Tom Day had been prepared to offer his resignation ever since a contentious exchange at last month’s meeting of the Gunstock Area Commission.
The now-former president and general manager of New Hampshire’s Gunstock Mountain Resort made good on that possibility Wednesday when he resigned from his position before the commission, immediately followed by the resignation of the resort’s entire upper management staff.
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 ski area in order to escort the seven, now-former staff members off the property, effectively ending Gunstock’s operations for the immediate future.
“We’ve had an active couple of days here at Gunstock,” Day told New England Ski Journal. “It’s a sad situation, actually.”
Day confirmed that an exchange with a member of the Gunstock Area Commission— a five-member board appointed by the Belknap County Delegation with the responsibility of managing Gunstock — during June’s meeting prompted him to understand the drastic decisions that might have to be made. The commission has, reportedly, 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.
It was at that meeting when vice chair Dr. David Strang, who was appointed to the commission in February, delivered some incorrect information about a parking lot project at the resort. When Day and Gunstock staff tried to correct him, Strang asked who was in charge of the resort. Day responded, “I am.”
Strang retorted. “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?”
It was, however, the Gunstock staff, not the commission, which was able to increase mountain revenue by $6 million since Day’s arrival at the resort in 2020, according to Day.
“When I got there, we did $12 million in revenue. We’re at $18 million now,” Day said. “We have $7.5 million dollars in the bank. We’ve done — accounting this year — $6.2 million worth of capital. Before I got there, we did about $600,000, or they were borrowing money to do other big projects. We did it with all of the money we generated.”
The rest of the staff members who resigned — Cathy White, chief financial officer; Robin Rowe, director of resort services; Peter Weber (whom Day credits with “pretty much doubling revenue in the two years he’s been here”), snow sports director; Rebecca LaPense, director of human resources, Patrick McGonagle, facilities operation director; and Kristen Lodge, director of marketing — also had some feeling heading into the meeting that their futures at the mountain were in jeopardy. The final straw came when Day and staff found themselves seated in the audience rather than at their own customary table at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We felt it wasn’t getting any better,” Day said. “We, as a group, said, ‘You know what, we don’t think we can continue in good faith and keep our integrity and principles.’ We run the business and I was raised on integrity, respect, and principles. And that’s what we do. That’s what I’ve carried with me my whole business career. And that’s what we felt we did with our staff.
“We enjoy our staff, we respect our staff. We had a big discussion because these are people, the senior managers, giving up their livelihood. Robin [Rowe] has worked here for 21 years; Pat McGonagle, 30 years; Becky LaPense, our HR director, worked there eight or nine years. They made this decision to give up their livelihood and give up what they’ve been doing for all this time that they love. Because they felt that there was just this disconnect between the commission and the senior managers. Just a very difficult decision for everyone. We thought about our staff as much as anything else. That’s why we didn’t do it sooner. And we got in there, and it just happened.”
Afterward, Day scheduled a meeting with the entire Gunstock staff Monday morning.
“Well, apparently, somehow they found out about that,” Day said. “So, at 7 this morning, when Robin got there, the sheriff’s department was waiting for her. And they made sure that we emptied all our offices out, we left, and that was it. We didn’t get the two weeks that we wanted to have. And apparently they didn’t feel they needed that.”
Now, the Gunstock Area Commission isn’t only facing a hole, Day said, but a crater with its entire senior staff now missing. The resort immediately suspended all summer activities Thursday morning. Day said that the commissioners do not understand what goes into the day-to-day operation of a ski resort. He warns that preparations for ski season usually begin in September and there is currently nobody available to help guide the next management staff.
“We feel terrible for the staff,” Day said. “We had to meet with them outside because we weren’t allowed inside. And they were just were distraught and upset and don’t understand it. It’s a difficult situation.”
It’s also one where Day left the door open for a return though. With some changes.
“We want Gunstock to be great,” Day said. “It’s a great ski area. It’s a great asset to the county. We’d do what we could do to get back there, but there would have to be some changes on that board. That commission….But I just don’t know that they’re going ever agree with anything that we say that has to happen.
“It’s amazing that things can go that sideways that fast with a successful operation. It just baffles me.”
Eric Wilbur can be reached at [email protected].