GILFORD — A 5-mile ride on the cross country trails at Gunstock Mountain Resort can be as challenging or relaxing as you please.
New this summer are electric bikes that offer variable assist levels as you pedal through a pine forest and past a meadow, a brook and a pond.
Sara Caveney guides several bike tours a day. In the morning, she likes a workout and uses minimal electrical assist. She dials it up later when the sun is high and she's ready to take it a little easier.
Resort leaders hope E-Bike and Segway tours, which each cost $68, will be a hit in a year when the COVID-19 pandemic forced an early closure to the ski season and is keeping the Mountain Coaster and the zipline idle.
With hydraulic disc brakes, 2.8-inch wide tires, 29-inch wheels, 12 gears, three power modes and two shock absorbers, the Scott Spark eRide 920 flattens out the bumps and makes steep, rocky hills a breeze even if you’re no Lance Armstrong.
“It lets anybody come out and have fun,” Caveney said. “You can go for a lot longer, and you get that little bit of speed anytime you want. They are just cool. Makes you smile.
“On my regular bike, in the early season, 5 miles is a long mountain bike ride. We just did a 5-mile loop. That was nothing.”
One section was uphill and lasted for about a half mile. It was steep enough that it would have been quite difficult for many riders without the power assist and a low gear.
Caveney said people who want to try one of the 30 new bikes should be at least 14 years old, be comfortable getting on and off and know how to ride.
“You don’t have to have any fitness level, which is the cool part,” she said.
One of her recent customers was a 78-year-old man.
She said she enjoys her work. The smell of the pine trees and the occasional glance at a doe and fawn are fringe benefits.
Pandemic affects business
Tom Day, Gunstock general manager and president, said the E-Bikes and Segways, along with camping, comprise a summertime operation that has been scaled back because of the pandemic.
“There was just too much touching and too much face-to-face with the zipline and the Mountain Coaster,” he said.
If he had opened those attractions at limited capacity, there wouldn’t have been sufficient revenue, considering the staff costs that would have been incurred.
The campground business is pretty close to normal this summer, he said, and Segway tour operations have done well.
“E-Bike is doing good, but people are still trying to figure out what they are,” Day said.
He decided to mount one of the bikes near the Camp Store.
“I said, ‘Put one out there. Build a rack. Put it out there and let people see what they are because I don’t think people really understand.
“Everybody that’s done it has loved it.
“We’re going to sell at least half of them in the fall, and people are already putting deposits on them.”
They will be sold for $2,800. They retail for more than $5,000.
Planning is key
Part of Day’s job is figuring out logistics.
“Now we’re trying to figure out what to do this weekend,” he said.
“How do we handle the crowds? How do we make sure there are adequate bathrooms and adequate food and beverage. How do we take the rental shop and make sure it’s not crowded?
“We’re reinventing the business model.”
A whole host of other issues present themselves during ski season.
“It would be a nice gift for the ski industry if there were a vaccine right around Dec. 1,” he said.
Day is planning to space out tables in the lodge to allow social distancing. He is also buying a special sanitization system to make it easier to frequently clean restrooms.
“We’re all looking for the latest equipment out there that will allow you to sanitize in high-volume areas,” he said.
The rental program is being modified, with boots in one building and skis in another. People will reserve their equipment online and it will be ready when the skier arrives. Lift tickets can be prepurchased, and an RFID card can be sent to the customer before arrival.
Last season had to be cut short, so ski areas lost out on spring revenue.
Day said there should be a good number of skier visits this coming season. People will not want to fly to destination resorts, given concerns about COVID-19, so drive-to ski areas, like Gunstock, should benefit.
“We’ve got big plans to move ahead here, as long as we can get the virus planned.”