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Firsthand Report
The Granite State and Lou: Gunstock Mountain Resort 1
Author thumbnail By Lou Botta, DCSki Columnist

Gunstock Mountain Resort in New Hampshire’s Lake Winnepesaukee Region is a family-oriented, four-season resort worth visiting for the Mid-Atlantic traveler, for many reasons. It is amazingly well managed. It has challenging runs as well as easy beginner trails. It has restaurants and cafeterias to suit every taste. It has four-season attractions dedicated to family fun. It is unbelievably affordable. It’s an easy commute from Boston and other New England areas for a day trip. And lastly, it has one of New England’s most jaw-dropping, beautiful mountain sights.

Summit view at Gunstock Mountain Resort. Photo by Lou Botta.

Gunstock Resort is on its namesake mountain, topping at 2,267 feet and hosting 1,400 feet vertical. Its origins go back to the Great Depression, with the Work Projects Administration cutting the first trails. In 1937, it installed the first chairlift in New England and the fourth in the United States. When it opened, it featured a 60-meter ski jump.

The area has a long history, originally populated by the Abenaki Nation, and settled by Europeans in the mid 1700s. Gunstock’s legend goes back to that time when a settler was attacked by a mountain lion and his musket jammed, which resulted in him fighting the mountain lion with the stock of his gun. The mountain has maintained this image throughout history, and most of the ski trails and lifts are related to firearms, such as the lifts Ramrod and Pistol, and the runs Shot Gun, Cannonball, Recoil, Musket, and Gunsmoke.

Today, Gunstock Mountain is owned by Belknap County, New Hampshire, as its prime county-wide recreation facility. The ski area has a Doppelmayr high-speed quad, two fixed four-packs, two triples, and two carpets. It features 55 runs, the longest of which is 1.4 miles. It has 27% advanced terrain, 61% intermediate, and 12% novice. Over 90% of its terrain is covered by an extensive snowmaking system, and almost 50% is lit for night skiing.

New map display at the Gunstock summit. Photo by Lou Botta.

In 2022, unfortunate events at Gunstock Mountain created a county-wide political crisis that reverberated throughout New Hampshire. Over the years, radical Libertarians, many of whom were new to the state under the “Free State” movement, created a power niche in Belknap County and positioned themselves to take over the governing board of Gunstock Mountain. The basic issue was whether a government institution should own a recreation area. The commissioners began to interfere with resort management, eventually declaring that the mountain needed to be sold or leased to private enterprise to meet their ideological framework.

The entire management team at Gunstock, most of its employees, and several commission members, including the former CEO of Stowe, resigned, and the mountain closed down. New Hampshire’s Governor went public that “The commission has lost the trust of the people” and demanded their resignation. The local and statewide backlash resulted in many of the political personalities being voted out of office, new commissioners elected, and mountain staff rehired. It also resulted in Libertarians losing elections in other parts of the state.

View of high-speed chair. Photo by Lou Botta.

With that drama behind it, today, Gunstock is one of the best-run ski resorts in New England. Everywhere one goes, the customer service effort is superb. The parking attendants, ticket representatives, ski operations, patrol, restaurant workers, and instructors are at their best. The resort also makes wide use of technology for reservations, ticketing, RFID passes, and sales. The mountain is solely a skier and snowboarder mountain, devoid of condos, hotels, or large shopping areas.

Gunstock is exactly an hour from the Manchester/Boston Regional Airport, an hour and a half from Boston Logan Airport, and an hour and a half from White River Junction, Vermont. It is located near the southern shores of Lake Winnepesaukee, the largest lake in New Hampshire and one of the largest in New England.

Old Historic Lodge. Photo by Lou Botta.

Although the main attraction at Gunstock Mountain is the alpine ski resort, the Nordic Ski Center is large and features a full rental center as well as 27 kilometers of groomed Nordic trails for classic and skate skiing, as well as a large snowshoe trail complex.

Although Gunstock Mountain’s four-season operation is a significant revenue source for Belknap County, the year-round prices are quite reasonable. For county residents, during the summer, Gunstock welcomes residents to visit the resort at no cost and enjoy a complimentary ride on its 4,000-foot-long mountain coaster as well as ride to the top on their high-speed chair.

During the Winter, children under 5 and “Super” seniors over 70 have free access across the resort. However, since that requires checking IDs on each visit, Super seniors can opt for a season pass for $41 to ensure uninterrupted lift service. Seniors 60-69 can purchase a day pass for $65 on weekdays and $79 on weekends. General Admission is $89 on weekdays and $104 on weekends, way lower than the $197 at Stowe, $128 at Waterville Valley, or $139 at Loon.

