The History of Gunstock
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 1930’s, 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 4 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. Such legendary names in the world of skiing as Torger Tokle, Dick Durrance, Mezzy Barber, Art Devlin, Rolf Monsen and many others participated in national and international events here.
As the popularity of skiing and camping grew in the 1940's and early 1950's, 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 1950's and early 60's, 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 1960's 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 dollar expansion program that totally 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 80’s, 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 dollar 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 our 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 have been realized through annual events such as Soul Fest, functions & outings, mountain biking, and the introduction of summer adventures such as the Zipline tour, Aerial Treetop Adventure and Off-Road Segway Tours.
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 us for a superior recreation experience.
The Gunstock Mountain Preservation Historical Society is dedicated to preserving Gunstock's history. They work dilligently 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.