50 years at Gunstock: Klaus Buttinger reflects on a half-century of teaching folks to ski

GILFORD — Klaus Buttinger has been teaching skiing at Gunstock for 50 years and says that he still gets a kick out of it, which he says is second nature to him.
''Skiing is easy for me. It's easier than walking.'' says Buttinger, who first came to the Lakes Region from his native Austria to teach skiing at the Penny Pitou Ski School, one of several Austrians recruited by Austrian Olympic skier Egon Zimmermann to teach at the ski school.
Buttinger, who had skied with the Austrian Junior team, arrived in Gilford in December of 1964 and remembers that the first ski season was something of a disaster. ''We didn't get snow until the middle of January,'' which he says is a sharp contrast to the current season.
''I've never seen so much snow at Gunstock as we've had this year,'' says Buttinger, who is still active as an instructor and coach with the Gunstock Ski Club, the state's oldest, which dates all the back to 1918.
He went back to Austria during the summer of 1965 and returned that winter to teach again and decided to stay through the next summer, working as a carpenter's helper that summer in Alton, where he learned to water ski. He later worked in the ski shop at the Arlberg Inn in Gilford, and also cooked at the restaurant there with Freddie Nauchbar, whose daughter Bobbi was his first wife.
Buttinger says that ski equipment has changed a lot since he first arrived in the area and has an old picture of him and Penny Pitou at Cannon Mountain in Franconia in which he's wearing leather ski boots.
''That started changing really quick when the plastic shells started coming out. And the ski bindings really changed. We used to have what was called the runaway strap, which was pretty dangerous. The new bindings made a lot of difference.'' says Buttinger.
At that time he skied on a fiberglass ski, Kneissl's White Star, which has been introduced in 1962 and was one of the forerunners of the new generation of skis. In the mid 1990s the shaped skis became popular. Featuring a wider tail and tip, when tipped onto their edges, they bend into a curved shape and carve a turn.
''They do the turning for you and make it a lot easier to ski.'' he says.
He's also seen how much the introduction of snowmaking at New Hampshire's ski areas in the early 1970s has helped the sport and says the new lift systems have made it much easier to enjoy a full day of skiing.
''When I came here there were a couple of double chairlifts and some T-bars and even a rope tow. Now you can get to the top of the mountain really quickly and enjoy a lot more ski runs. And snowmaking has helped extend the season and make sure you always have enough snow. We couldn't exist today without it.''
He says that he was drawn to move from his native Austria to the Lakes Region by the friendliness of the people that he met here and over he years has made many friends through being a ski instructor.
Along the way there has also been some tragedy, including the loss of his 13-year old son, Tony, in an accident following a ski race at Gunstock in 1984. For nearly 30 years the Gunstock Ski Club held the annual Tony Buttinger Memorial Slalom as a fundraiser. A plaque honoring Tony still hangs in his memory at the GSC Clubhouse.
''I've seen a lot at Gunstock. People have really been good to me. In some ways I miss the good old days, when people would ski and come into the base lodge and talk to each other and share good times. Today you see everyone on their cell phone and people across the table don't even talk to each other.'' says Buttinger.
Nearly 200 people showed up at a 50th anniversary party held in early January at Gunstock, which was arranged by his daughters Anniliese and Stacie.
''It was a total surprise. There were some women there who were in their 80s that I taught to ski when I first came here. It was a great time and it really made the day for me when Penny Pitou showed up. That was a real honor,'' says Buttinger.


Klaus Buttinger with his friend and fellow ski instructor Hans Siesle in the parking lot at Gunstock Ski Area in 1965. (Courtesy photo)

Safety, diversity & a strong economy – Participants at ‘Re-Imagine Laconia’ agree on priorities

LACONIA — A strong economy, diverse demographic and safe community were the highest priorities of the more than 75 people asked to "re-imagine Laconia" at an open house at the Opechee Conference Center last evening.

