GILFORD — Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock Mountain Resort said this week 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 later this month will ask the Belknap County Convention for authority to borrow $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 two feet and thirty feet above the ground, alpine coasters are not affected by rain and snow and can operate throughout the year.
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.
It will take a year to construct the coaster, which Goddard expects to carry its first thrill seekers in July 2016.
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 become a four season recreational destination. He pointed out that five million people visit the Lakes Region in the spring, summer and fall. We have to get them off the lakes and on to the mountains," he said.
In 2010, total sales between May and October were $1 million, but since the opening of the Aerial Treetop Adventure Course, and Segway Off-Road Adventure Tours, they have more than doubled to $2.4 million in 2014. Altogether the Adventure Park has generated more than $5 million in direct sales while increasing collateral sales from retail operations, food and beverages, and chairlift rides.
However, Goddard described the market for warm weather activities like those offered at Gunstock as "crowded", as other ski areas in New Hampshire and New England have pursued a similar strategy. Moreover, he noted about half the summer visitors to Gunstock have been there before, which he said "suggests the need for something new every few years to provide a fresh experience and tempt the visitors to return".
The 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. In other words, the coaster is forecast to more than pay for itself by a significant margin.
Gooddard said that the long-range plan foresees investing $21.5 million in all aspects of the resort's facilities and activities duriing 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.
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