“Gunstock is in trouble. It lost its management team, and it’s now being run by a bunch of commissioners who know nothing about ski area operation. If you’re a Gunstock skier, it’s like you’re walking onto an airplane and being told that your pilot has never flown before.” – Gary Kiedaisch, Former Member of the Gunstock Area Commission.
In December of last year, I traveled to Gunstock Mountain Resort to see them discuss their future expansion plans, and was stoked to see what the future held for this medium-sized New Hampshire ski resort. Unfortunately, the ensuing months have been a political circus set to the tune of Benny Hill.
The ski resort is run by Belknap County, with a Commission of individuals that are appointed by state lawmakers from the area (The Belknap County Delegation) that make decisions on the future of the resort.
Gunstock announced yesterday that it will be shutting down its summer operations until further notice, but will aim to reopen its campground soon, and will still host its planned summer events. The Gunstock Area Commission, with its reputation in shambles, now faces an arduous task: finding a new leadership team to conduct summer and winter operations.
The Lacona Daily Sun reports that the following individuals resigned and gave their two weeks’ notice:
“Tom Day, president and general manager; Cathy White, chief financial officer; Becky LaPense, director of human resources; Peter Weber, snow sports director; Robin Rowe, director of resort services; and Patrick McGonangle, facilities operator.”
Yesterday, the management team was only given a day to pack up though, as the Commission had a sheriff forcibly remove the team to “keep the peace.” The commission held various meetings with the remaining employees, which resulted in numerous shouting matches, walkouts, and many more threatening to quit.
The warning signs have been there for a long time.
In a June meeting tensions reached a boiling point between the two sides. The main topic was an audit, which the commission said they would not pursue, but they didn’t realize the audit was already in progress.
Some of the lowlights included Commissioner Dr. Strang saying he was concerned that Tom Day was in charge of the mountain, the concern from the management team that the audit would reveal private information of employees, and the “former Commissioner Ruth Larson accused the current commissioners of imposing ‘death by 1,000 cuts’ in an effort to destroy Gunstock.”
Robin Rowe asked the commission “what are you so angry about? … Everything that comes out of your mouth is argumentative like you are on an attack.”
The Governor said the following:
“Representatives Mike Sylvia, Norm Silber, and Gregg Hough, along with the remaining 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.”
If the old management team doesn’t go back to Gunstock, the Governor offered them positions in their state parks or at Cannon Mountain.
In a response on Twitter, the political party that supports the Commission called the state-run ski area “socialism” that’s equivalent to North Korea and ORDA.
A large amount of the criticism that the Commission (pictured above) has faced is how they are in it for political purposes, rather than for the success of the ski resort. Locals accuse the Commission and members of the Belknap County Legislative Delegation of aiming to privatize the resort.
Locals fear that privatization of the mountain would mean diminished snow quality and customer service. The Commission is trying to prove via an audit that the ski resort is wasting money and pays too little in taxes.
This is an odd point, seeing that the mountain is currently making tens of millions of dollars of revenue for the county each year, and saw record visitation during the 2020-21 season.
Their supposed goal is to have a public-private partnership, similar to what the state of New Hampshire has created with Mount Sunapee. While this was a great scenario for the first two decades of this ownership model when it was run by the Mueller family, it has shown its flaws since Vail Resorts took over.
The Gunstock Area Commission consisted of Gary Kiedaisch, Jade Wood, Peter Ness, Doug Lambert, and Dr. David Strang.
Gary, who used to be the CEO of Stowe Mountain Resort, resigned Wednesday night after the management team gave their two weeks notice, and said that he was disgusted by Ness, Lambert, and Strang, and apologized to Jade for having to deal with the other members of the commission.
In her defense, Jade thanked Gary, and then went outside and thanked the management team for their service, and was trying to keep the peace during the employee meetings on Thursday. Ness and Strang have been accused by employees and management of hostile bullying.
A major player in trying to privatize the resort has been Norm Silber. He is a member of the Belknap County Delegation and has helped remove members who disagree with the delegation and appoint like-minded people to accomplish this goal. Silber spoke out against Sununu’s statement and put his best foot forward to say all his favorite conspiracy theory buzzwords.
Here is an excerpt from a statement he published online:
“Gunstock is the result of a well-orchestrated and well-financed campaign of disinformation to divert attention from soon-to-be-released reports from the financial and legal auditors engaged by the Gunstock Area Commission, which reports are expected to be very damaging to the reputations of the resigned commissioner, many of the resigned former staff, and the governor himself…The principal political consultant to the shadowy group trying to interfere with proper legal oversight of Gunstock, granted to the Gunstock Area Commission by the General Court in 1959, has ties to organizations believed to be funded in large measure by George Soros.”
There’s no word yet on whether Silber had a tin foil hat on while writing this statement.
The committee and legislative delegation from the county are composed of Free Staters, who take New Hampshire’s motto of Live Free or Die to extreme lengths. According to Citizens for Belknap, a nonpartisan group of people that live around Gunstock, the Free Staters aim for a government-free approach to running the county.
This includes the privatization of Gunstock, the defunding of the county’s nursing home, and some of their members wanting New Hampshire to secede from the United States. The Free Staters have chosen odd battles in the past, including taking over an entire town’s government and cutting town services before getting pwned by some bears and drastically cutting another town’s school budget before townspeople reversed the changes this year.
This nonstop drama follows Gunstock’s massive expansion plans back in December. Thirty-one new trails would be added, a slopeside hotel and glamping sites would be built, a road could be built to the summit that’s similar to the Mount Washington Auto Road, and more.
The first phase of their plans, which were proposed to the county last winter, would have been the building of the hotel and the Eastside expansion area. In March, the commission put a hold on the expansion plans due to environmental concerns.
Here’s the issue with saying a new management team will come in time for next season though: No one wants to jump into a dumpster fire, especially in this labor shortage era.
The best route would be for the Commission to become non-partisan, which is what the community wants. With the stubborn nature of the current members of the commission though, it’s hard to see that happening.
All members are of one political party, so one solution could be to adjust the rules and appoint non-partisan community members that want to see the mountain succeed.
The Commission’s and Silber’s end goal is to sell it to a public-private partnership with a company, like Vail Resorts or Alterra. It’s not like the private party would enjoy dealing with these partisan hacks though, especially after the events of the past few months. Selling it and getting out of the ski business could be an option for Belknap County, but that could come at the risk of a diminished guest experience.
Perhaps the state could take over the operation from Belknap County. While it does have flaws, Cannon Mountain, which is run by the state, is a very successful operation that has loyal fans and is in my opinion the best ski resort in the state. If the current members stay on the commission, Gunstock will cease to exist.
The situation is very, very complex, and I’ve barely scratched the service on the drama at Gunstock.
The more educated locals and people in the ski industry are about the issue, the better the outcome will be.