One of the best seats in town with sweeping views of Lake Winnipesaukee from Gunstock Mountain Resorts Panorama lift on Friday morning. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
This year, snowfall makes for great season
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — What a difference a year makes. With Martin Luther King Jr. weekend upon us, Gunstock Mountain Resort is a winter revelry, boasting trails full of snow, terrain park and tubing hill fully functional, and a new attraction, the mountain coaster. It's a far cry better than this weekend of 2016, when the resort was still waiting for winter to arrive.
"We're definitely buffed up and ready to go for the weekend," said Greg Goddard, Gunstock's general manager. That's a good thing, because the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend is one of the busiest times of the winter season, when the resort typically does a quarter of the month's business over a three-day period. Although there were some above-freezing temperatures this week, Gunstock's snowmakers had plenty of opportunity this year to build a thick base on the trails, and were helped by some early winter storms. And, the forecast for the weekend shows temperatures conducive for yet more snowmaking.
To welcome guests during the busy holiday weekend, Gunstock has some special events planned. Ski demos will be available on Saturday and Sunday, magician BJ Hickman will perform on Sunday, and Wildlife Encounters will present a live animal show in the Main Lodge on Monday afternoon. Usual weekend activities will also continue, such as evening snowshoe tours and the popular Sunday S'mores.
Goddard is excited about its newest amenity, the mountain coaster, a gravity-driven roller coaster in which the rider controls the speed. To help introduce guests to the ride, Gunstock is including rides on the coaster along with the purchase of a tubing ticket this weekend. And, season ticket holders will be able to purchase single rides on the coaster for $7, half the regular price.
"We find that if people see it running, see cars go up and down, they want to try it ... we've tried seed the clouds a little bit, because once they've ridden it they will want to ride it again," said Goddard. So far, activity at the coaster has been "hit or miss," he said. If the ride is idle, it tends to be overlooked by guests. But, if people see other people riding, they want to have a go. For example, on New Year's Eve, there was a 30-minute line for the ride all night long, and the resort counted 1,350 rides in a single day.
In fact, much about Gunstock's winter has been superlative. On the morning of Dec. 30, Goddard said, there was traffic backed up on both sides of Route 11-A, trying to get in. It was a great ending to what Goddard termed a "terrific" first month of operation.
Mike Roth, director of marketing and sales at Gunstock, said, "Rarely will you get an entire holiday period without some type of weather impacted business interruption. This year, we went 10 days with ideal conditions." On Wednesday, Roth reported that the resort's business was 16 percent over its average, and was double its sales at that point last year.
"This was a blessing after last winter," he said.
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Nordic skiers at Great Glen Trails on Jan. 2 found plenty of snow tracked for both skate and classic skiing. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
Head north for class and cross-country skiing
By TIM JONES, Contributing Writer
After the "Winter That Wasn't" of 2015-16, it was great to see everyone out and enjoying the snow during the all-important Christmas-New Year holiday. Snow is good for the northern economy and it's even better for the folks who get out to enjoy living and get some fresh air and exercise.
Now downhill skiers and riders did pretty well last ski season. Most alpine areas were able to open most of their terrain for most of the season on man-made snow. If you wanted to ski, you could, even if it sometimes meant dodging raindrops. The people who suffered in the 2015-16 non-winter were cross-country and backcountry skiers, and snowshoers. They never caught a break all season.
That's perhaps why it's been so difficult to decide what to do with each day this year. Early on, there was no question: downhill skiing on mostly man-made snow. But, since the Dec. 30 storm dropped 15 inches of snow in my back yard and up to 2 feet elsewhere in New England, I've seen lots of folks out cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and they are all smiling. The long, snowless nightmare appears to be over!
Ever since the big snowstorm, each day has been calling out for a slightly different activity. New Year's Eve Day was perfect for putting on backcountry skis and exploring untracked powder, On New Year's Day, you could still find untracked if you want looking. By Monday, it was time to put on skate or classic cross-country gear and go roaming on a groomed trail system, and so it went. Each day calling for something different. Even the rain which damped things on Tuesday (when most people had to go back to work or school anyway) just made for perfect spring snow conditions on a warm Wednesday.
So ask yourself: Did you have some free time over the holidays? Can you make some free time in the days ahead? If so, how did you use that time? Did you let the special conditions that each day brought draw you into a new adventure? For your sake, I hope so. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
I've been doing most of my cross-country skiing, both classic and skate, at a little local gem called Stark's Hill in Fryeburg, Maine (faskiteam.org, then click on Stark's Hill). It's only about 10 minutes from my home which makes it a no-brainer for me. But it's the kind of place worth seeking out as alternative to more familiar haunts if you are the kind of person who likes to explore.
Stark's Hill is primarily a training area for the Fryeburg Academy Nordic Ski Team. The trails are perfectly maintained for skate skiing by the good folks who run Weston Farms in the summer. I haven't seen any tracks for classic skiing yet, but some of their steeper trails are a real workout on There's no formal trail fee, though donations are strongly encouraged (and only fair, since grooming costs money). They also ask you not to ski in the later afternoon when the team is training.
Stark's Hill used to be an alpine ski area (nelsap.org/me/starks.html) with a T-bar lift in the early 1970s! I can't wait to explore it all.
Great Glen Trails
With so many cross-country ski areas in my neighborhood, it's hard to decide where to go. But on a sunny, blue-sky day with no wind, Great Glen Trails (greatglentrails.com) in Pinkham Notch is an obvious contender. I ended up there two days into the new year and enjoyed truly awesome snow conditions. While this was technically a holiday, there wasn't anything like a crowd – though there was a waiting list for the snowcoach tours up the Mount Washington Auto Road and a goodly number of families enjoying the snow tubing hill
As I walked out the door to put on my skis, I saw a middle-aged couple starting the New Year right by taking what was obviously their first-ever cross country ski lesson. They were having a great time. Not surprising, since their teacher was former Olympian (Sarajevo, 1984) Sue Wemyss. Imagine starting out with that kind of expertise giving you pointers!
This early in the season, cross-country skiing is a real workout, and by the time my circuitous route brought me to the Great Angel Warming Cabin at lunchtime, I was ready to relax a bit and enjoy the outstanding view and lunch. By the most direct route, the cabin is 3.2 kilometers. I didn't take that direct route either going or coming.
Out on the trail I'd been passed (like I was standing still) by several skate skiers who all looked to be roughly 7 feet tall and weigh 135 pounds – they were obviously from a different planet. But they weren't having any more fun than I was. That's the beauty of cross country skiing – you can approach it at whatever fitness and ability level you are get whatever level of workout you want.
Find A Nordic celebration, ladies
If you happen to be female, a whole lot of organizations seem intent on getting you on cross-country skis this winter. And Jan. 14 seems to be THE day to do it.
So far, I've seen offerings on that day from Great Glen Trails (greatglentrails.com), Waterville Valley Adventure Center, and from he Catamount Trails Association (catamounttrail.org) at Trapp Family Lodge (trappfamily.com).
What are you waiting for? If you can't make one of these events, get out to your nearest XC ski center and enjoy the snow!