The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast
The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast
Podcast #168: Gunstock Mountain President & GM Tom Day

Podcast #168: Gunstock Mountain President & GM Tom Day

Reflecting on one of the most eventful four-year periods in Gunstock (or any ski area's) history.

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Tom Day, President and General Manager of Gunstock, New Hampshire

Day. Photo courtesy of Gunstock Mountain.

Recorded on

March 14, 2024

About Gunstock

Click here for a mountain stats overview

Owned by: Belknap County, New Hampshire

Located in: Gilford, New Hampshire

Year founded: 1937

Pass affiliations: Unlimited access on New Hampshire College Pass (with Cannon, Cranmore, and Waterville Valley)

Closest neighboring ski areas: Abenaki (:34), Red Hill Ski Club (:35), Veterans Memorial (:43), Tenney (:52), Campton (:52), Ragged (:54), Proctor (:56), Powderhouse Hill (:58), McIntyre (1:00)

Base elevation: 904 feet

Summit elevation: 2,244 feet

Vertical drop: 1,340 feet

Skiable Acres: 227

Average annual snowfall: 120 inches

Trail count: 49 (2% double black, 31% black, 52% blue, 15% green)

Lift count: 8 (1 high-speed quad, 2 fixed-grip quads, 2 triples, 3 carpets - view Lift Blog’s inventory of Gunstock’s lift fleet)

View historic Gunstock trailmaps on

Why I interviewed him

In the roughly four-and-a-half years since I launched The Storm, I’ve written a lot more about some ski areas than others. I won’t claim that there’s no personal bias involved, because there are certain ski areas that, due to reputation, convenience, geography, or personal nostalgia, I’m drawn to. But Gunstock is not one of those ski areas. I was only vaguely aware of its existence when I launched this whole project. I’d been drawn, all of my East Coast life, to the larger ski areas in the state’s north and next door in Vermont and Maine. Gunstock, awkwardly located from my New York City base, was one of those places that maybe I’d get to someday, even if I wasn’t trying too hard to actually make that happen.

And yet, I’ve written more about Gunstock than just about any ski area in the country. That’s because, despite my affinity for certain ski areas, I try to follow the news around. And wow has there been news at this mid-sized New Hampshire bump. Nobody knew, going into the summer of 2022, that Gunstock would become the most talked-about ski area in America, until the lid blew off Mount Winnipesaukee in July of that year, when a shallow and ill-planned insurrection failed spectacularly at drawing the ski area into our idiotic and exhausting political wars.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read more on the whole surreal episode in the Podcast Notes section below, or just listen to the podcast. But because of that weird summer, and because of an aspirational masterplan launched in 2021, I’ve given Gunstock outsized attention in this newsletter. And in the process, I’ve quite come to like the place, both as a ski area (where I’ve now actually skied), and as a community, and it has become, however improbably, a mountain I keep taking The Storm back to.

Skiers line up for first chair on the high-speed Panorama quad at Gunstock on a January 2023 powder day. Photo by Stuart Winchester

What we talked about

Retirement; “my theory is that 10 percent of people that come to a ski area can be a little bit of a problem”; Gunstock as a business in 2019 versus Gunstock today; skier visits surge; cash in the bank; the publicly owned ski area that is not publicly subsidized; Gunstock Nice; the last four years at Gunstock sure were an Asskicker, eh?; how the Gunstock Area Commission works and what went sideways in the summer of 2022; All-Summers Disease; preventing a GAC Meltdown repeat; the time bandits keep coming; should Gunstock be leased to a private operator?; qualities that the next general manager of Gunstock will need to run the place successfully; honesty, integrity, and respect; an updated look at the 2021 masterplan and what actually makes sense to build; could Gunstock ever have a hotel or summit lodge?; why a paved parking lot is a big deal in 2024; Maine skiing in the 1960s; 1970s lift lines; reflecting on the changes over 40-plus years of skiing; rear-wheel-drive Buicks as ski commuter car; competing against Epic and Ikon and why independent ski areas will always have a place in the market; will record skier-visit numbers persist?; a surprising stat about season passes; and how a payphone caused mass confusion in Park City.  

Gunstock on a clear day. Photo courtesy of Gunstock Mountain.

Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview

On January 19, Gunstock Marketing Director Bonnie MacPherson (long of Okemo and Bretton Woods), shot me a press release announcing that Day would retire at the conclusion of the 2023-24 ski season.

It was a little surprising. Day hadn’t been at Gunstock long. He’d arrived just a couple months before the March 2020 Covid shutdowns, almost four years to the day before he announced retirement. He was widely liked and respected on the mountain and in the community, a sentiment reinforced during the attempted Kook Coup of summer 2022, when a pair of fundamentalist nutjobs got flung out of the county via catapult after attempting to seize Gunstock from Day and his team.

