration did not materialize. Continuing a streak of bad luck, the first few winters were snow sparse for the new owners, which led to financial struggles.
However, the makings of a success story were there: 700 vertical feet, 30 trails, two terrain parks, snowmaking, night skiing and immediate access to Interstate 89. It’s those assets that Schiffman’s group finds appealing, although they see future improvements.
“We’re starting a capital campaign, and we’re cautiously optimistic that we can raise the money,” he added. “We’re looking at something north of $1 million.” In a perfect world, the foundation would like to install another surface lift and improve the snowmaking.
Historically, nearly 50 teams raced regularly under the lights; families spent weekends on Whaleback; more than 1,000 kids were taught there; and a thriving ski club prepared future world class competitors such as Kearney and Schiffrin. Not to mention the relationships that Dybvig, Goodspeed and Sparrow developed over their time steering the rudder of the Whale.
Now, five months after stepping away, Dybvig has had time to contemplate.
“It would be good to develop a template to keep small ski areas viable,” he said. “Those areas could introduce these sports to the next generation. If these small areas don’t survive, the industry will shrink. It’s worth having the larger resorts help keep the feeder hills alive.”
It’s hoped Schiffman’s group will have an impact in that discussion.