• Menu
  • Menu

Gunstock Mountain Part 2 – 1962 and Beyond




1962 saw the next great step for the mountain:  renaming and modernization. A new $250,000 Mueller double chair finally reached the summit of Gunstock Mountain, a lift that became the backbone of the resort and a seed from which a large web of new trails grew, most of them covering intermediate or advanced terrain. The vertical drop also increased dramatically. Accordingly, Belknap officially became Gunstock. “New name, same great skiing” chirped the advertisements, and the infectious energy was palpable across New England. By 1964, a second double chair was installed as a redundancy and to reduce lift line wait times. More additions were made to the Phelps slope and Mt. Rowe as well, as the mountain layout began to resemble what exists today more closely.

But the weather gods are fickle and feckless. As the decade of the 1970s dawned, Gunstock found itself in the same dilemma as many ski areas on the southern edge of the winter weather belt:  short on both snow and cash. But Gunstock did what everyone does during such times, whether you’re J.P Morgan or Giuseppi the tailor:  you ride it out, and in the 1980s an influx of $10,000,000 cascaded into Gunstock, upgrading the lift infrastructure, while in the 1990s cash was more primarily focused on snowmaking. Slowly, with sane allocation of resources, every decade saw a general improvement in snow, conditions, and lifts. Night skiing was added during this period as well. And in 2009, after deciding that they had to become more friendly towards novices and beginners, the aforementioned enlarged area for green circle folks debuted, with its own chairlift named after Pitou.


Still, bridge loans from the county that Gunstock had begun to rely on starting in the ‘80s remained a thorny a bone of contention. According to NewEnglandSkiHistory, “In 2016, Gunstock still found itself in perennial debates with the county delegation over annual off-season bridge loans. The conflict intensified in 2017 when Gunstock refused to issue its annual $175,000 payment to the county. Gunstock eventually agreed to make the payment, in exchange for receiving another bridge loan from the county. One year later, Gunstock posted its second loss in three years, losing $470,931 during the 2017-18 season….[however] Gunstock capitalized on the COVID-19 bump in skiing popularity during the winter of 2020-21, recording record revenue and skier visits.”

Then in December of 2021, management presented a new Master Development Plan, something perfectly ordinary for a growing resort, but in Gunstock’s case the fuse that lit a powder keg. Though it had included regularly discussed ideas like East Side expansion and reopening a portion called Alpine Ridge, it also included a proposed summit auto-road, a mid-mountain hotel, and a “Back Side” expansion onto conservation land not held by the county.

Long story short, this plan was seized upon by politicos who thought sale to a private entity – Cough! Cough! Megapass! Megapass! Cough! Cough! – would be more lucrative.

Once again, the soul, the ethos, the joie d’esprit of a beloved, historic mountain faced extinction. This is what happens when people insist on taking the last possible dollar on the table.

What followed was Machiavellian. Remember:  Gunstock has been owned and operated by the county since its 1937 birth. In 1959, the Gunstock Area Commission was created, with Belknap County’s state representatives appointing commissioners who serve staggered terms, hopefully keeping a modicum of protection against one party dominating the other and using their power for political ends not civic. Well, that modicum evaporated in 2021 as allegations flew that a group of Belknap County delegates who supported privatization of Gunstock replaced vastly experienced Gunstock Area Commission members with their own political friends whom they could control. These new politicos – appointed czars beholden to the masters who appointed them – proceeded to publicly embarrass, harangue, and insult the sitting commission members, often personally – ostensibly all because the delegates wanted what they thought would be a quicker and easier payday, potentially even enriching themselves in the process.

The commissioners that were relentlessly badmouthed had turned a tidy $9,000,000 profit the prior year.


State Senator Bob Giuda, whose district includes Gunstock, assessed it concisely. “Behind this there’s a will that’s been expressed to privatize, which is against the law and against the will of the vast majority of the people….They took a commission that had produced a $9 million profit last year and replaced it with their own henchmen, who then proceeded to berate, abuse, and disrespect the management team, until the management team said, ‘We’re done.’”

In less than one year, the entire five-person Gunstock Area Commission had turned over, awash in a sea of furious resignations and disreputable removals. Finally, in July of 2022 after not being seated at the commission table, the entire Gunstock management team quit in protest. One day later, the staff voted to shut down the summer attractions.

Facing the fury of both local citizens and the entire eastern winter sports world, Belknap delegates were forced to meet the managers’ demands, and after a two-week negotiation and the removal of two offending commissioners, the management team returned to work and the mountain’s attractions reopened.

As expected, that fall saw a bloodletting at the ballot box as multiple members of the Belknap County Delegation involved in the drama lost their bids for re-election.