But Gunstock was a bit of a passion project for Day, a skiing semi-lifer who’d spent three decades at Waterville Valley before fiddling with high-end odd-jobs of the consultancy and project-management sort for 10 years. In four years, he transformed county-owned Gunstock from a seasonal business that tapped bridge loans to survive each summer into a profitable year-round entertainment center with millions in the bank. And he did it all despite Covid, despite the arrival of vending-machine Epic and Ikon passes, despite a couple of imbeciles who’d never worked at a ski area thinking they could do a better job running a ski area than the person they paid $175,000 per year to run the ski area.  

I still don’t really get it. How it all worked out. How Gunstock has gotten better as everything about running a ski area has gotten harder and more expensive and more competitive. There’s nothing really special about the place statistically or terrain-wise. It’s not super snowy or extra tall or especially big. It has exactly one high-speed lift, a really nice lodge, and Awe Dag views of Lake Winnipesaukee. It’s nice but not exceptional, just another good mid-sized ski area in a state full of good mid-sized ski areas.  

And yet, Gunstock thrives. Day, like most ski area general managers, is allergic to credit, but I have to think he had a lot to do with the mountain’s late resilience. He’s an interesting guy, thoughtful and worldly and adventurous. Talking to him, I always get the sense that this is a person who’s comfortable with who he is, content with his life, a hardcore skier whose interests extend far beyond it. He’s colorful but also plainspoken, an optimist and a pragmatist, a bit of back-office executive and good ole’ boy wrencher melded into your archetype of a ski area manager. Someone who, disposition baked by experience, is perfectly suited to the absurd task of operating a ski area in New Hampshire. It’s too bad he’s leaving, but I guess eventually we all do. The least I could do was get his story one more time before he bounced.

Riding Panorama Express. Photo by Stuart Winchester.

Why you should ski Gunstock

Skiing Knife Fight, New Hampshire Edition, looks like this:

That’s 30 ski areas, the fifth-most of any state, in the fifth-smallest state in America. And oh by the way you’re also right next door to all of this:

And Vermont is barely bigger than New Hampshire. Together, the two states are approximately one-fifth the size of Colorado. “Fierce” as the kids (probably don’t) say.

So, what makes you choose Gunstock as your snowsportskiing destination when you have 56 other choices in a two-state region, plus another half-dozen large ski areas just east in Maine? Especially when you probably own an Indy, Epic, or Ikon pass, which, combined, deliver access to 28 upper New England ski areas, including most of the best ones?

Maybe that’s exactly why. We’ve been collectively enchanted by access, obsessed with driving down per-visit cost to beat inflated day-ticket prices that we simultaneously find absurd and delight in outsmarting. But boot up at any New England ski area with chairlifts, and you’re going to find a capable operation. No one survived this long in this dogfight without crafting an experience worth skiing.

It’s telling that Gunstock has only gotten busier since the Epic and Ikon passes smashed into New England a half dozen years ago. There’s something there, an extra thing worth pursuing. You don’t have to give up your SuperUltimoWinterSki Pass to make Gunstock part of your winter, but maybe work it in there anyway?

Podcast Notes

On Gunstock’s masterplan

Gunstock’s ambitious masterplan, rolled out in 2021, would have blown the ski area out on all sides, added a bunch of new lifts, and plopped a hotel and summit lodge on the property:

Most of it seems improbable now, as Day details in the podcast.

On the GAC conflict

Someone could write a book on the Gunstock Shenanigans of 2022. The best I can give you is a series of article I published as the whole ridiculous saga was unfolding:

If nothing else, just watch this remarkable video of Day and his senior staff resigning en masse:

On the Caledonian Canal that “splits Scotland in half”

I’d never heard of the Caledonian Canal, but Day mentions sailing it and that it “splits Scotland in half.” That’s the sort of thing I go nuts for, so I looked it up. Per Wikipedia:

The Caledonian Canal connects the Scottish east coast at Inverness with the west coast at Corpach near Fort William in Scotland. The canal was constructed in the early nineteenth century by Scottish engineer Thomas Telford.

The canal runs some 60 miles (100 kilometres) from northeast to southwest and reaches 106 feet (32 metres) above sea level.[2] Only one third of the entire length is man-made, the rest being formed by Loch DochfourLoch NessLoch Oich, and Loch Lochy.[3] These lochs are located in the Great Glen, on a geological fault in the Earth's crust. There are 29 locks (including eight at Neptune's StaircaseBanavie), four aqueducts and 10 bridges in the course of the canal.

Here's its general location:

Google Maps.

