This driver crests the top of the hill of the hill at Gunstock’s Hill Climb event on Wednesday. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — The return of the Motorcycle Week Gunstock Hillclimb to its original location at the 70-meter Torger Tokle Memorial Ski Jump hill at Gunstock Mountain Resort was warmly received by those who turned out to witness yesterday’s event.
Several thousand people turned out for the hillclimb and cheered on the daredevil riders who pitted their skills against the steep slope, with some of the loudest cheers going to those who had spectacular failures on their way up the hill.
The Gunstock Hillclimb was first held in 1946 during Laconia Motorcycle Week and was run at Gunstock until 1962 and again from 1993 until 2011, when Ridge Runner Promotions, which sponsors the event, and management of the resort failed to renew their contract. For the past five years, Ridge Runner Promotions held a competition in the Pro Hill Climb Series at the organization’s site in Canaan.
Dennis Vallee of Laconia, who is himself a motorcyclist, marvels at the risk-taking by those riding their bikes up the mountain. “I like watching it, but I wouldn’t do it.”
And he’s glad that it’s back at Gunstock. “It’s back here and I’m coming back here because of that. It’s a lot better than it was up there in Canaan. It belongs here and it’s the best place to watch it.”
Others echoed that sentiment, including Paul Cantin of Peabody, Massachusetts, who said he’s been coming to Motorcycle Week ever since 1982 and has missed taking in the hillclimb for the past five years.
“I came here in 1982 and returned the next year with my own motorcycle and have been here every year since then. But it wasn’t the same without the hillclimb,” said Cantin.
He said that he was celebrating his 55th birthday that day and that hillclimbs are a part of his family’s history. “My grandfather, Bill Rheault, was a hillclimber in the 1920s and ran an Indian motorcycle. It’s a lot of fun to watch,” said Cantin.
Others taking in he hillclimb for the first time included Frank Sura of Malone, New York, who owns three motorcycles, including a Harley-Davidson Street Glide. “It’s a beautiful spot. I love it,” he said.
Also impressed with the beauty of the area and the event itself was Cliff Baker of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who attends the Sturgis Rally every year but has missed out on its hillclimb event.
Baker said that he’ll be staying in the area right through this coming weekend and is glad that he made hist first ever trip to take in Laconia’s Motorcycle Week.
Hillcimbers were equally pleased to see the event return to Gunstock.
Lou Welch of Glastonbury, Connecticut, said that he took part in the hillclimb when it was revived in 1993 and recalled that there were so few riders that “We kept riding the hill all day.”
The hillclimb reached the peak of its popularity about 10 years later and drew as many as 12,000 spectators, But attendance declined after the event was moved from the ski jump hill to the Smith Slope near the Gunstock Base Lodge.
Welch, who now rides in the over-50 category, was riding a Honda CRF 450 which he shares with his son, Kyle, 24, who has been involved in motorcycle racing for 12 years.
Welch’s daughter, 21-year-old Samantha, also races in the 450 class and 200 class, and was having some success at Gunstock.
Welch said the cycle he and his son were riding was set up for Pro Hill Climb competition and was once owned by Ian Loud, a pro competitor.
“I’ve owned it for six years and we’ve done pretty well with it,” said Welch, adding that he and his on had both made their first runs up the hill in 7.1 seconds.
Josh Kobel of Holden, Massachusetts, said he was enthused with his runs on his Kawasaki 450 and Kawasaki 500. “I love this hill. I haven’t been here for 10 years and it’s great.”
Kobel, who is a truck driver for Harvey Building Products, was a champion in 2012 when raced a Yamaha 250 and won 10 of 12 hillclimbing events and placed second in the other two.
Lou Welch of Connecticut takes off from the boards at Gunstock's Hill Climb event on Wednesday in the over-50 category. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
Crowds gathered at the base of the 70-meter jump for Motocycle Week’s Hill Climb at Gunstock on Wednesday. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)