A notable part of Gunstock’s operations is that ticket sales are available only online, and sales stop at a certain point to avoid an overcrowded situation. Although it does get busy, Gunstock is never overcrowded like many other resorts.

Gunstock’s infrastructure is enviable. There are two sit-down restaurants: The Powder Keg Pub, a historic tavern serving traditional pub fare, local microbrew selections, and a full bar; and the Barrel Bar and Grille, a newly built venue with a more upscale selection. In addition, a large cafeteria is located at the old lodge, and atop the mountain, the Panorama Pub and Deck offers a full bar, snacks, and a huge deck with monumental views of Lake Winnepesaukee and the White Mountains.

Entering the ample and freshly paved parking lot, the visitor approaches the Resort Services Lodge at ground level, which has a ticket office and outside ticket dispensers. The same level contains the ski/board lesson registration, ski patrol, and the tuning and repair shop. Upstairs, on a stairway made for the additional tread length and reduced rise of ski boots, a second level contains the ski, souvenir, and sports shop, the rentals, ATMs, Demo Center, and restrooms.

Views of Gun Barrel trail. Photo by Lou Botta.

Adjacent to this lodge is the Historic Lodge, a beautiful building with a lower level housing a lodge room, bag check, and restrooms, and featuring a gigantic stone fireplace at the end. Upstairs, and connected to the Services Lodge via a bridge, the Food Court and plenty of seating are available. On the other end of the lodge, the Powder Keg Pub awaits the visitor with stained glass doors and an authentic old-time pub atmosphere.

Close by, no more than two hundred feet away, the Stockade Lodge houses the Children’s Center downstairs and a brand new restaurant, the Barrel Bar and Grille.

Lastly, on the access road to the resort, a Nordic Lodge, rental shop, instruction center, and snowshoeing, skijoring, and Alpine ski site provide access to 27 km of Nordic trails.

Once ready to ski or ride, guests can choose their preferred proficiency terrain. Immediately adjacent to the lodge, the Penny Pitou fixed quad and two magic carpets form the backbone of the learner’s hill. Next to them, two additional magic carpets complement the beginner’s side. Next to them, a fixed quad, Ramrod, and a fixed triple, Tiger, usher the rider to nearly 800 feet of vertical and several beautiful intermediates, and four advanced trails, a few of which are used as racing courses. This part of the resort is also the night skiing/riding area.

Several cross trails from this area provide access to the main part of the resort, the Panorama terrain. The high-speed quad provides access to the summit and a plethora of intermediate and advanced trails. Atop the Summit, the Panorama Pub and Deck features a full bar with local brews on tap and snacks, while providing some of the most beautiful views of any ski resort in the US.

From the summit, many typical New England trails wind their way down the mountain in narrow and windy ways, connecting to several glades and leading to both the main side of the mountain and also another side of the resort, centered on the Pistol fixed triple chair. This terrain features terrain parks, additional glades, and several nice intermediate runs.

This writer’s favorites on the mountain include Gunsmoke, an intermediate run that goes from the summit to the Panorama quad, and Upper Trigger, also a great intermediate, to connect to Cannon Ball, a Black Diamond with a nice headwall on the Tiger lift side. The New England style of runs is quite enjoyable, unlike the open wide and straight cuts that seem to be more pervasive today.

Gunstock is not a difficult mountain to ski, although it has terrain and lift capacity to satisfy most people. It is perhaps one of the best family-oriented resorts in terms of terrain variety, infrastructure, and convenience. Most of all, the staff is superbly led by a management team that includes ski industry veterans. For someone visiting New England and looking for some variety, a family vibe, and spectacular scenery, this is a candidate for a visit. Rhe very reasonable prices make it even more enticing.

The Granite State and Lou:

Lou Botta is in the process of profiling every ski area in the state of New Hampshire.

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About Lou Botta

While actually born in the tropics (Cuba), Lou grew up in New England and went to College in Vermont, where he initially took up skiing. He then embarked on a twenty-two year Air Force piloting career that took him to over 50 countries. He has skied in Europe and America (both North and South). His second career as a senior officer with the Federal Government spanned thirteen years and in 2010, Lou retired to pursue a more leisurely life style.

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Reader Comments

bousquet19 - DCSki Supporter 
21 days ago
Member since 02/23/2006 🔗
775 posts

Great writeup and compelling photos, Lou!

I have a trip to Maine coming up at the end of February, and I'll be crossing NH from White River Junction VT. Looks like Gunstock will be an ideal stop en route for a mostly intermediate skier like me - not to mentioned that I hit the 70-year mark earlier this season. Will check out the Gunsmoke and Upper Trigger runs and, of course, that incredible view.  Sounds like eating on the premises would be a good choice.

Thanks for taking the time to write these enjoyable reports. And enjoy your retirement!

Woody

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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