More detail:

On Day’s first appearance on the podcast

This was Day’s second appearance on the podcast. The first was way back in episode 34, recorded in January 2021:

Listen to episode 34

On Hurricane Mountain, Maine

Day mentions skiing a long-gone ropetow bump named Hurricane Mountain, Maine as a child. While I couldn’t find any trailmaps, New England Lost Ski Areas Project houses a nice history from the founder’s daughter:

I am Charlene Manchester now Barton. My Dad started Hurricane Ski Slope with Al Ervin. I was in the second grade, I remember, when I used to go skiing there with him. He and Al did almost everything--cranked the rope tow motor up to get it going, directed traffic, and were the ski patrol. As was noted in your report, accommodations were across road at the Norton farm where we could go to use the rest room or get a cup of hot chocolate and a hamburger. Summers I would go with him and Al to the hill and play while they cleared brush and tried to improve the hill, even opened one small trail to the right of the main slope. I was in the 5th grade when I tore a ligament in my knee skiing there. Naturally, the ski patrol quickly appeared and my Dad carried me down the slope in his arms. I was in contact with Glenn Parkinson  who came to interview my mother , who at 96 is a very good source of information although actually, she was not much of a skier. The time I am referring to must have been around 1945 because I clearly recall discussing skiing with my second grade teacher Miss Booth, who skied at Hurricane. This was at DW Lunt School in Falmouth where I grew up. I was in the 5th grade when I hurt my leg.

My Dad, Charles Manchester , was one of the first skiers in the State, beginning on barrel staves in North Gorham where he grew up. He was a racer and skied the White Mountains . We have a picture of him at Tuckerman's when not many souls ventured up there to ski in the spring. As I understand it, the shortage of gas during WWII was a motivator as he had a passion for the sport, but no gas to get to the mountains in N.H. Two of his best ski buddies were Al Ervin, who started Hurricane with him, and Homer Haywood, who was in the ski troopers during WWII, I think. Another ski pal was Chase Thompson. These guys worked to ski--hiking up Cranmore when the lifts were closed due to the gas shortage caused by WWII. It finally got to be too much for my Dad to run Hurricane, as he was spending more time directing traffic for parking than skiing, which after all was why he and Al started the project.

I think my Dad and his ski buddies should be remembered for their love of the sport and their willingness to do whatever it took to ski. Also, they were perfect gentlemen, wonderful manners on the slope, graceful and handsomely dressed, often in neckties. Those were the good old days!

The ski area closed around 1973, according to NELSAP, in response to rising insurance rates.

On old-school Sunday River

I’ve documented the incredible evolution of Sunday River from anthill to Vesuvius many times. But here, to distill the drama of the transformation, is the now-titanic ski area’s 1961 trailmap:

This 60s-era Sunday River was a foundational playground for Day.

On the Epic and Ikon New England timeline

It’s easy to lose track of the fact that the Epic and Ikon Passes didn’t exist in New England until very recently. A brief timeline:

  • 2017: Vail Resorts buys Stowe, its first New England property, and adds the mountain to the Epic Pass for the 2017-18 ski season.

  • 2018: Vail Resorts buys Triple Peaks, owners of Mount Sunapee and Okemo, and adds them to the Epic Pass for the 2018-19 ski season.

  • 2018: The Ikon Pass debuts with five or seven days at five New England destinations for the 2018-19 ski season: Killington/Pico, Sugarbush, and Boyne-owned Loon, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf. Alterra-owned Stratton is unlimited on the Ikon Pass and offers five days on the Ikon Base Pass.

  • 2019: Vail buys the 17-mountain Peak Resorts portfolio, which includes four more New England ski areas: Mount Snow in Vermont and Crotched, Wildcat, and Attitash in New Hampshire. All join the Epic Pass for the 2019-20 ski season, bumping the number of New England ski areas on the coalition up to seven.

  • 2019: Alterra buys Sugarbush. Amps up the mountain’s Ikon Pass access to unlimited with blackouts on the Ikon Base and unlimited on the full Ikon for the 2020-21 ski season. Alterra also ramps up Stratton Ikon Base access from five days to unlimited with blackouts for the 2020-21 winter.

  • 2020: Vail introduces New England-specific Epic Passes. At just $599, the Northeast Value Pass delivers unlimited access to Vail’s four New Hampshire mountains, holiday-restricted unlimited access to Mount Snow and Okemo, and 10 non-holiday days at Stowe. Vail also rolls out a midweek version for just $429.

  • 2021: Vail unexpectedly cuts the price of Epic Passes by 20 percent, reducing the cost of the Northeast Value Pass to just $479 and the midweek version to $359. The Epic Local Pass plummets to $583, and even the full Epic Pass is just $783.

All of which is background to our conversation, in which I ask Day a pretty interesting question: how the hell have you grown Gunstock’s business amidst this incredibly challenging competitive marketplace?

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The Storm publishes year-round, and guarantees 100 articles per year. This is article 30/100 in 2024, and number 530 since launching on Oct. 13, 2019.

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