Hosted by the Planning Department and Orton Family Foundation, the event aimed to refine and rank what residents identified as the defining values of the city through a variety of outreach efforts that began last summer and were capped at a forum in October in anticipation of preparing the Master Plan. The values will inform the vision statement, one of the required elements of the plan, as well as serve as guides for setting the priorities and prescribing the steps in pursuing the plan.

More than half the group, 53-percent, were men. The average age of the participants, a quarter of who were retirees, was 57.4, and less than two-percent were students. Nearly half, 45-percent, live or work downtown while a fifth were from Lakeport and 15-percent from The Weirs. More than half had lived and worked in the city for more than 20 years and have been engaged in civic or public life as volunteers. However, two-thirds of those at the open house were not among the some 100 who participated in the forum in October.

In preparation for the open house, the staff of the Planning Department and members of the Master Plan Advisory Committee compiled and distilled the information collected earlier from interviews, surveys and other efforts into ten values. Community character referred to the preservation of significant places. A sense of community spoke to a "small-city feel." Connectivity highlighted the relationships between members of the community., A beautiful environment, strong economy and responsive government were all prized. Demographic diversity referred to a balanced community of all ages. Public safety was a priority along with offering a rich, diverse quality of life. Finally, there was support for telling a positive story by promoting the assets and polishing the image of the city .

With electronic keypads, participants at the open house were asked to score each of the ten values in terms of importance. Some commanded a majority as "very important" and most were deemed either "very important" or "somewhat important." But, three-quarters rated a strong economy and safe community "very important."
Most interesting, when participants were asked rank the values against one another by selecting the three of most importance and highest priority a strong economy, safe community and diverse demographic — all concrete, measurable factors – topped the list.

Abandoned State School property costs state $300,000 per year

LACONIA — The state of New Hampshire spent $550,215 maintaining and securing the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street in the current biennium  and expects to budget another $586,227 in the next biennium, according to figures reported by the Department of Administrative Services (DAS).

In addition, the agency spends approximately $60,000 a year maintaining the "Designated Receiving Facility" (DRF), two buildings at the northern end of the property holding six beds for individuals with developmental disabilities or acquired brain disorders found to have committed sexual offenses and to pose a risk to public safety.

Governor Maggie Hassan has directed the DAS to sell the property and included $2 million in proceeds from the transaction in her proposed 2016-2017 budget. In 2012, the state appraised the 200-acre tract and 26 buildings for $2.16 million, but declined the city's offer to purchase it at that price. When the subject arose at the governor's budget hearings last November, Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of DAS,  responding to Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) said that while the property remains for sale, it is not being actively marketed.

The terms of the proposed transaction are stipulated in House Bill 2, the so-called "trailer bill" that accompanies the biennial budget, which directs the commissioner of the DAS to execute the sale. The transaction would be subject to the requirements of RSA 4:40, the statute governing the sale or lease of state property, which stipulates that it must be first be offered to the municipality or county where it is located.

The property consists of 202 acres bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. Among the 26 buildings on the site, the appraiser found less than a handful salvageable and estimated the cost of demolishing the rest at more than $2 million.

The governor's budget has created an opportunity to renew its effort to acquire the property. Last week Mayor Ed Engler said that he would advocate for the city acquiring the property if it were offered for the appraised value or less.

The future of the property has been a bone of contention between the Senate and the House. Speaking at the governor's budget hearings in November, Linda Hodgdon, commissioner of Administrative Services, said "we would love some direction from the Legislature because so far we have been getting competing direction from the Legislature. We have some folks that are upset that we are not fixing more roofs there," she continued. "We have other folks that are upset that we are doing anything there." Connor added that when the matter came before the Capital Budget Overview Committee "there was a lot of consternation" and explained "Half the group felt that we shouldn't be investing in the buildings at all. We should be divesting ourselves of them immediately. A lot of other people felt that we should just hold on to it."

Senator Chuck Morse (R-Salem), the president of the Senate, has pressed to sell the property in order to spare the state the annual costs associated with it. Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said yesterday that she shares Morse's concerns about the cost of state ownership. In the House Representative Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), chairman of the Public Works and Highways Committee, has been at the forefront of resistance to disposing of the property.