By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — After a two-year planning and public approval process, and a nine-month construction timeline, the $2.6 million Gunstock Mountain Coaster will open to the public Saturday morning.
"We're all set and ready to go. We passed all our inspections Wednesday and right now we're training our staff on how the coaster works and what our customers can expect. It's a really exciting ride, close to the trees, which provides a real feel of moving through the forest," said Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock Mountain Resort.
He said that the opening celebration will be held from 9 to 10 a.m. And will be attended by members of the Belknap County Delegation, Gunstock Area Commission, Wiegand Sports LLC, which manufactures and installs the coasters; the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and Lakes Region Tourism Association as well as local businesses involved in construction project.
The program will feature speakers who will, discuss the importance of the project to the Lakes Region economy as well as a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and first rides for the invited guests.
He said that 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," said Goddard, who added that the ride was installed by crews from Wiegand, a German company with more than 200 coasters around the world, including two in New Hampshire. Gunstock had 16 of its staff working on the project as well.
Goddard said the project is being completed on the timeline originally planned. He said that at one time he had hoped for an earlier completion date but "There was some rough going terrain-wise, which required a lot of digging by hand" as well as removal of additional trees.
"Building a structure like this is really complicated and it took a lot of hard work to get it done right," said Goddard.
Riders board the coaster carts at the terminal building at the foot of the hill next to Gunstock's Adventure Park. They then take a 1,800-foot ride up the mountain along a path through the woods in which they 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 use a brake to control their speed and there is also an automatic anti-collision system built in which slows the carts automatically. There are 40 cars, and rides last six to eight minutes.
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 said that 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.
Gunstock Mountain Resort staff members took rides on the Gunstock Mountain Coaster Wednesday morning to familiarize themselves with the resort's newest attraction, which will open to the public this Saturday. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)