An expansion vital for the future of the ski area

Gunstock presented a multi-year, multi-million dollar vision for future expansion, which officials on Saturday called a controlled and methodical proposal to expand its operations and ensure the recreation facility remains competitive.

About 250 people attended the presentation and question-and-answer session discussing the concepts of new, faster chairlifts, additional snow cover and nearly 200 acres of new ski trails, which would allow the facility to manage comfortably nearly twice as many skiers as he can now.

“The resorts that make disciplined capital investments in a sequential fashion continue to maintain or gain market share and those that don’t,” said Tom Day, president and CEO of Gunstock. “Those who do not fail to stay competitive,” he says, which leads to fewer and fewer skiers, with the result that the income in the area drops, and the ability to make capital investments becomes more difficult. “Without disciplined capital investment, the deal fails,” Day said.

The audience was comprised largely of private citizens, but also included 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, although some in the audience expressed concerns about the lack of clarity on when the different phases would actually occur, as well as the overall impact on traffic and longevity. ecology of 1,840 acres of county land. in which Gunstock is located.

While the plan includes proposed improvements to amenities such as the campground and cross-country ski trails, most of the plan – both in terms of area to develop and cost – deals with downhill terrain.

Improvements being considered for the existing area include the installation of a detachable quad chairlift on the west side of the mountain to replace the existing Tiger and Ramrod chairlifts, and the addition of a ski slope.

Improvements to the east side of the mountain include the construction of a second detachable quad chairlift, 11 new trails that will add 70 acres of land for skiers and the addition of 400 additional parking spaces. This expansion would allow the resort to comfortably accommodate around 1,040 more skiers per day.

The Alpine Ridge phase would feature 11 more ski trials that would be served by a triple chairlift at Alpine Ridge as well as from the Penny Pitou chairlift on the west side of the current Gunstock area, which would be expanded. There would be 200 additional parking spaces created and the reception capacity of the ski resort would be increased by 390 skiers. Alpine Ridge has been inactive since it closed in the mid-1980s.

The most extensive part of the overall plan envisioned is called the Backside-Weeks phase, which would be developed on the opposite side of Gunstock Mountain from the existing ski trails. It would include the construction of a detachable quadruple chairlift, the construction of eight ski slopes with 87 acres of new land, as well as the creation of 500 new parking spaces. Access for skiers to these new slopes would be from the existing detachable quad or from the two high-speed ski lifts offered on the mountain front.

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

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

A slope hotel and lodge / restaurant at the top of Gunstock Mountain are also included in the overall plan. Day said moving the hotel portion of the plan would likely have to wait until development on the east side of the mountain is complete, as a key feature of the slopeside hotel would be that skiers could ski to and from the property. of the hotel.

Mike McCombs was among those present who provided comments during the question-and-answer session which lasted approximately 45 minutes.

McCombs, a retired business executive who lives in Gilford, said while applauding the comprehensive plan, he told the assembly there was a lack of timeline on when different 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’s more like a 10-year plan.

Laconia resident David Stamps said he was concerned about the environmental impact of the proposed development on the entire Belknap Range of which Gunstock is a part, and in particular on wildlife habitat in the densely forested area. .

Day and Gunstock Zone 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 that passes the parking lot at the old Alpine Ridge ski area said he was concerned that doubling the capacity of Gunstock skiers could lead to a big increase in traffic at the west end of the road which is now only used by people who live along the street.

“We are aware of the neighborhood,” Day said. “We don’t want to disturb the neighbors or disturb nature. “

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

“Part of our ability to compete in the Olympics started here in 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 it,” said Pitou, who added that although she’s skied at some of the best ski resorts in the world, “It’s where I feel most at home.”

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

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

Gallagher recently pointed out that the Gunstock Commission has not taken any formal decisions on what elements of the master plan he described as a work in progress.

These articles are shared by the partners of The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

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