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Yesteryear – Skiing Mount Whittier

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - March 22, 2017





Mount Whittier in its heyday.Courtesy New England Ski Museum/Dick Smith Collection.

 

By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper

We’ve all driven by one of them. Traces of a once busy chair lift, rope tow or downhill trail are visible and hint at what were once thriving ski areas in NH.

Thanks to the efforts of a number of people, the fading and out-of-business ski areas all over the state and beyond have received attention in recent years. If you have driven by such places as the former Mount Whittier ski area in Ossipee on Rt. 25 or others that once were busy places, you may have wondered why they are no longer in business. Perhaps you skied on the old slopes and have fond memories of such places at Brickyard Mountain Ski Area in the Weirs or the Mt. Whittier Area in Ossipee.

One person who can take a lot of credit in bringing awareness to the old ski areas is Jeremy Davis. As a child, Jeremy came to New Hampshire on family ski vacations. A native of Massachusetts, Jeremy learned early in his childhood to ski and he looked forward to family trips to New Hampshire ski areas. It was on one such trip that his family passed Mt. Whittier in Ossipee. Although no longer in operation, Jeremy could tell that it had once been a large ski area.

(For this author, attending college in Maine some years ago, I would occasionally drive home to NH for a visit and I saw the ski area when it was still in operation. I recall a busy ski area with and a parking lot filled with cars on a typical winter’s weekend.)

In the late 1990s, Jeremy Davis started a website with information he had collected on old ski areas. The subject was unusual and it caught the interest of many people. As word spread about the website, Jeremy received many emails from those with photos and remembrances to share.

The website – www.nelsap.org – is a wealth of information about NH’s (and other states) lost ski areas. Viewers will be very surprised at the number of ski areas – some quite modest in size – that once operated in NH. Jeremy has also authored a series of books about lost ski areas.

And what of Mt. Whittier Ski Area in Ossipee? This is the lost ski area that so fascinated the young Jeremy Davis. Actually situated on Nickerson Mountain in the town, the ski area was operating in the 1940s. By the late 1940s, three rope tows were in operation on the mountain. According to www.nelsap.org, the ski area was a bit unique, because it never operated any chair lifts, depending instead of T-bars and a well-remembered gondola to get skiers up the mountain.

By the 1960s, expansion came in the form of some new slopes at Whittier. If you skied Mount Whittier or drove by, you may recall a four-passenger Mueller gondola that crossed Route 16 to pick up passengers at a mid station (www.nelsap.org information). It can be assumed the gondola passing over the highway was eye catching and unique in NH at the time!

It was probably quite a newsworthy event when the gondola lift was installed at the ski area. (The old gondola cables could still be seen long after the area closed.) The gondola offered the ski area something to attract summer visitors as well, with rides up the mountain in warm weather months. While there were challenges for skiers, such as the lack of chair lifts and lengthy wait times for the gondola rides, it is said the ski area’s summit café had incredible views, something nearly as important as the food when dining on a mountain.

Mt. Whittier closed in 1985, the victim of poor snow winters. One reality was that it was hard to compete with the bigger mountains that had installed snow making by the 1980s. (Anyone who lives in NH can attest that snowfall can be fickle. Some seasons see many feet of snow while other years offer sparse or less-than-adequate snow conditions.)

Memories of Mount Whittier by those who skied there are many, from socializing in the ski lodge to the thrill of riding the gondola. Indeed, a Facebook page for visitors to share stories and photos now exists.

Another former ski area that some may recall is Page Hill in Tamworth. According to ww.nelsap.org, the slope may have started as an alpine ski area around 1929. When it started there was no lift, but soon an 800-ft. long Model A powered rope tow was installed. Back in the early days, the Tamworth Outing Club skied at the hill.

The Page Hill slope was popular and well used by local skiers. It is said beginners would learn to ski on Dr. Remick’s (Tamworth) open slope, moving to ski on Page Hill once they became proficient. The ski slope hosted many elementary and high school slalom races, along with college slalom competitions. Future Olympian and Waterville Valley Resort founder Tom Corcoran was known to ski on Page Hill.

Like many of the smaller ski areas, Page Hill had to compete with bigger ski areas that sprang up. Page Hill made a good effort to compete; new trails were cut and the area even offered night skiing with locals using flares and torches to light up the slopes, which must have been quite a beautiful sight. Unfortunately, rising costs and competition saw Page Hill eventually close.

Another lost area is Candy Mountain in Brookfield. According to www.nelsap.org, the mountain was operating in the 1950s or 1960s – exact dates are uncertain. The area had a rope tow and was a smaller mountain. Like others of its size, it eventually had to compete with larger ski areas.

Those who enjoyed the family-like atmosphere of the small ski areas in NH can relive those days via Jeremy’s website, where readers can share memories and photos. His books on lost ski areas can be purchased at bookstores or via www.nelsap.org. The New England and Northeast Lost Ski Areas Project also features a Facebook page with lots of old photos for a walk down ski history memory lane. (If a ski area once existed in New England, you can be sure Jeremy and his fellow ski area preservationists either have found it or would love to know about it!)

 

 

 

 

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