Once a major ski area, Mt. Whittier is perhaps best known today for its old gondola cables crossing Route 16 in West Ossipee, as well as the old lift tower standing near the McDonalds drive thru.
The origins of the name of Mt. Whittier date back to the 1800s, when poets John Greenleaf Whittier and Lucy Larcom frequented the The Bearcamp River House in West Ossipee. While the inn burned in 1880, their influence on the area was preserved by the naming of local peaks. A peak near the inn was named after Whittier, complete with a mountain top ceremony, however due to some confusion, the USGS called the peak Nickerson Mountain and labeled the next mountain west Mt. Whittier.
As the twentieth century unfolded, the greater Tamworth area became an increasingly popular winter sports destination. At some point in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps. built a ski trail on the USGS Mt. Whittier. Around this time, Nickerson Mountain was considered as a possible location for the state aerial tramway project. The tram ended up opening at Cannon Mountain in 1938.
Lift Served Skiing in West Ossipee
Following World War II, multiple rope tows were installed on Nickerson Mountain. Adding to the confusion, the operations were known as various names, such as Mt. Whittier Slope, Taylor Slope, and Mittlebirge Slope. Henry Taylor's area, which likely operated in 1946-47 and 1947-48, was likely located just west of the Mittlebirge Slope. Both areas may have been referred to as Mt. Whittier at various times.
In 1952, the two year old Platter Lift at nearby Red Hill was to be relocated to the Mittlebirge Slopes. The project may have been delayed, as Mittlebirge remained a rope tow area that winter and subsequently went through an ownership change. It is possible that the area may have closed briefly prior to the 1954-55 season. A 2,000 foot platter lift was in place for the 1955-56 season, serving a rather steep slope.
The gondola (1960s)
First Expansion Attempt
A three year expansion project was announced starting in 1957, at which point the area likely became known as Mt. Whittier. An upper mountain rope tow was added for that season, as well as a new lodge.
The second year of the project brought a T-Bar to the area, using parts from the recently dismantled Thorn Mountain chairlift. The Platter Lift may have been relocated to the Hobbs novice slope at this time and possibly converted to a T-Bar later.
The third year of the project called for a Disneyland-like bubble lift for the 1959-60 season. For unknown reasons, the project would not come to fruition for a few seasons.
Momentum picked up again in 1962 when new management took over and launched a $400,000 expansion program, backed through the State of New Hampshire Recreation Plan. Amongst the upgrades that year included the installation of the Bearcamp T-Bar, serving slightly more tame terrain. Two new trails were also added, as well as a base lodge expansion. Night skiing was featured for the first time. Harry Baxter, who would later manage Sugarloaf, took over the ski school.
The Age of the Gondola
The largest portion of the expansion program came the following year, when the first four person gondola in New Hampshire was installed at Mt. Whittier. Not only did the 6,300 foot long lift open the upper mountain, but it also gave Whittier an off season attraction. While ski operations based around a mountain station south of the main lodge, the base station was located east of the ski area, on the other side of Route 16. As a result, sightseers could park off Route 16, then board the gondola and ride over the highway and river to the summit.
While the lift put Whittier on the map, the ski area had some challenges to attempt to overcome. While the extremely steep terrain was attractive for experts, it tended to scare away novices and intermediates. In addition, without any snowmaking equipment, snow coverage on the steep trails was often an issue. Finally, two interstate highways were being built on the other side of the state, which would soon result in a dramatic shift in skier traffic.
A T-Bar was constructed adjacent to the gondola for the 1965-66 season, possibly using parts from the Hobbs Slope T-Bar. Revenue increased by 42%, making it Whittier's strong season to date. Unfortunately for Whittier, struggles were just around the corner.
The gondola top terminal (2008)
Lacking snowmaking, poor winters pushed the ski area into rough financial shape in the early 1970s. The area failed to open for 1973-74 and ended up in the possession of the Federal Economic Development Administration.
Ski instructors Bob King, Don McDavitt, and Alan Skelley purchased the ski area and put Ed Mallett in charge, reopening for the 1974-75 season. While the area was able to operate for the balance of the decade, it still lacked snowmaking when Mario Chiaravelotti purchased it.
Rather than install snowmaking during the snow drought at the turn of the decade, Chiaravelotti installed summer attractions such as summer roller skiing and water slides. The summer business did not work, nor did subsequent bad winters. As a result, the area closed in 1985.
After sitting idle for nearly two decades, part of the area reopened around the turn of the century as Mt. Madness. While there were attempts at four season activities, no major ski operation took place. In more recent years, snowmobile races have been held around the base area.
Being a young boy at Camp Marist for all my childhood, Mt Whittier was a much anticipated day trip for us. As an adult I swooshed those slopes many a winter while staying at the Flanders Inn across the street (and a great family owned an operated it).Ah, memories!:)