Still, some people don’t learn from their mistakes, and it what is seen by many as nothing more than a naked act of revenge, those seeking to leverage Gunstock for their own political gain and exact a pound of flesh as recompense for their stinging rebuke have authored and sponsored New Hampshire House Bill 1414FN:  nearly doubling the resort’s yearly tax liability to the County from 1.75% to 3%. The bill also would require meetings to be recorded and posted (they already are, as was already in written form via commission policy) and would impose expensive audits of the mountain’s books every five years.

Their last audit cost taxpayers $50,000 and found zero irregularities or errors.

Once again, Robert Sullivan of Boston Magazine offers the most concise assessment: “In our current America, some citizens have little regard for vox populi and don’t give up when voters tell them it’s time to move along….But this battle was never about dollars and cents. It was about heart and soul. Gunstock was a spiritual rather than a temporal issue.”

Spouting at times outright untruths, and using the taxpayers as both sword and shield in their sound bites, the bill sponsors’ arguments seem to some to a hellbroth of yelpings, errors, and inanities. Examples of such non sequiturs and inaccuracies include:

—Bill author and lead sponsor Barbara Comtois (R – Center Barnstead) stating at a hearing on the bill that Gunstock had defaulted on “millions of dollars” of debt to the County in the past. Numerous subsequent witnesses debunked that as untrue, stating that Gunstock had actually repaid all the loans in question;

—Comtois circularly arguing that Gunstock needed to pay double (3% instead of 1.75%) in case Gunstock ever hypothetically defaulted so that the burden to the taxpayers might somehow be lessened. She did not, however, expound upon how the taxpayers’ burden would be lessened in that event, leaving an open question as to whether her supposition was based on a false premise;

—Comtois’ “mask falling off moment” – admitting the partisan nature of the bill during an exchange about requiring regular expensive audits. Comtois alleged, “Can we ask for a forensic audit of Gunstock? Yes. Is it subject to politics? Yes. Is it subject to the whim of whoever’s on the delegation? Yes’”;

—Bill co-sponsor Nikki McCarter (R-Belmont) making the completely unsupported and wild conclusion that doubling Gunstock’s obligation would somehow magically reduce property taxes on residents. Again, she offered no evidence in support of that claim;

—the same McCarter attempting to send a dog whistle to the media for their support, claiming “newspaper’s up there touting how successful and wonderful Gunstock is … if it’s truly for the benefit of Belknap County, then the profits should be sent back to the residents.”

Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. Last election cycle incumbents lost, getting the comeuppance they deserved. The system does work. Though it’s nightmarish that politics has become a blood sport, a zero-sum game, worse still when it takes over the sports page. We’re supposed to be better than that.

Meanwhile, Gunstock Commissioner Doug Lambert testified against the bill, noting that the entire five-member commission “stands in unanimous opposition to the passage of House Bill 1414-FN.”



Despite its relative southerly location in the northeast snow belt, Gunstock (Lat/Lon 43°32?29?N 71°22?03?W) adds depth to an already strong New Hampshire lineup of resorts. Cannon, Waterville, Attitash, Loon, and more: New Hampshire is indeed underrated despite ticking off a great many boxes when considering where to spend your winter sports dollars. Easy driving access, low ticket prices, plentiful excellent snow, quintessential American ski history, Gunstock has all of these attributes.

Plus, every run on the mountain gets a scintillating view of glimmering Lake Winnipesaukee, (which I am now renaming Lake Spellcheck). ***BONUS***

However, like almost everywhere else in the state, Gunstock also lacks extremely gnarly terrain. A cursory glance at the trail map reveals that well over 80% of the trails are designated blue or black, but those labels are generous. There isn’t a true double black diamond run on piste excepting, perhaps the glade run off the summit. Everything else is patently shreddable, with the entire mountain being easier than Waterville Valley, and much easier than Cannon or Attitash.

The trail map is roughly diamond shaped, with the summit being the upper pointed apex, and the Stockade Lodge being the lower apex. The Panorama Chair connects the two and divides the mountain into its roughly bilateral and superficially symmetrical halves. As we go to press, there are 55 designated on piste trails. Source disagree as to the summit altitude and the corresponding vertical drop – and, personally, I found the confusion frustrating and unnecessary. Worst of all, no one can properly even explain why there is a discrepancy of 60 feet, let alone which figure is correct. Is the summit at 2,267 feet above sea level or 2,207? Is the total vertical drop 1,340 or 1,400? Can someone just call Conrad Anker get it settled? Or maybe the Scooby Doo gang?

Off the summit, skier’s right is mostly expert territory with one intermediate run (Gunsmoke), while skier’s left is the opposite – predominantly blue squares with one or two cross-trails being rated expert. Highlights off the summit include Upper and Middle Recoil and Upper and Middle Trigger, as well any of the upper mountain glades. There is no novice way down from the summit, though most skiers should be able to handle Flintlock or Gunsmoke. (Yes, the majority of the names of trails at Gunstock are firearms-related.)

