AlpineZone Challenge 2006 – Evan Dybvig of Whaleback

The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Evan Dybvig, Owner and Operator of Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, New Hampshire, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 6/27/2006:

Bob R: I have some questions regarding your mountain and your general business plan. What is your approach and niche? What ratio of skier to boarder are you anticipating in terms of visit count and program participation? In general, how do you plan on competing with Northern Resorts that are close by? I’ve heard that you are targeting the programs to the youth markets, but what programs will be available to parents that still have to drive theirs kids to this area?

Evan Dybvig: Our approach is to reopen the area and build summer and year round facilities for other complementary action sports. Skateboarding, Inline Skating, and BMX share the culture of Snowboarding and Freestyle Skiing and it will be interesting to see how the sports develop when brought together in one location. The ski to snowboard ratio is about the same as most resorts, ultimately, we will have a larger percentage of snowboarders than normal. As far as competing with other resorts, I think that we are the obvious choice for our community for what Whaleback offers that other resorts don’t, night skiing, easy access, and great terrain- traditional and park. Then to compete with other larger destination resorts, we are targeting a core market that will be excited about the entire action sport facility that we will have. Adult programming- We already offering Thursday Night Race League and much of our night activity is geared towards adults and the bar. Also our Mountain School teaches people of all ages not just kids. Undoubtedly, we could do a better job of appealing to adults and we intend to, but our first priority is kids.

thetrailboss: We applaud your work in reopening Whaleback. Why Whaleback and not another ski area such as King Ridge or Pinnacle? How are your plans coming for the year-round aspect of the ski area? What are the plans for the indoor training, sport center, water ramp, BMX and paintball? The summer activities (mountain biking, ramps with pools, etc)? And when can we expect these activities to be available–will they be available this coming season, or will it be a progression over several years?

Evan Dybvig: Thank you. Whaleback is an ideal mountain in its size accessibility and it was also close to me and to my partners. Our plans for year round activity have been hindered considerably after this season. We are working on developing a new boot strap approach to achieve our goals. We are going to have a BMX track built soon and I will be starting a summer trampoline training camp and program. The skate park is a larger cost item and it is going to have to wait until we have the capital. Right now we have bar activity on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Jonni: What are your plans if any about possibly replacing the double chair with a Fixed Grip Triple or Fixed Grip Quad?

Evan Dybvig: We will not replace the chair. If we want to increase uphill capacity, we will add another summit chair and it would most likely be a fixed triple or quad.

ga2ski: Whaleback is a great hill. Unfortunately I only skied it once back in 1985 or 1986, but it was a powder day. I think you can do a lot with it. Do you have any plans for adult mogul camps? How about tele mogul camps? What about specific training courses for techniques and jumps? Do you have plans for a demo center specifically for freestyle gear? What qualifications will you look for in your teaching staff?

Evan Dybvig: I do have plans for an adult mogul camp and don’t see any reason why we couldn’t offer tele as well provided that we have the right instructor. We will build a competitive mogul venue when we have the capital. This would be the ideal location for learning as well as competing. We don’t have specific plans for a demo center, but it is something that I have been exploring with companies. The primary qualification for a coach in our mountain school is a passion for the sport.

Jim G.: Evan, I like bumps and I know a lot of other skiers who do too. In recent years, it seems that good bump lines have dropped to the bottom of the list of terrain options at most resorts. Everything is groomed to death or has been converted to terrain parks. Whaleback interests me a lot because of the resort’s stated emphasis on freestyle training, both on snow and dry land. Will there be terrain devoted solely to bumps? Will these be naturally formed, seeded, or both? Will there be “A” and “B” level courses set up? And most important to a visitor like me, will courses be available to the skiing public as well as competition teams? It might be good if you could also describe your layout or maybe offer a diagram of the elements on the area. I think you have chosen a niche that has become undervalued by most other resorts and I’m interested in your progress.

