When the entire management staff of Gunstock Mountain Resort tendered their resignations Wednesday night at the outset of the Gunstock Area Commission meeting in Laconia, N.H., each member did so by offering the customary two weeks notice.
By Thursday morning, however, members of the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department had arrived at the New Hampshire ski area in order to escort the seven, now-former, staff members off the property, effectively ending Gunstock’s operations for the immediate future.
Resigning was a “nuclear option,” Gunstock president and general manager Tom Day told the Laconia Daily Sun.
Tensions between the Gunstock Area Commission — a five-member board appointed by the Belknap County Delegation with the responsibility of managing Gunstock — and the Gilford resort’s staff members had been increasing in recent weeks. Most recently, the commission has been trying to take a larger controlling stake in the day-to-day operations of the ski resort, which is owned by Belknap County, N.H.
The Daily Sun reported that “some delegation members feel the public would be better served if the county leased the area to a private operator, while the commission majority would like to direct an expansion including a road to the top of the mountain, amenities at the summit, greatly expanded skiable terrain and a hotel.”
“Waiting for Vail to come in here and get a big check?” one member of the audience asked the commission during the meeting Wednesday.
In an open letter to the residents of Belknap County on Thursday, state governor Chris Sununu said, “Gunstock is truly one of the jewels of the Lakes Region, but what has been happening over the last year surrounding the Gunstock Area Commission’s inability and unwillingness to work collaboratively with the management team at Gunstock is deeply concerning.
“Members of the Gunstock Area Commission have lost the trust of the citizens of Belknap County. These individuals have made bad decisions, and until they are removed from their positions and replaced with good people who recognize the wonderful asset that Gunstock is, the County will continue to suffer.”
Sununu also wrote that he told Day if a resolution is not reached, he and his team would always have opportunities with the state’s parks department and Cannon Mountain. “Their loss is immeasurable for Gunstock and we all hope that this crisis can be avoided,” Sununu wrote.
It was after the the commission’s June meeting when Day and his team realized that drastic measures might have to be taken. At that meeting, vice chair Dr. David Strang, who was appointed to the committee just last February, asked who was in charge of the resort.
Day responded, “I am.”
Strang shot back. “I disagree, and I’m very concerned that you’re in charge of the mountain,” he said. “What role do you think that the commission has?”
The staff members who resigned following Day at the meeting were: Cathy White, chief financial officer; Robin Rowe, director of resort services; Peter Weber, snow sports director; Rebecca LaPense, director of human resources, Patrick McGonangle, facilities operation director; and Kristen Lodge, director of marketing.
Former president and CEO of Stowe Mountain Resort, Gary Kiedaisch, who served as the commissioner of the Gunstock Area Commission, and was responsible for luring Day out of retirement for the Gunstock job, also resigned.
It was Day who led the development off by questioning why he and the rest of the Gunstock team had been seated in the audience of Wednesday’s meeting rather than at their own, customary table.
“We just did that to be more consistent with the way other delegations and committees work,” commissioner Peter Ness said.
That was the final straw for Day and his team.
“I’d like to tender my resignation and give my two weeks notice,” Day said. “It seems there’s a lot more control that wants to come from your side of it so I feel that my role here is diminished.”
The remaining members of the Gunstock management team each offered their own resignations, one-by-one, following Day’s announcement.
The following morning, the resort announced that it was ceasing operations at its summer adventure park “until further notice.”
Gunstock Adventure Park is closed until further notice. We truly apologize for any inconvenience or letdown this may cause our guests.
Please know that we are just as bummed as you are and hope to see you soon.
Gunstock Mountain Resort Employees
— Gunstock Mountain Resort (@Gunstockmtn) July 21, 2022
In a statement, Peter Ness of the Gunstock Are Commission wrote, “The GAC planned discussions with management about ongoing expansion plans. Instead of discussing those plans, the GAC was met with an unsolicited and spontaneous resignation by senior managers and a commissioner. The GAC will not speculate as to why those persons took those actions.
“In light of [Wednesday] night’s unprecedented actions, the GAC is developing plans to ensure Gunstock’s continued operations as seamlessly as possible. Gunstock has an important legacy in the ski industry’s history and the GAC intends to maintain that legacy. The GAC’s objectives are to remain open, continue employment of valuable staff, provide guests with exceptional experiences and fulfill the GAC’s obligations to the taxpayers by securing financial stability of the Gunstock Mountain Resort.”
During the winter of 2020-21, Gunstock set a record for most skier visits in its history. “We’ve increased the revenue from $12 to $18 million,” Day told the Sun. “The prior commission recognized the financials and felt it was good and these guys felt they needed to have control.”
Just last fall, Gunstock had announced plans for a major expansion, a proposition that could, one day, turn the ski area into one of the largest in the Granite State. The expansion would add 31 trails to the ski area’s existing 48 and it would nearly double the mountain’s skiable acreage, from 227 to 425 and add four new lifts. The multi-million dollar, multi-year plan would also include other amenities, such as a hotel, mountaintop restaurant, and improved snowmaking. An ambitious plan, for sure.
But now, it’s the immediate future of the popular resort that is most up in the air, not to mention the 65 full-time, year-round employees and 150 seasonal employees whose jobs are now uncertain.
Eric Wilbur can be reached at email@example.com.