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Group raises $100,000 to reopen Whaleback Ski Area

Whaleback Ski Area will reopen for another season.

The Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation, a nonprofit group set up to keep Whaleback in operation, said Thursday it raised the first $100,000 it needed in order to reopen the ski mountain Dec. 26.

The money marks the initial phase of a $2 million capital fundraising campaign that the organization launched this month in an effort to put the winter recreation facility on firm financial footing.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work up until now to get to this point,” said John Schiffman, chairman of the foundation. “We’re pleased that the community has responded very positively. We have a lot of work to do, but we are one-third the way along to achieving what we need to.”

Burdened by debt, Whaleback’s previous operator 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 failed to attract bidders at an August auction.

On Thursday, the foundation reached an agreement with the bank to lease the ski area through next October, at which time the foundation plans to purchase the property. But Schiffman said he would like the sale to happen sooner than that, possibly by May.

The foundation recently hired Dick Harris as its new general manager. Harris has 30 years of experience operating ski areas, including the Balsams in Dixville Notch.

Schiffman, a longtime Upper Valley accountant, said upgrades are planned this season in snow-making equipment and trail lighting. About a third of the $100,000 raised over the last two weeks came from online donations through Whaleback’s website. The rest of the money was collected through a fundraising letter campaign that was sent to people who either used Whaleback or value the ski area, Schiffman said.

The next phase, a capital campaign to raise the remainder of the $2 million goal, will begin soon. Donations and season passes can be purchased at whaleback.com. The foundation is already about halfway to its goal of selling $85,000 worth of season passes, Schiffman said.

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