(Photo ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN)
By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock Mountain Resort, said this week that work is progressing smoothly on an alpine coaster which will become the next attraction at the resort's Adventure Park and that he is hopeful that the ride will be open in time for the July 4th holiday.
Goddard said that the one saving grace of a warm winter that deeply cut skier turnout at the county-owned resort was that the warmth did allow work to proceed faster than expected on the coaster, which is built adjacent to the tubing hill and ski jumps.
Work on the $2.6 million project got underway in December with cutting of trees and staking out the path of the track, which consists of 53 individual concrete footings that had to be placed within a one inch tolerance on the X and Y axis in their strategic locations. Some of these footings were precast and others were made on site at Gunstock.
Electric and water lines also had to be installed and by mid March the first coaster parts, which were manufactured in Germany, arrived.
"At one point we had 170 tons of steel on site," says Goddard, who says that the ride is being installed by crews from Wiegand, a German company with more than 200 coasters around the world, including two in New Hampshire. Gunstock has had 16 of its staff working on the project as well.
Riders will board the coaster carts at the terminal building at the foot of the hill next to the Adventure Park. They will then take a 1,800-foot ride up the mountain along a path through the woods in which they will ride 20 to 30 feet off the ground in some areas before heading onto the 2,660-foot downhill track, which makes two complete circles, known as helixes, and has several sharp turns and crosses five bridges.
The downhill ride has a vertical drop of 221 feet and speeds will reach 25 mph. Riders will use a brake to control their speed and there is also an automatic anti-collision system built in. There will be 40 cars, and rides will last six to eight minutes.
"It's going to be a really exciting ride," says Goddard. "We designed it so that it would be close to the trees and give you a real feel of moving through the forest. We think people will love it and let all their friends know how much fun it is."
He anticipates that the coaster will operate at 25 percent of capacity in the summer and 30 percent of capacity on 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 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 5 million people visit the Lakes Region in the spring, summer and fall.
"We have to get them off the lakes and onto 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 and over $2.2 million last year. Altogether, the Adventure Park has generated more than $7 million in direct sales while increasing collateral sales from retail operations, food and beverages and chairlift rides.
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.
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