Gunstock, or the Belknap Mountain Recreation Area, as it was originally known, was a product of the Great Depression. With the rampant unemployment of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration was conceived by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide a source of employment for worthwhile state and local projects ranging from flood control with dams, to road construction.
With great foresight, the Belknap County Legislative Delegation sought and received support from its representatives in Congress and the Senate for an ambitious recreation project in the Belknap Mountain range that would initially include a chairlift, four rope tows, cross country trails, camping facilities, hiking trails, an impressive main lodge, and several smaller buildings.
Local support for the project was almost unanimous. For every dollar put up by the county, six federal dollars were poured into the project. Belknap County’s share of the development, which took three years to complete, was a mere $70,000. The Belknap Mountain Project was designed and erected making the best uses of terrain and natural resources. A system of roadways unobtrusively opened several hundred acres of campsites and a modern comfort station. The single chairlift and rope tows serviced approximately four miles of skiable terrain, groomed and maintained to prevent erosion and to blend with the surrounding flora and fauna. The large main lodge and other buildings in the area were built with lumber cut and milled in the area and with granite quarried from Cobble Mountain, also a part of the Belknap complex. Architect Mitchell Dirsa designed the main lodge to reflect the spirit of the mountain with its rugged and traditional character. The structure today retains the enduring characteristics of a classic design. "Belknap" was the focal point for skiing in New England during its early years and was the center for many exciting competitive events on the alpine slopes, the touring trails and ski jumps.
Gunstock Mountain Resort once boasted four ski jumps. The highest, at 60 meters, was modeled after the jump at Lake Placid used in the 1932 Olympics and ranked among the top in the East. At its inauguration in 1937, the U.S. Eastern Amateur Ski Association hosted a tryout event that drew top jumpers from around the world. Some 10,000 reportedly watched from the terraced horseshoe on the landing field. For the next five winters, the USEASA held jumping championships here.
In 1938 Gunstock added a 10-meter and 20-meter jump. With completion of a 40-meter jump a decade later, the resort’s system of four graduated, adjacent hills could accommodate all ages and abilities. The complex was thought to be unique in the United States Norwegian-born Torger Tokle immigrated to New York City in 1939 as a teen. Two years later, he became the United States national champion, the same year he set the hill record on Gunstock’s 60-meter jump before some 7,000 spectators. His 251’ jump is marked by concrete posts. Tragically, Tokle died in 1945 while serving in the U.S. Army. A year later, the jump was named for him. As the popularity of skiing and camping grew in the 1940s and early 1950s, the county complex needed a full time management team to operate the facility.
The Belknap County Legislative Delegation then passed a legislative enabling act setting up the Gunstock Area Commission, a five-person "board" appointed by the Delegation to hire a staff and set policy at the growing recreation complex. During the late 1950s and early '60s, an ambitious expansion program began that saw development of Gunstock Mountain with a summit chairlift, three T bars, and an entirely new trail complex. It was however, obvious by the early 1960s that still more expansion was needed to provide the services demanded by the skiing public, and so another summit chairlift was added in 1964. In 1970, the Commission again went to the drafting board and came up with many major projects, including the creation of the Pistol complex with a new chairlift and four trails, the installation of a modern 75-acre snowmaking system, and the addition of another base lodge, now known as the Stockade Lodge. In 1986, Gunstock launched a $10 million expansion program that revitalized its skiing operations. Included in the three-phase project was the replacement of four lifts, a high-tech, high-capacity snowmaking system, an expanded base complex, and major renovations to the trail system. The expansion effort, a commitment to product quality and skier services, and an aggressive marketing campaign brought Gunstock increased market share growth and an image of a first class operation.
For the first 52 years of its existence, Gunstock operated as a completely self sustaining entity. Due to a combination of poor snow seasons and heavy debt service caused by the expansion of the '80s, the area has required some support from the taxpayers of Belknap County. In 1990, the Gunstock Area Commission voted to refocus the priorities of its mission to clearly reflect its intention to return Gunstock to financial independence as quickly as possible. In 2001 Gunstock Area Commissioners entered into an agreement with the County. “The Memorandum of Understanding” obligates Gunstock to $150,000 annual payment to the county plus a set percentage of revenue over 6 million dollars on a graduated scale. In the spring of 2003, the Belknap County Delegation approved the Gunstock Area Commissioners’ proposal for a high speed detachable quad to the summit, the relocation of the summit lift to the Pistol Area, snowmaking capabilities on Pistol and Blundersmoke and the installment of night lighting on Pistol and Blundersmoke. This new $4 million expansion was completed in time and on budget for the '03-'04 winter season.
In recent years, the Gunstock Area Commission and Management have been very aggressive in developing and implementing programs that will improve Gunstock's revenue-generating capability throughout the year. While continually improving its ability to provide a quality ski experience is ongoing, Gunstock has worked to improve the "other season" activity level. An increase in the "other season" revenues has been realized through annual events, functions and outings, mountain biking, and the introduction of summer adventures such as the Ziptour, Aerial Treetop Adventure, mountain coaster and scenic chairlift rides. The combination of all these activities has resulted in Gunstock Mountain Resort becoming a four-season resort, enjoyed by thousands, who have come to rely on the resort for a superior recreation experience.
The Gunstock Mountain Preservation Historical Society is dedicated to preserving Gunstock's history. They work diligently to preserve the historic ski jumps, buildings, trails and other structures at Gunstock, and to safeguard the artifacts and historical matters dealing with the ski industry in Belknap County and at Gunstock in particular.
A visual guide to Gunstock's history is located in the entryway of the Historic Main Lodge.