Gunstock eyes major expansion, adding new terrain, lifts, hotel

  • Gunstock is proposing an expansion with new terrain and a hotel. Courtesy

The Laconia Daily Sun
Published: 11/3/2021 5:10:25 PM

Gunstock Resort could be one of the largest ski areas in the state under an expansion and development plan which the county-owned facility is getting ready to unveil in full later this year.

The plan includes the adding of 194 acres of skiable terrain, a slopeside hotel, a mountaintop restaurant, as well as new lifts and expanded snowmaking.

The full plan is scheduled to be unveiled to the public on Dec. 4, at the Gunstock base lodge. Gary A. Kiedaisch and Brian Gallagher, the chair and vice chair of the Gunstock Area Commission respectively, along with Tom Day, the resort’s president and general manager, recently explained the highlights of the plan in a meeting with the editors of The Daily Sun.

They said the project would be the biggest undertaking since 1937 when the facility was built by the Works Progress Administration — a New Deal agency that employed jobless people during the Great Depression to work on public works projects. It was the largest WPA project in the state.

The three said this master plan reflects Gunstock’s operating philosophy to run the resort like a business, as compared to a nonprofit operation.

“We are a self-sustaining business on county property,” Day said. “We generate everything we need.”

Beyond using its revenue to cover all its operating costs, Gunstock makes payments to Belknap County as required by law.

The resort recently paid $247,000 to Belknap County, a figure which Gallagher said was 41% greater than what it paid last year.

The three noted that Gunstock posted a record-breaking season with the highest number of skier visits despite COVID. In another sign of the resort’s financial stability, Gunstock expects to have reduced its debt by $3 million by next April, while at the same time investing $2.4 million in the mountain’s infrastructure, including renovating the Stockade Lodge for food and beverage service, expanded snow-making, and additional parking close to the base of the mountain.

The ability to post strong financial reports indicates that Gunstock can take on an expansion and upgrade project of the scope that is being proposed.

“We have posted a strong financial position which we believe allows us to take on this challenge,” Gallagher said.

Kiedaisch said the ambitious project is necessary to keep Gunstock a player in the tremendously competitive skier market.

The master plan is designed to protect Gunstock’s market share, preserve the area as a county-owned facility which supports the county, provide different experiences that will attract skiers, and enhance the area’s gross revenues.

“We have to expand like a company to give money back to the county which helps a little bit for the county taxpayers,” Gallagher said.

The plan includes expanding ski terrain in three adjacent areas. Two of the areas — the former Mount Rowe/Alpine Ridge Ski Area, and the East Drainage on the eastern slope of Gunstock Mountain — are already owned by the county. The so-called Weeks area on the north slope is not on Gunstock property and would need to go through a comprehensive approval process, Keidaisch pointed out.

If the full master plan is developed, Gunstock would have 73 trails, giving it the highest number of any ski area in the state. By comparison, Bretton Woods has 63 trails, Waterville Valley 62, and Loon 61. The additional terrain would give skiers three ways to get to the 2,267-foot summit of Gunstock Mountain which is now accessible by one lift, the Panorama detachable quad chair which was installed as part of a $4 million expansion in 2009.

Another notable amenity included in the master plan is a slopeside hotel to be built by a private developer on land leased from the county. In addition to the lease payments, the hotel operator would also pay a percentage of its gross revenue, as well as an up-front payment to enter into the land-lease agreement. It would be the only ski-in, ski-out hotel in the state. It would be operated by an established hotel management company, preferably one based in New Hampshire, Keidaisch said.

“It would be a very premium hotel,” he said.

The plan includes building a mountaintop restaurant which would operate in the summer as well as during ski season. During the summer the venue would be reachable by a toll road built along a dirt road now used by Gunstock maintenance vehicles.

Also included in the plan is the construction of a number of mountainside huts for visitors who want to combine skiing with a type of glamorous camping, also known as “glamping,” experience.

Keidaisch said with the addition of the hotel, toll road, and mountain top restaurant, the master plan would add revenue sources that would reduce Gunstock’s current almost-total dependence on revenue from lift ticket sales.

The overall project could be completed five years after the actual start of construction, Keidaisch said.

The plan would be a major stimulus for economic development throughout Belknap County, with visitors to Gunstock also patronizing local businesses outside the resort complex, Gallagher said.

The plan is intended to put Gunstock on a sound financial footing that will be sustainable in the long-term.

Other options are less attractive, according to Keidaisch.

“I am not in favor of leasing out the whole area,” he said. “If we were to do that we would lose control,” he added, pointing to difficulties that have arisen since the state leased out the Mount Sunapee Ski Area in the late 1990s. “This is not a political vision,” he emphasized. “This is a business vision.”

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