“I have come to the conclusion that to even begin to attempt to construct the necessary leadership team required to get this facility open for the winter is an impossible task. While some might view as a capitulation, I can only stand before you and disagree — it is a solution to the very dire circumstances placed before us today. There is no other viable way forward, so, therefore, I am asking them to do just that.”– Douglas Lambert, Member of the Gunstock Area Commission.
It’s time for another update on the embattled Gunstock Mountain Resort in New Hampshire. After the management team resigned on July 20th, the saga has become the most bizarre ski industry drama of 2022. Members of management said they would return if Commissioners Peter Ness and Dr. David Strang were to resign. Today, Peter Ness announced his resignation from the Commission.
The Gunstock Area Commission oversees the mountain and its management team, as the Commissioners are voted in by the state representatives of the Belknap County Delegation. In recent years, the Belknap County Delegation has wanted to lease Gunstock to a private operator, which is against locals’ wishes.
In the last week, it’s become messy, and the Gunstock Area Commission and its defenders have finally gained a narrative. And with this becoming a more divisive issue, the 2022-23 season is in serious jeopardy. For a primer, click here to learn more about how we got to this point. Here’s what occurred in the past week:
Peter Ness Resigns: According to the Laconia Daily Sun, one of the most criticized Commissioners, Peter Ness, resigned during a Gunstock Area Commission meeting on Friday. Dr. Strang is still refusing to resign.
Belknap County Delegation Looks to Remove Commissioner Gary Kiedaisch With Like-Minded Individual: According to the Laconia Daily Sun, the original plan was to have a meeting on August 4th that would remove Commissioners Peter Ness and Dr. Strang due to their behavior that led to this dumpster fire situation. This was called by Jade Wood and Doug Lambert, the other members of the Gunstock Area Commission. This has been changed by Rep. Mike Sylvia to a different matter on August 8th. While originally approved, three delegation members revoked their support for the August 4th meeting due to confusion on what the meeting would entail.
The topic at hand will now be the removal of Commissioner Gary Kiedaisch. Gary resigned on July 20th in solidarity with the management team but claims the Commission never formally accepted his resignation. Gary was the CEO of Stowe and has been on the side of management due to him being the only one on the Commission with experience in running a ski resort.
The probability of a like-minded individual being appointed by the Delegation is a concerning development that could derail the plans to open for the 2022-23 season.
Former GM’s Donation To Governor Under Scrutiny: Belknap County Delegation Chair Mike Sylvia released a statement Wednesday that accused former GM Tom Day and Governor Chris Sununu of possibly violating the law by supposably using taxpayer money to give a $500 political contribution to Governor Sununu’s reelection campaign in 2020. He said the following about the donation:
“A public body Gunstock Area Commission making a donation to a political campaign, particularly a partisan political campaign it was just jaw-dropping. It was stunning for me.”
He also claimed the real reason that the management team quit was that the attorney conducting the audit wanted to interview them. Tom Day served as the General Manager of Waterville Valley while Chris Sununu ran the ski resort before becoming Governor.
Tom Day responded to WMUR on the allegations:
“We are a for-profit entity that has a donation line item in our budget and we donate to different things to promote Gunstock and promote the area and promote skiing in general. We generate our own revenue and this donation does not affect Belknap County residents because we don’t take Belknap County money.”
With it being a for-profit ski resort and not a non-profit, this is most likely legal. It should be noted that ski resorts commonly donate to political candidates and causes, although there are not many ski resorts with an ownership structure quite like Gunstock. According to InDepthNH.org, Day also said that “an industry donation to Sununu and is given to those who support the industry,” which is common for collective state ski resort bodies like SkiNH. Governor Sununu’s office said that this was not an illegal political contribution and that it’s allowed under state law. Still, it doesn’t make much sense to donate to someone that won his gubernatorial reelection campaign by a landslide, even if it was a relatively small amount of money.
Now to be fair, Mike Sylvia isn’t exactly a mentally sound person. In 2021, he called for New Hampshire to secede from the Union. He is a part of the Free Stater group, which aims to drastically cut local budgets and wants Gunstock to be privatized.
In my opinion, I think the political contribution by Day is short-sided. The Commission has been exposed for its abusive behavior to Gunstock employees and wanting to privatize the mountain, but its proponents now have a narrative to run with.
Belknap County Commissioners and Governor Sununu Call on Ness and Strang to Resign: The news of the past week has shown that Gunstock Area Commissioners Strang and Ness led to a toxic environment. According to the Laconia Daily Sun, the Belknap County Commissioners have now stepped in to try and force them out. They released a statement that called for the resignation of Peter Ness and Dr. David Strang.
Additionally, they called on New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella to investigate Ness and Strang and make sure nothing happens to the $7 million that is currently in Gunstocks bank reserve.
On Wednesday, Chris Sununu also called on the members of the Belknap County Delegation to remove Ness and Strang. He called Reps. Mike Sylvia, Gregg Hough, and Norm Silber of the Belknap County Delegation, who have enabled the derailing of the Commission, “crazy” due to their wild political beliefs.
Tuesdays GAC Meeting Got a Little Rowdy: The members of the Gunstock Area Commission tried to hold a private meeting on Tuesday. In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the best idea by them to host it in the Main Lodge of the base area. Many members of the community, along with resigned and currently active employees, went to the lodge to loudly voice their displeasure. One sign read Castrate the GAC.
Commissioners Jade Wood and Doug Lambert, have grown increasingly furious at Strang and Ness during the past week. During the meeting, they handed Ness and Strang letters that would make them formally resign. Instead of facing the heat, Ness and Strang made a quick exit. Wood and Lambert stayed around and talked with the community to figure out the best path forward.
More Major Employees Quit: The labor shortage is affecting everyone, and based on how things are going at Gunstock, they’re in trouble.
InDepthNH.org reported on Monday that since the management team resigned, fifteen to twenty percent of the Gunstock team have left the ski resort, and others are expected to leave soon due to the continued uncertainty of the mountain’s future. This percentage has likely increased over the following days.
According to the Laconia Daily Sun, the following members of the remaining management stepped down on Monday: “Adventure park and snow sports school manager Sara Caveny, campground manager Becky Baulac and admissions manager Scott Sherman.”
With Peter Ness’s resignation, along with a vote coming from the Belknap County Delegation on August 8th on Kiedaisch’s replacement, the future of the mountain will likely be decided in the coming weeks. Image/Video Credits: Gunstock Mountain Resort, Adam Sexton/WMUR, State Rep. Kat McGhee, Denise Conroy