OSSIPEE — John T. Kenney, a co-owner of the former Whittier Ski Area on Nickerson Mountain in West Ossipee, hopes to bring the mountain back to life for the benefit of the community and is looking for ideas on how to do that.
The Whittier Ski Area, across the street from Tramway Artisans in West Ossipee, which is just south of the intersections of Route 16 and Route 25, was the subject of a Fritz Wetherbee segment in October on WMUR-Channel 9’s “New Hampshire Chronicle.”
Whittier Ski Area was known for a gondola that crossed Route 16 in both summer and the winter.
In addition to skiing, it also offered summer activities like a water slide.
According to Wetherbee, it opened at the end of World War II and closed in 1985 after some snowless winters and because the area lacked snow guns.
But Wetherbee concluded: "Who knows? Whittier may just come back."
Kenney, 64, of Rochester, owns just under 800 acres of the mountain himself and through his business, Whittier Communications Inc., which he runs with his wife, Sandra. The company builds, owns and maintains communications towers.
He is the older brother of District 1 Executive Councilor Joe Kenney (R-Wakefield).
John Kenney acquired the mountain in a roundabout way. He and his former business partner, Mario Chiaravelotti, had an interest in a communications tower on top of the mountain. They, along with New Hampshire State Police, built the tower in 1996.
The Chiaravelottis had well-known North Conway restaurant called Mario's in North Conway from 1970 to the early 2000s. It became Hillbilly’s and is now Cigar Shenanigans.
Chiaravelotti, 82, and his wife, Barbara, moved to Atlanta in September. The following month, he decided he was going to sell out his interest in both the tower and the land, which he had bought in 1978.
"It was always kind of understood that I would buy his share of the tower asset out but I never dreamed I would end up with the land," said Kenney. "That was pretty much what the deal was."
Kenny said he appreciates the fact that Chiaravelotti turned down offers for the mountain over the years and was willing to sell to him.
Of Kenney, Chiaravelotti said: ”There's nobody I would rather sell to," saying that his partner took their tower project from "ground zero" to completion.
According to the town of Ossipee, the 782-acre property was sold for $600,000 for 13 parcels, ranging in size from 16 to 120 acres. The deed transfer was recorded Nov. 1.
The property includes frontage along Route 25 down toward the Bearcamp Garden plant nursery.
The right person could also develop the old lodge on the property. Kenney said it needs work but appears to be structurally sound.
"I'm looking to get commercial in here," said Kenney, who said he skied at the Whittier Ski Area in the 1970s and had ridden the gondola many times.
He said he was in the U.S. Air Force when it closed.
"During that whole time, the ski area was a good part of this community," said Kenney, recalling that there used to be "rocking" dances at the nearby Whittier House restaurant (now Hobbs Tavern) because the ski area so busy.
"When it did close, I understand it sucked the community and the businesses right out of the West Ossipee area,” said Kenney, who said he would like to have the mountain create jobs and business activity.
He would like to know if it would be feasible to get the gondola going again.
He said the view would be "spectacular" if some trees can be taken down.
Chiaravelotti had a number of proposals come before him and some he rejected and some other things, like a gravel pit, didn't work out well with the town.
"What I'm hoping is that I can interest some real serious people who would like to do something with the mountain in a real positive way," said Kenney, who purchased the land to protect his investment in the tower.
Kenney said he would say no to things that he feels would be controversial. For example, he rejected a plan to put 10 250-to-350-foot wind turbines on top of the mountain.
Some ideas he's enthusiastic about would be creating mountain bike trails. He also dreams of putting a nice restaurant at the summit, which people could get to by gondola.
He said the mountain is also habitat for deer, bear and moose.
"I don't know what the possibles are for the mountain," said Kenney. "This hit me real fast."
Chiaravelotti expressed faith in Kenney's ability to be a good steward of the land. He said Kenney is an experienced businessman who proved himself with the tower project.
"I'm sure he'll find a use for it," said Chiaravelotti.
Proposals can be sent to Kenney at Kenney Communications, 8 Anctile Court, Rochester, NH 03839. The business phone number is (603) 335-3512.