GILFORD — Gunstock Mountain Resort is continuing to expand its spring and summer attractions as part of implementing its 2011 master plan, which outlines the resort's strategy to become a four season recreational destination.
New this year is an outdoor restaurant called the Landing Zone, which is located right in the center of all the action of Gunstock's Adventure Park and offers events and live entertainment on a 3,000 square foot patio with seating for 70 plus people, along with its signature patio bar.
"It incorporates outdoor dining as we continue to develop the Adventure Park. Great food is always part of a great experience, and with this ambiance, it is tough to beat," says Greg Goddard, Gunstock's general manager.
The Landing Zone officially opened on Memorial Day weekend and is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Labor Day and has already substantially increased summer food and beverage sales at Gunstock according to Goddard.
Goddard explained that the development of the Adventure Park, with its spring and summer attractions has been the keystone of the resort's strategy to attract more visitors during the warm weather months. He says that nation 5 million people visit the Lakes Region in the spring, summer and fall and that Gunstock needs to provide the kind of attractions which will bring them to the mountain.
He says that in 2010, total sales between May and October were $1 million, but since the opening of the Aerial Treetop Adventure Course and the ZipTour Zip Line Adventure they have more than doubled to $2.4 million in 2014.
Altogether the Adventure Park has generated more than $5 million in direct sales since 2011, while increasing collateral sales from retail operations, food and beverages, and chairlift rides.
And, just as importantly, the added attractions have already paid off the original investment. The Aerial Treetop Adventures required a capital outlay of $469,220 and has attracted 31,834 guests and generated $1.2 million in sales.
The ZipTour Zip Line Adventure, which when it opened was the longest single zip line span on North America at 3,981 feet and a total of 1.6 miles of cable overall, cost $1.63 million and has seen over 81,000 riders and generated just over $3 million in sales.
Goddard, says that an Alpine Coaster is slated to become the next attraction at the resort's Adventure Park. In March the Gunstock Area Commission endorsed the project and last month the Belknap County Convention approved a bond issue for $2.6 million to build it.
An alpine coaster is a downhill ride built on mountainous terrain and that carries riders in carts running on rails, relying solely on gravity for speed. Riders can reach speeds of up to 25 miles-per-hour, but unlike on a roller coaster, they control their speed with a braking system fitted to the cart. Built between 2 feet and 30 feet above the ground, alpine coasters are not affected by rain and snow and can operate throughout the year.
He told members of the County Convention that project is estimated to cost $2.6 million, of which the purchase of the coaster represents $1.5 million.
Goddard anticipates that the coaster will operate at 25 percent of capacity in the summer and 30 percent of capacity on only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the winter, when there are more visitors at the resort. Altogether the coaster is expected to carry nearly 85,000 riders a year. At an average ride price of $12, the coaster is projected to return an annual operating profit of $530,000, which is one-and-half times the highest annual debt payment.
Goddard said that the coaster will be built adjacent to the tubing hill and ski jumps. Looking up the hill, the track taking riders to the starting point will follow to the right of the roadway that serves the jumps, reservoir and cell tower. The downhill track will wind through the wooded area to the right of the uphill track, making two complete circles and several sharp turns along the balance of its length. The downhill track will be 2,660 feet long with a vertical drop of 221 feet and a maximum grade of 18 percent. A round trip will take between four and five minutes, leaving the same amount of time to load and unload passengers. With 40 carts, the coaster can carry 250 riders an hour.
He said that the experience of other ski areas which have adopted the multi-season recreational model shows that they have experienced exponential growth in their summer business since adding Alpine coasters, including Cranmore Mountain in North Conway and Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts.
It will take a year to construct the coaster, which Goddard expects to carry its first thrill seekers in July 2016.
He says that the competition from other New Hampshire ski areas in the summer attractions field is fairly intense and that in order to maintain its momentum Gunstock will need to continue to invest in new attractions.
Goddard said that the long-range plan foresees investing $21.5 million in all aspects of the resort's facilities and activities during the next decade.
He pointed out that in 2000 Belknap County's equity in the resort was a negative $3.7 million while today it is a positive $9.5 million, a turnaround of $13.1 million.
Gunstock's winter skiing, snowboarding and tubing attractions attract between 140,000 and 170,000 visitors a year and generate between $7 million and $9 million a year in revenues. Originally opened as the Belknap Mountain Recreation Area in 1938 Gunstock was built as Works Progress Administration project during the Depression and is the only county-owned ski area in the country.