Two other chairs begin at the base area, and service terrain midway up the mountain on either flank. On skiers left, lookers right, the Tiger Chair services a collection of rollicking, but sadly short runs. Red Hat, Cannonball, and (of course) Tiger are particularly notable for their slithery twists and chicanes. At skier’s right, lookey-loos left the Pistol Chair services a large web of trails, mostly intermediate with the odd green circle or black diamond thrown in. Highlights include intermediate runs Pistol and Out of Sight and the black diamond Parallax Glades.

Both of these sections of the mountain are lit for night skiing by the newly upgraded LED light system. One cannot overstate how greatly night visibility improved. As expected, the number of night skiers increased accordingly. And for mogul chasers and steeps junkies, one-quarter of the 22 trails open for night skiing are for experts. There is even a popular Snowshoe Ridge Tour, where Snowshoers can ride up on the chairlift, and a guided tour takes them on a night hike with headlamps down the other side.

Gunstock was a pleasant surprise as well for its ergonomics. Easy to get to, easy to move around, reasonable price, nothing too murderous for an on piste run, at Gunstock you can bring everyone from total Jerries to professional athletes and have a superfun and chill day. Gunstock’s 1,400-foot vertical drop (or is it 1,340?) is formidable, especially with myriad trails cunningly cut into difficult double fall lines and reverse cambers. Still, with expansion hopefully coming to fruition soon, they can add what they desperately need:  double black diamonds. Gunstock made a point of going after younger and less experience skiers and they succeeded. Well done! Now, it’s time to counterbalance and give the extreme skiers a reason to stop at Gunstock instead of heading for points further north or west.

Gunstock is not on a pass and, at this time, seems uninterested in joining one.



Gunstock has an added benefit for everyone but especially for visiting ski clubs or school/university athletic teams – 27 kilometers of Nordic trails as part of the on-mountain footprint. That’s right; laid out in full on the same trail map as the alpine runs you will find an intricate web of cross-country trails, all designated by the same green-blue-black, novice-intermediate-advance system used for the fixed-heel crowd. Now nordic friends and alpine friends can go on the same trip, utilizing the same base lodge. Heck, you can even nordic and alpine in the same day – perhaps even alternating runs.

And finally, at Gunstock, you and your dog can go ski joring. I thought it was a mis-print the first time I saw it too: “Did autocorrect screw you over trying to write ‘ski jumping?’” I asked my colleague as we were trading Gunstock stories via text. No. It wasn’t a typo or autocorrect going kablooie. Gunstock has something called ski joring.

It’s basically harness racing, but instead of a horse pulling a chariot, it’s your dog pulling you on nordic skis. According to the folks at Gunstock, “Norwegian in origin, the word “skijoring” translates to “ski driving” and indicates a skiing partnership between human and animals ranging from reindeer to horses to, of course, dogs. The first account of a human strapping himself to a dog and gliding across the snow, according to www.Skijor.com, comes from the Altai Mountains of Central Asia and dates back ‘thousands of years.’”

Well at Gunstock, you can sign up for lessons for you and your dog to collaborate on a fun run/ski. The dog us attached to the human by a harness around the owner’s waist. Then:  mush!

Gunstock actually has lessons in ski joring for those interested, and its popularity is inspiring. And therein lies the fun of Gunstock; what it lacks in gnar it makes up for in ethos. Plus, as Penny Pitou noted, there is a overwhelming caring there from all the employees that radiates out across New England and beyond to a loyal and joyous Gunstock family. And their widespread success shows that maybe you don’t need to be on any sort of corporate mega-pass after all.

Quality of Snow/Grooming – 9

Variety of Terrain – 9.5

Lifts – 9

Snow coverage – 9

Natural Setting – 9

Kid/Family Friendly – 9

Character – 8.75

Challenge – 8.5

Dining on Mountain/Base Lodge – 7.75

Value – 8.75

Overall – 8.80

[Editor’s Note: This is the twelfth article in our series analyzing the battle between Vermont and New Hampshire ski resorts. As the series progresses, here are the places we’ll visit:

For New Hampshire: Attitash, The Balsams, Bretton Woods, Cannon, Dartmouth, Gunstock, Loon, Pat’s Peak, Sunapee, Tenney, Waterville Valley, Wildcat

For Vermont: Jay Peak, Bolton Valley, Middlebury, Killington, Mad River Glen, Magic Mountain, Mt. Snow, Okemo, Smuggler’s Notch, Stowe, Stratton, Sugarbush/Sugarbush North]

Other articles in this series: