Save The Whale

We slowly pulled into the parking lot of Enfield, New Hampshire’s Whaleback Mountain. The air was frigid, the sun was setting, and the only thing you could hear were cars zooming by on nearby I-89. After a quick swig of a drink we walked 50 yards past a hand-painted skate ramp to the lift line. “Siiiiick powder skis bro” a teenage girl snickered from behind. I smirked -- “I know” -- completely embarrassed and thinking to myself Yup, I am totally that guy. “You find some pow with those!?” she asked with a smirk. “Yeah, we were in Colorado last week, it was great.” She went on to tell me about her trip to Sun Valley, Idaho a few years back and how it was the best time of her life. She told me how she was trying to save up so she could take another trip Out West in the future. There’s no doubt in my mind this young girl ripped on skis. Every town has a few girls who can hang with the boys’ and she seemed to fit the part just right.

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Less than 24 hours before I received an email from co-owners of Whaleback Evan Dvybig, Dylan Goodspeed, and Frank Sparrow explaining that they would be closing for good a week later, because of the amount of debt they had accumulated since reopening the resort in 2005.

As we slowly crept up 700 vertical feet on the hand-painted, rickety double chair to the peak of Whaleback, I thought about how much I have come to appreciate skiing in New England. My buddies and I always dreamed about traveling Out West as kids. Many of my friends eventually did move west and although I am fortunate enough to travel there frequently, I still love skiing in New England for its classic terrain and culture.

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At the summit I stopped to take a few photos of the old trail map. Names like Blowhole, Flipper, and Humpback add to the tranquil maritime vibe despite being a few hundred yards away from a busy highway. The runs were dimly lit and the conditions were bulletproof. Despite those shortcomings all I could hear was the laughter of young kids and their families slipping and sliding around.

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After a few runs we stopped in the base lodge and went upstairs to find a bustling pub filled with skiers of all ages. We enjoyed a slice of pizza and a PBR for $5 while sitting below dim chandeliers as the live music act took the stage. The barn wood walls and retro couches made me think of what skiing must have been like when my parents first started coming up to New England back in the ‘70s.

I thought my friends and I had come to Whaleback to take a few quick runs, but before we knew it we were taking shots off a ski and mingling with the mountain regulars. When I asked one competitor about the A, B, and BF leagues, and he quickly blurted out about the BF league, “It’s the Best F*cking League!”

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Another competitor asked me if I was there to document the demise of Whaleback and I told him I was just there to see what it was about. Awards were announced, speeches were made and before we knew it the night came to an end. While the conditions weren’t ideal, the people and atmosphere were unforgettable. On the drive home I realized it was the first and last time I’ll probably ever ski Whaleback.

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I’d like to thank Evan, Dylan, and Frank for their hard work as I’ve met so many people from Whaleback who loved the sport with a true passion. It’s sad to see Whaleback close, but I truly hope the community can come together to reopen the mountain in the future. I bet a lot of people who live close to Whaleback never knew the gem they had, and for those who did enjoy Whaleback over the years, I wonder where they will ski now?  [Words + Photos by Randy Elles]