Gunstock GM Tom Day & Team Return, Commissioner Ousted – 3 Ways to Protect the Mountain’s Future
“We resigned as a team. We came back as a team.”
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In 1990, Ski Patrol the movie hit theaters with an absurd premise: a snow-hating real-estate mogul schemes to shut down Snowy Peaks ski resort (filmed at Park City and Snowbird) so he can develop the property into… a non-ski resort. It’s slapstick, “from the makers of Police Academy,” intentionally ridiculous. It was, by all accounts, horrible, with a 53 percent audience-approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This two-minute trailer is probably as much as anyone ever needs to see of a genre piece that debuted about three years after the spoof movie’s Spaceballs heyday:
Still, Ski Patrol looks like Gone With The Wind compared to the bit of absurdist quackery we just witnessed in New Hampshire, where a gang of imbeciles nearly destroyed a ski area that has operated without interruption since 1937. There were Free-Stater fundamentalists. Sub-committees of dubious value. An abrupt cessation of work on Gunstock’s masterplan. Mass resignations. Sheriff’s deputies and locksmiths. The governor (perhaps regrettably), got involved. Commissioners who earn $25 per day to oversee Gunstock seized control of the ski area from a general manager that they hired for $175,000 per year (plus bonuses!) to run the ski area. And of course shadowy allusions to George Soros.
It was all a bit tedious and exhausting, even to watch. I summarized the whole ordeal in a timeline here:
I’m not going to rehash it now, except to say that, at a meeting last Monday, 10 of the 18 members of the Belknap County Delegation - which oversees the five-member Gunstock Area Commission (GAC), which oversees Gunstock - re-instated General Manager Tom Day and the six other senior managers who had resigned on July 20. They also voted 9-1 to remove GAC commissioner David Strang from his post and appointed, in a 6-4 vote, Denise Conroy to replace former commissioner Gary Kiedaisch, who had resigned in solidarity with management, ensuring a three-member GAC quarom. It was one of the great moments in New Hampshire ski history, as Day, name tag held high, Excalibur of Polar seltzer at his side, stood, reinstated, before a relieved and elated crowd:
The ski area re-opened its Adventure Park last Thursday. The annual Soul Fest event proceeded as planned. “It's great to get back in here and get rolling and get things happening,” Day told me last Tuesday. Anyone who had resigned after July 20, Day confirmed, would be brought back.
Ski New Hampshire President Jessyca Keeler welcomed the resolution. “I’m thrilled that the terms for the senior management team of Gunstock to return were met,” she told me. “I know that the working conditions for them had been stressful – obviously enough for them to resign en masse – and I don’t know that anyone knew for sure that there would be a quick resolution given all of the factors at play.”
Indeed. There was nothing inevitable about this outcome, and another few weeks of delay may have doomed Gunstock’s ski season. “I don’t think the importance of the quick resolution can be overstated,” Keeler said. “Not only do ski areas start really preparing for the coming winter in August, but Gunstock also has a major summer operation that is vital to the economy of the region.”
For Gunstock’s more than 7,000 season passholders and the hundreds of families whose winters revolve around the ski area, Day and team’s reinstatement brought clarity and a sense of relief. Tim Haarmann, president of the Gunstock Ski Club, which operates independently of the ski area, called the difference in conversations with his member families “night and day” from this week to last.
“The difference in talking to them with a big question mark around the season versus, Tom and the management team are back on the mountain, is huge,” he said. “For all intents and purposes, it looks like we're gonna have a very regular ski season this year. Frankly, we're just elated that things worked out the way they did.”
Haarmann, however, was not ready to call the ordeal over. “I think we gotta stay vigilant,” he said. The next day, he forwarded me this interview posted to the Granite Grok website, which describes itself as “your feared: Fire-breathing, right-wing, hard-charging, gun-toting, opinionated, outspoken, rabble-rousing, letter-writing, radio microphone stomping, Conservatives and Rational Libertarians!” Over the course of the 45-minute conversation, representatives of the Belknap County Delegation that did not attend Monday’s meeting reinstating Day questioned its legality and claimed that Strang did not resign. They also scheduled a meeting for Monday, Aug. 8 to replace former commissioner Kiedaisch, who had already been replaced with Conroy on Aug. 1. That meeting was later cancelled.
Despite clear shows of public support for Day and his team – hundreds of locals attended boisterous commission meetings to demand Ness and Strang resign – it’s clear that a portion of the Belknap County Delegation is unhappy with the outcome of this whole ordeal. They will keep trying to ruin Gunstock. I don’t understand why. This is a healthy business, run by a competent team, pulling in $18 million per year, $6 million of it pure profit. The ski area currently has more than $7 million in the bank, and returns 1.75 percent of its income to Belknap County – which owns the resort – each year. In 2021, that equaled $375,000.
I have so far taken an actions-based approach to this story, examining what happened while declining to explore the political backdrop that has driven this clownish sequence of events. But the story of Gunstock’s takeover is a case study in idealogues clumsily applying a generalized Government Sucks philosophy in a realm where it is neither appropriate nor productive. The future of Gunstock must be free of such influence. There are several ways to ensure that doesn’t happen: vote out the ideologues, amend the Gunstock Area Commission’s charter to clarify its responsibilities and limitations, or, yes, sell or lease the ski area to a private operator that is above the micromanagement of civilians. Here’s a look at what the folks who oversee Gunstock could do to guarantee a drama-free future:
Elect sane people to run New Hampshire
New Hampshire has the largest state legislature (officially known as the General Court of New Hampshire) in America, with 400 representatives and 24 senators. That is a huge governing body, particularly for a state with fewer than 1.4 million residents – New Hampshire ranks 42nd by population size among the 50 U.S. states. That means there is roughly one representative for every 3,500 people. They serve two-year terms and earn $200 per term.
Belknap County, which owns Gunstock, is home to 18 of the state’s 400 representatives. This group, collectively known as the Belknap County Delegation, selects the five Belknap County Commissioners who oversee Gunstock. The commissioners serve five-year terms. Two GAC seats currently sit empty, following the resignations of controversial commissioners Peter Ness and David Strang.
I am not here to analyze whether 400 representatives is the right number of representatives for a state of New Hampshire’s size. The legislative body has been meeting for centuries, and has been stationed for the past 203 years at the same building in downtown Concord. I respect that history. But the General Court’s structure has left it vulnerable to a fringe political movement oriented around reducing the influence of government and possibly seceding from the union.
Below the paid subscriber jump: a closer look at the Free State movement and how closely it’s tied to Gunstock, who really runs the mountain, why state-owned Cannon is immune to this sort of takeover, and why (gulp) selling or leasing Gunstock might actually make sense. Plus, Tom Day’s profile in courage.