Outdoor Adventures: Winter cabin brings Gunstock closer to home

  • A skier launches down a run at Gunstock in Gilford. Though known as a day-trip mountain, camping in a winter cabin at the resort’s campground turns it into an overnight experience complete with activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking. Marty Basch / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 2/6/2019 8:11:27 PM

For a ski area sans slopeside lodging, there’s a basic woodsy alternative that can turn skiing and riding the mountain into an overnight experience.

Just spend the night in a campground cabin off the mountain’s access road.

Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford is the place, home to the Belknap County-owned ski area and recreation complex that has everything from tubing to night skiing to the Gunstock Outdoor Center. The year-round Lakes Region campground has two heated cabins in its140-acre woods. Tucked in a corner near rows of RVs, they sit along a cross-country ski trail and are a short walk from parking.

The cabins are simplistic and made for a comfortable base camp during a two-night stay allowing my wife Jan and I to not only ski the mountain, but also snowshoe and fat bike out the front door.

They’re bare-bones: four bunkbeds (one a double), chairs, a table, porch, fire ring, grill and picnic table. There’s electricity and a light. A portable toilet is nearby and the heated bathhouse had showers and laundry. A one-stove burner used outside was plenty to heat the homemade chili and tuna noodle casserole we brought.

We could hang out at the cabin and watch the Nordic world go by. As light faded in the late afternoon, a cross-country skate skier pulled a pulk. Later, a couple walking a dog followed the snowy path. Before the sun rose, a half dozen cyclists wearing headlamps pedaled by on fat bikes, their lights casting shadows on the cabin walls. As did the groomer later on and when first light came it wasn’t too long before a lone snowshoer with poles strode along. About the only type of free-heeling and wheeling we didn’t see was skijoring as lessons are taught for those wanting to be pulled by your pet canine.

The trail is part of the 50-kilometer Nordic center with its pines, bogs, streams and small ponds. The beauty of being in the cabin was the trail network access and proximity to the chairlifts with a very short drive.

From the cabin, we were able to snowshoe to the 3-plus-kilometer Cobble Mountain loop, an invigorating cross-country circuit around the wooded 1,403-foot high Cobble Mountain adjacent to Gunstock. The loop is easily accessed for those starting from the rustic outdoor center on Cherry Valley Road.

Granite-loaded Cobble Mountain once had a rope tow for skiing that started near the campground and ran to below its summit. Now, not only did classic and skate skiers use it, but so did snowshoers and fat bikers. The wide forested romp led near a placid frozen pond and also provided a clear look at times to the ski mountain next door.

There was joy found during an early morning fat bike jaunt under the cloak of darkness guided by the lone light of a headlamp in the single-digit cold. The crunch of the tire rolling against the groomed snow sounded better than an alarm clock buzzer, the cold packing more of a punch than a strong jolt of java. The limited light made the trail appear narrower than it really was and each nod of the head yielded a quick look into the woods and a glimpse of exhaled breath.

Though the munch of rubber on snow won over the quiet, stopping by a bench along a flowing brook under the glowing stars resulted in hearing nature’s hushed symphony. Then, rounding a corner, a pair of headlamps foretold of two creatures ahead, one easily spotted as human, the other lower to the ground with an other worldly look that turned out to be a dog with its own lights!

Gunstock, with its RFID ticket system (campers get a lift ticket discount), is known for its glorious views. With one blue bird day and another with cloud cover, the stunning looks at Lake Winnipesaukee and the frosty Presidentials didn’t disappoint down cruisers like Gunsmoke, Trigger, Recoil, and Flintlock from the summit with 1,400 vertical feet.

Staying at the cabin is certainly different from a slopeside hotel room or condo. There’s no jacuzzi, microwave, or TV with a onslaught of channels and “Law & Order” episodes. Instead, there are games from home, music from a portable radio, and apres ski beverages on a porch served up with peace and quiet near a frozen brook in the still of winter.

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