Evan Dybvig: Jim, I am a fan of a good mogul line as well. I prefer natural moguls, but we had to seed some moguls this winter for lack of soft snow. In the short term, mogul terrain will be largely dependant upon good snow. I will keep moguls on the hill regularly and intend to have a course that is open to the public. What many people don’t realize is that a mogul course requires an incredible amount of maintenance to keep it skiing well. So that is why programs typically don’t allow the public to ski their courses that they build and maintain. With natural moguls though that is not usually the case because of the way that the lines develop naturally and are not constructed and maintained. It is going to take some time and money to build up our infrastructure to the point where we will have the mogul venues that I envision at Whaleback. We will be praying for better snow in the years ahead to help us create some great bump runs.

Jack97: The web site claims 80% snowmaking, what about capacity? How fast will it take the equipment to get the courses in decent conditions after a rain/thaw to freeze cycle? Are you planning on making any improvements to the snowmaking system or adding more snowmaking? Not too many trails saw snowmaking this winter. Last, are you planning on updating the website to show snow reports, photos, and current information?

Evan Dybvig: Our capacity in snow making is limited somewhat by the amount of compressed air that we have. This past season we felt that we made a good decision to keep the terrain that we had open in good condition instead of opening more terrain with too little snow. We did make some upgrades to the snowmaking to improve the efficiency of the system, but we will not be investing much more in the short term. Yes, we will have a better website with updates and more current information. That is a priority for next season.

ga2ski: This question has more to do with the industry than you mountain, but since you are a former Olympic skier. Recently I have noticed the bumps at several resorts to be lacking “good zipper lines”. What do you think has caused the downfall of the lines? Is it new shaped skis? Did people change the way they ski? I know I may take a beating for this, but are the snowboarders changing the lines?

Evan Dybvig: I think that the changes in technology have changed mogul lines. Shaped skis encourage more people to carve their turns which pushes less snow, therefore less moguls form. Also more people demand groomed terrain for their shaped skis. I don’t think that we can blame the snowboarders for this particular issue.

thetrailboss: Evan, how did the season go for you? What was the biggest challenge and do you think that being an Olympic Skier prepared you for running a ski area? It is great to see a local athlete, who is a role model for younger skiers and riders, taking on the task of operating a ski area and making these sports accessible to area youth.

Evan Dybvig: Thank you. It was a rough season. We didn’t meet conservative projections, but we will survive one way or another. My Olympic background does help me in that I am capable of learning, overcoming obstacles, and just general persistence. Otherwise than that there are absolutely no similarities. The biggest challenge was and still is getting necessary capital to really make this business plan work. The next biggest challenge is in the myriad of details that are involved in ski areas. There are so many profit centers and costs and things to go wrong and break that are unique to ski areas and therefore are wickedly expensive. It is crazy most of the time, especially at a small mountain where you have to do everything.

Jack97: Crotched has Midnight Madness (open till 3:00 am) during mid winter weekends. These nights are very popular and feature live bands and entertainment as well as good ticket deals. You are situated in a location in which you are the only night skiing operation. Have you considered running a similar program?

Evan Dybvig: We have not talked seriously about it. But it is a relatively easy thing to implement if it seems like a good idea.

thetrailboss: : Many ski areas have chosen to compete with American Ski Company’s “All For One” Pass by dropping season ticket rates and offering reciprocal pass deals with other resorts so that skiers and riders can ski at more than one resort. Have you considered offering reciprocal pass deals with nearby ski areas (Burke, Ascutney, Dartmouth, etc.)? By having night skiing, you have a niche that none of the other ski areas fill and this might help you in negotiating deals with other resorts. I was also glad to hear advertising for the ski area this season on the local radio. What promotions/deals are you anticipating for next season? Do you have any plans on being a “Ski New Hampshire” resort? Have you considered doing any promotions with nearby colleges (Vermont Law or Dartmouth) or with members of Alpine Zone?

Evan Dybvig: We may have a deal with Sunapee and Okemo pass holders for when they are open and we are not in the spring and summer and for nights at Whaleback. We have not spent a lot of time working those deals out though. I think that we will be a Ski New Hampshire resort next season. And we have not set up any promotions for next year yet, but we will be keeping some version of the Honor Student pass. We are working on our college relations as well.

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