West Ossipee—September 29, 2023—Those of a certain age will remember Mr. Whittier. The popular ski area was notable for its colorful gondolas that passed high over the car traffic at the junction of Routes 16 and 25 in West Ossipee to get to the summit.
NAI Norwood Group is now marketing the property for sale. It comprises close to 800 acres and has “potential for recreation, conservation and development,” according to the company’s website. The acreage is being sold as a package, and excludes a cell tower at the site. The price is $3.2 million.
The former ski area is actually on Nickerson Mountain. The name “Whittier” (which applies to an adjacent peak) was adopted for marketing purposes when rope tow operations began in the late 1940s, according to the website Unofficial Networks.
A moderate success in the 1950s, the business soared in popularity after the gondola system was installed in 1963, apparently one of the first of its type in the U.S. In the off season, the four-person gondolas ferried tourists to the summit to catch expansive views of Ossipee Lake and the White Mountains.
As for the quality of the skiing, the word “steep” appears in almost every description of Mt. Whittier’s slopes on websites that chronicle the history of former ski areas. The challenging slopes limited the interest of families with children and newcomers to the sport, who found near-by King Pine in Madison more to their liking.
Being on Route 16 also limited the number of visitors, with major highways to the west offering Massachusetts skiers faster travel times to a more diverse set of slopes. Warmer winters in the early 1980s and a lack of snowmaking equipment sounded the death knell in 1985.
An early 2000s reboot called Mt. Madness Adventure Center offered snow tubing in winter and a water slide in summer. It never found a sustainable market, and faded quickly.
The site, by then overgrown and vandalized, was purchased in 2017 by John Kenney, older brother of noted politician Joe Kenney, and owner of a business interest in a communications tower atop the mountain.
In a Conway Daily Sun article at the time, the elder Kenney said he was looking for ideas on how to “bring the mountain back to life for the benefit of the community.” Ultimately, nothing came of it, and Kenney put the property back on the market.
Word of the property being for sale again has ski websites and forums enthusiastic about a potential revival of Whittier for year-round mountain sports. One of those websites, Snow Brains, speculated that the growing interest in backcountry skiing and mountain biking might be an opportunity for a “backcountry-specific” resort.
The website Unofficial Networks said the the family selling the property hopes whoever buys it can afford to maintain it in its natural environment, or will invest in a ski operation despite tens of millions that would be needed for a new business.
But Unofficial Networks also speculated that a new owner of Mt. Whittier might look at the comeback of Ascutney Mountain in West Windsor as a model. Ascutney closed its skiing operations in 2010, was purchased by the town, and was revived as a non-profit called Ascutney Outdoors in 2015.
In an echo of Mt. Whittier’s long-ago humble beginnings, Ascutney Outdoors installed a simple rope tow using spare parts, added a second to create a lift for a tubing hill, and acquired a T-bar from a former ski area in Canada.
The business is run entirely by volunteers, and lift tickets are just $20, according to their website.
A YouTube video showing Mt. Whittier in 1967 is here.