Black Mountain ski area spruces up for 75th anniversary
Jackson area has come a long way since innovative 'shovel handle' lift
Black Mountain Ski Area (a.k.a. Black Spruce Mountain) celebrates 75 years of operation this year, making it one of the oldest operating ski areas in the country.
Covered bridge over Ellis River. (State of New Hampshire photo)
As you arrive in Jackson, New Hampshire and turn off Route 16 into the downtown area, you will cross over the Ellis River through a covered bridge that was originally built in 1876. The bridge is now owned and maintained by the State of New Hampshire and is a classic bit of New England. It is known locally as the "Honeymoon Bridge", because so many wedding parties have had photos taken at the bridge. Definitely stop and grab some photos of your group with the covered bridge in the background.
View of Whitney's Inn and "shovel handle" lift and slope, circa 1930's. (Whitney's Inn photo)
Back in the early days Black Mountain was covered with black spruce trees all the way back to the National Forest land. The locals referred to it as Black Mountain due to the fact that the Spruce trees looked very dark because they were such a deep shade of green. Those trees didn’t last long because the paper mills in nearby Berlin also loved them — to produce quality paper. There are still a few Black Spruce around, and they will grow older, because I suspect they will not be cut down.
Skiers loading on the "shovel handle" lift. (Black Mountain Ski Area photo)
Betty Whitney ready for skiing. (Whitney's Inn photo)
In 1936, Betty and Bill Whitney purchased the old Moody Farm and related buildings, which included an Inn dating back to 1840. The Whitneys opened a ski slope along with the Inn. The slope included a small overhead cable lift constructed by George Morton (who the next year would design and construct the Skimobile for Cranmore Mountain in North Conway), with hanging lengths of rope for the skier to grasp for a ride up the slope above the Inn. Bill Whitney, a mechanical engineer, did not like the hanging rope because it caused problems, and so a year later he constructed a first, the “shovel handle” lift. It consisted of an overhead cable with 72 Sears, Roebuck shovel handles attached. Skiers would reach up and grab a handle, and away they would be pulled to the top of the slope. The shovel handles were replaced with J-Bars in 1949. Betty Whitney died in 2005 at the age of 102 and her estate has funded the Whitney Community Center in Jackson.
Horses making sure that the triple chair is operating in the snow storm. (Black Mountain Ski Area photo)
Both Black Mountain Ski Area and Whitney’s Inn were expanded with T-Bar and chair lifts as the years went by. The complex was owned and operated by the Whitney Family until approximately 1979. Since then, there have been a few owners of both the mountain and Whitney’s Inn, but for the past fifteen years the ski area has been owned and operated by John Fichera; and Whitney’s Inn has been owned by Joyce and Don Bilger (who previously owned the Inn in Jackson) since 2007. The Bilgers have completed major renovations, and in the old barn they have remodeled the “Shovel Handle” Pub with an original “shovel handle” mounted on the wall.
Ski patrol with grooming wheel, must have had quite a grip. (Whitney's Inn photo)
Black Mountain has some great skiing terrain, with many trails off the top accommodating all abilities. Some of the trails are great for holding new snow, because they are not wide open which can cause the snow to blow into the woods when the mountain winds erupt. The narrower trails instead catch the snow as it blows, causing greater depths of snow on the trails. For cross country skiers, the Betty Whitney trail begins at the Inn and connects to the 156km Jackson Ski Touring Center.
The White Mountains to the north. (Whitney's Inn photo)
So help celebrate Black Mountain’s 75th season and pay a visit to cruise down the mountain, cross country ski the area or spend a relaxing night in the mountains and simply watch the fun. The mountain is having regular celebrations all season to enjoy its 75th year.
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