Gunstock: Expansion vital to future of ski area

  • Skiers at Gunstock in Gilford enjoy the sunny weather and mid-40s temperatures in 2018. Monitor file

The Laconia Daily Sun
Published: 12/8/2021 5:17:59 PM
Modified: 12/8/2021 5:17:31 PM

Gunstock laid out a multiyear, multimillion-dollar vision for future expansion which officials on Saturday called a controlled, methodical proposal to expand its operations and ensure the recreation facility remains competitive.

About 250 people turned out for the presentation and question-and-answer session dealing with the concepts for new and faster chairlifts, additional snowmaking and almost 200 acres of new ski slopes, which would allow the facility to comfortably handle nearly twice as many skiers as it can now.

“Resorts that sequentially make disciplined capital investments continue to maintain or gain market share and those who don’t don’t,” Gunstock President and General Manager Tom Day told the audience. “Those that don’t fail to remain competitive,” he said, which leads to fewer and fewer skiers, with the result that the area’s income drops, and the ability then to make capital investment becomes harder. “Without disciplined capital investment the operation fails,” Day emphasized.

The audience was made up largely of private citizens, but also included some members of the Belknap County Delegation, two Belknap County commissioners, and state senators Harold French and Bob Giuda.

There was no negative reaction to the plan, though some in the audience raised concerns about the lack of specifics when the different phases would actually occur, as well as the overall impact on traffic, and the ecology of the 1,840 acres of county-owned land in which Gunstock is situated.

While the plan includes proposed improvements to amenities such as the campground and cross-country skiing trails, the bulk of the plan — both in terms of acreage to be developed and cost — deals with downhill terrain.

Upgrades being considered for the existing area include installing a detachable quad chairlift on the west side of the mountain to replace the existing Tiger and Ramrod chairlifts, and adding one ski trail.

Improvements to the east side of the mountain entail the construction of a second detachable quad summit chairlift, 11 new trails which will add 70 acres of skier terrain, and the addition of 400 more parking spaces. That expansion would allow the resort to comfortably accommodate about 1,040 more skiers per day.

The Alpine Ridge phase would bring online another 11 ski trials which would be served by a triple chairlift at Alpine Ridge as well as from the Penny Pitou chairlift, on the west side of the present Gunstock area, which would be extended. There would be an additional 200 parking spaces created, and the carrying capacity of the ski resort would be increased by 390 skiers. Alpine Ridge has been idle since it closed in the mid-1980s.

The most extensive part of the overall plan being envisioned is called the Backside-Weeks phase which would be developed on the opposite side of Gunstock Mountain from the existing ski slopes. It would involve the building of a detachable quad chairlift, construction of eight ski trails with 87 acres of new terrain, as well as creating 500 new parking spaces. Skier access to those new slopes would be from the existing detachable quad or the two proposed high-speed lifts on the front of the mountain.

The land envisioned for the Backside-Weeks phase is privately owned and would require Gunstock to go through acquisition and detailed permitting process before it could be developed.

No overall cost figure for the expansion was given during Saturday’s presentation. The only financial estimates mentioned were for the cost of the five new chairlifts which was pegged at $45.5 million, based on current prices. The costs for the individual lifts range from $5.5 million for the detachable quad that would replace the Tiger and Ramrod lifts, to $17.3 million for the Backside/Weeks detachable quad.

A slope-side hotel and a lodge/restaurant at the top of Gunstock Mountain are also included in the overall plan. Day said that movement on the hotel part of the plan would probably have to wait until the development on the east side of the mountain is completed, because a key feature of the slope side hotel would be that skiers would be able ski to and from the hotel property.

Mike McCombs was among those on hand who offered comments during the question-and-answer session which lasted about 45 minutes.

McCombs, a retired business executive who lives in Gilford, said while he applauded the overall plan he told the gathering that it lacked a timeline on when various parts of the plan would take place.

“The master plan looks great,” he said after the meeting ended, “but it’s all about execution. It looks more like a 10-year plan.”

Laconia resident David Stamps said he was worried what environmental impact the proposed development would have on the overall Belknap Range of which Gunstock is a part, and particularly on wildlife habitat in the densely wooded area.

Both Day and Gunstock Area Commission Vice Chairman Gary Kiedaisch said Gunstock is and will continue to be sensitive to any environmental concerns raised.

A resident of the section of Area Road which runs past the parking lot of the former Alpine Ridge Ski Area said he was concerned that doubling Gunstock’s skier capacity would mean a big increase in traffic on the western end of the road which now is used only for people who live along the street.

“We’re conscious about the neighborhood,” Day said. “We don’t want to disrupt neighbors or disrupt nature.”

Penny Pitou and Heidi Preuss, both Olympic skiers who learned to ski or developed their ability at Gunstock, both said they were excited about the plans outlined.

“Part of our ability to compete in the Olympics started here at Gunstock,” Preuss told the crowd. “The value is not just in dollars and cents, but in what it brings to us as residents.”

“I’m excited about this,” Pitou said, who added that while she has skied at some of the finest ski resorts in the world, “This is where I feel most at home.”

Gunstock Commission Chair Brian Gallagher said he was “overwhelmed” by the turnout which filled the main level of the base lodge, with additional people watching from the mezzanine.

“They all came out to get the factual information on what the Gunstock team is trying to do,” he said.

Gallagher has stressed recently that the Gunstock Commission has not reached any formal decision regarding the elements in the master plan which he has called a work in progress.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.



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