The divorce between Black Mountain and Ski the Whites really started brewing at the very beginning of the relationship.
What seemed like a collaborative partnership was anything but, ending last Friday night when Black Mountain owner John Fichera told Ski the Whites’ Andrew Drummond that his alpine touring operation was no longer welcome at the ski area in Jackson, N.H.
“It was like a bad high school dance every time he had an event,” Fichera told New England Ski Journal.
Drummond announced in an email on Monday that his Ski the Whites shop would no longer be located at Black Mountain, the small Jackson ski area where the touring outfit had hosted more than 100 events over the past five years.
“We are thankful for the staff who have supported us along the way,” Drummond wrote. “I couldn’t think of a better place to share the uphill experience.”
Until recently, Black had offered a $10 uphill ticket. But on Jan. 19, the ski area threatened to revoke all uphill privileges after noting the number of skiers who refused to fork that amount over in exchange for use of the land. On Saturday, the ski area officially made good on its threat. That included putting an end to Friday Night Lights, Ski the Whites’ popular skin-and-ski event that attracted hundreds of people each week to Black Mountain.
On Friday night, Fichera, who has owned the ski area since 1995, called police when more than 500 people unexpectedly showed up for the weekly event with only himself and one bartender on staff. Many of the guests had brought their own beer to Fichera’s liquor-licensed property, Fichera said, adding that it was a problem that had stained the relationship between the mountain and Ski the Whites since the beginning.
Things came to a head on Friday night when Fichera said he was “assaulted and pushed around by a bunch of drunks” on the base lodge’s deck.
“You’re damned right I called the police,” he said. “I threw everybody out of my building and I shut the bar down. That was it for me. Last straw. I’m done.”
Drummond said that he could only recall one other event where Fichera confiscated beer from a patron. “We are vigilant about our NO BYOB messaging through our website and newsletters,” Drummond said. “It’s also posted throughout the base lodge at Black Mountain. We also don’t need beer to have fun at our events, it’s a bonus for Black Mountain and their staff to make extra money.”
While Fichera noted that Drummond would always try to post the information about outside beverages being prohibited, it never amounted to much. At the time of the incident at the base lodge, Drummond said that he was outside directing the skimo race.
“They were all up at their bonfire drinking — their own beer — on my licensed property,” Fichera said. “If the liquor inspector shows up, they suspend my license until I have a hearing. At the end of February? Are you kidding me? He has no respect for the business and what we do here.
“I have a liquor license and it does not include Andrew Drummond.”
Fichera said that Drummond did pay rent for his retail space in Black’s base lodge. But other than a “minuscule” amount of money made on food and beverage, the ski area never saw any return on allowing him to use its private property.
“They’ve been here five years, hosted over 100 events,” Fichera said. “If you asked me how much money they paid the venue, the house, and you said, ‘zero,’ you’d be right.”
Drummond disputed that claim. “We paid John a venue fee for our summer series and John turned down our $7,200 venue fee for Last Skier Standing, which we are donating to the local ESSC [Eastern Slope Ski Club] program. We also have a check for Black Mountain for the 100 uphill passes we sold in the shop between Jan 23, 2022 and Feb 12, 2022.”
Drummond told New England Ski Journal that he “always supported Black Mountain by providing media photos, articles, television spots, and sending customers their way.” Fichera saw the wrong kind of publicity, one that created an uphill headache at the mountain. Some skinners refused to pay the $10 fee. Many of them accosted employees at Black when challenged on the matter, Fichera said, and didn’t like being told they were trespassing on private property, not forest service land. “Like a bunch of babies,” Fichera said.
That led to hikers sneaking out of the parking lots of the trailside houses at the ski area, Fichera said, hiding in the parking lots across the street and at Whitney’s Inn next door. “All to chisel on a $10 ticket,” Fichera said.
On Saturday, the ski area made it official; no more uphill tickets.
“We apologize to all of those who understood our deep frustration, followed our policies, and respected the mountain and our incredibly hardworking employees,” Black Mountain posted on social media.
“It was never a question of money,” Fichera said. “In a good year, with skinning tickets, I don’t think we take in $1,000. So it’s not making the house any money. It was a question of respect and having a ticket and following the rules.”
Fichera said that he has no axe to grind with Drummond, personally. “But from a business perspective, he took unfair advantage of the house and I got fed up,” he said. “Then when I got pushed around on my own [expletive] property, I’ve had it.
“If ski free or die is your mantra, this is not your playground.”
Eric Wilbur can be reached at email@example.com.