I received a call this week from Alan Kovacs who provided more details on the new parking program at Stowe. The deal that was negotiated between Vail Resorts and the Vermont Departments of Natural Resources and Forest and Parks treats the parking program as a test. There will be a review after the season to evaluate the results in as many measurable ways as possible. The state waived the 5% revenue charge in return for Vail’s promise to use all the revenue for traffic alleviation and related infrastructure. The resort has already committed $260,000 to Green Mountain Transit for the purchase of two new large buses.

Alan also explained that the lease deal with the state is more complicated than just a flat 5%. Different types of revenue are charged varying percentages from 2.5% to 5%. Boy, keeping track of all that must be a bookkeeping nightmare!

On to this week’s column! The Lakes region of New Hampshire may not seem like a place with a rich history of skiing, but the Winnipesaukee Ski Club started promoting the region as a skiing destination as early as 1918. Laconia had good rail service from the Boston area and ski trains brought skiers to enjoy both cross country and downhill opportunities on the nearby hills and mountains. Gunstock was one of those mountains.

Belknap Mountain Recreation Area Button

The 1930s brought Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal to the region. The local Belknap County government saw an opportunity with the influx of Federal money. They formed the Belknap Mountains Recreation Area which would eventually develop year-round recreation opportunities including their “famous” motorcycle races! For the winter seasons they took advantage of ski jumping’s popularity and built three ski jumps of varying sizes. Then for the 1937-38 season they built the first chairlift in New England on Mt. Rowe which is next to Gunstock mountain.

Just an aside here, this chairlift was involved in a tragic accident in 1956. The cable snapped and one person was killed and several injured. When I was a freshman in college, this provided a sample problem to solve in the Introduction to Engineering course! To reduce cable wear, every year they would remove all the chairs, move the last one a distance along the cable, and then space the remaining chairs at the specified distance. What did they do wrong? I’ll accept answers to that as well as my trivia!

View of Lake Winnipesaukee from Gunstock

Belknap Mountain Recreation Area, or Belknap as I grew up calling it, would become Gunstock when additional lifts were added to the adjacent mountain in 1962. Eventually the lift on Mt. Rowe was removed and the trails allowed to return to nature. Gunstock is the only county-owned ski area in New England!

And that’s why Gunstock was in the news this past summer! There are three governing county entities involved – the Belknap County delegation, Gunstock Area Commission, and Belknap County Commission.  The “delegation” consists of the county’s 18 elected representatives to the state legislature. They in turn appoint the 5 members of the Gunstock Area Commission who oversee the ski area. The 3 members of the Belknap County Commission are elected officials and they oversee the spending among all the county departments. Anytime elected officials are involved these days you know there will be political complications!

Back in 2000, one of the Gunstock Area Commission members was a name familiar to Stowe-ites, Gary Kiedaisch! His influence led to the hiring of Tom Day as General Manager for the ski area.  Under Day’s leadership Gunstock set a record for skier visits in the 2020-21 season and revenue increased from $12 million to $18 million. This past season continued that growth.

On July 20, 2022 Tom Day and his whole management team resigned and Gary Kiedaisch resigned from the Commission. So what happened? The short answer is the Free Staters! The Free State Project has targeted New Hampshire as a sympathetic place to apply their limited or no government philosophy and urged their members to move there (20,000 signed up.) They have infiltrated enough elected or appointed positions to have an effect on school budgets, state-run nursing homes, and ski areas! Two of the recently appointed Gunstock Area Commissioners insisted on limiting the control of the Gunstock management team.

There are grass roots efforts to try to overcome the Free State influence and in the case of Gunstock, it worked! The Commissioners whose objections led to the mass resignations were forced to resign themselves! Tom Day and his management team were restored and Gunstock is looking forward to the upcoming ski season!