Walkouts, Resignations, Wild Accusations: A Timeline of Gunstock’s Implosion
Emergency public meeting of Gunstock Area Commissioners set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31
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[This article has been updated to reflect the events of the Sunday, July 31 GAC meeting and the Monday, Aug. 1 Belknap County Delegation meeting.]
Let’s take stock at Gunstock
It’s getting hard to keep up. Since my story last Sunday about the mass resignation of Gunstock’s senior management team, the situation in New Hampshire has only gotten more twisted and bizarre. State representative Mike Sylvia leaked a check that showed General Manager Tom Day had donated $500 in ski area funds to New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu’s re-election campaign. Gunstock Area Commission (GAC) chairman Peter Ness, one of two commissioners aligned against Gunstock management, resigned. Doug Kiedaisch, the commissioner who had resigned in solidarity with management at the July 20 meeting, withdrew his resignation, saying it had never been accepted. Meanwhile, Gunstock remained closed and continued to shed employees, with at least three mid-level managers and six front-line employees submitting two-weeks’ notice. Yesterday, Commissioner David Strang – the other aligned against management – issued a statement saying he would not resign and calling for an emergency meeting at 1:30 today. Remarkably, he also stated that he supported the immediate return of Day and Facility Operations Director Patrick McGonagle.
Wow. It’s been hard to keep up. The Storm, frankly, was not built for this sort of hyper-active breaking news event. It is primarily a vehicle of punditry and analysis. What original reporting I do tends to be in support of larger industry narratives, like this story I wrote last November about Jay Peak and Whitefish keeping lift ticket prices below triple digits, or conversations with Crystal Mountain, Washington CEO Frank DeBerry and local passholders about the mountain’s huge season pass price jump. Local news organizations, staffed by local reporters with local contacts, are best equipped to attack complex, rapidly evolving stories like the madness engulfing Gunstock.
And, indeed, the pros at The Laconia Daily Sun and InDepthNH.org have been absolutely crushing it with their coverage of this story. Many other local outlets have provided valuable coverage as well. New Hampshire, fortunately, seems to have weathered the shift to digital media better than many regions of the country. The state is home to strong legacy papers that continue to offer robust coverage. Why, I’m not exactly certain, but I can say this: there’s no use in me trying to compete. I think The Storm’s best contribution to this whole mess, for today, is to consolidate all of this excellent coverage into a timeline recapping how we got here.
First, the players:
And here’s the montage:
Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021
Gunstock management, led by Day, unveil $54.5 million masterplan that would eventually double the resort’s size, adding 31 trails, 198 acres of terrain, and three new lifts, including two high-speed quads. GAC is supportive and mountain is riding momentum of two years of strong and growing season pass sales and overall revenue under Day’s leadership.
Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022 – GAC Meeting
GAC votes to move ahead with masterplan, with Wood, McLear, and Kiedaisch voting “yes” and Ness voting “no.”
Monday, Jan. 31, 2022
Meeting held to select new GAC commissioner. Belknap County Delegation selects Dr. David Strang, an ER doctor who, according to the Boston Globe, signed a 2020 letter “arguing that New Hampshire should secede and become a ‘Free and Independent State.’”
Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 – GAC Meeting
White reports that Gunstock season pass sales increased from 5,400 for 2020-21 to 7,800 for 2021-22, underscoring ski area’s business momentum.
Tuesday, March 1, 2022 – GAC Meeting
In Strang’s first meeting as commissioner, GAC halts all work on masterplan, based on “significant encumbrances, restrictions, critical limitations and prohibitions on the use of land upon which the ski area currently operates and proposed element of the so-called ‘Master Plan’ outside of the ski area’s current boundaries.”
Strang and Ness vote to stop approved CapEx spending, including Stockade Lodge improvements that Gunstock had already invested $400,000 into.
Wednesday, March 23, 2022 – GAC Meeting
McLear recuses himself while GAC sorts out whether he overstayed his term. Meeting proceeds with four commissioners: Ness, Strang, Wood, and Kiedaisch.
Ness elected GAC chair. Strang elected GAC vice-chair.
GAC unfreezes CapEx funds, except those for Stockade Lodge improvements.
GAC, upon recommendation of Ness, forms Legal Services Committee to “determine who will represent Gunstock or the GAC in legal issues.”
Ness also moves to form snowsports school committee “to oversee operational particulars”
Lambert, then a member of the public, made comments that seemed to question the logic of the masterplan expansion. “why grow if the profit is good?” he said.
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
Lambert sworn in as commissioner to replace McLear
Wednesday, April 20, 2022
Ness re-confirmed as GAC chair and Strang as vice-chair; Lambert confirmed as secretary
May - exact date unclear
GAC establishes audit committee. Day later tells The Storm Skiing Journal that the GAC seemed unaware that Gunstock already undergoes an annual independent audit that is always sent directly to the GAC, bypassing management.
Wednesday, May 18, 2022 – GAC Meeting
GAC votes that all Gunstock spending on legal services must be reviewed in monthly GAC meetings. Precedent had been that no expenses already in Gunstock annual budget needed special review.
Ness outlines six principles “that he believes will grow the ski school”; White counters that ski school revenue is up 40 percent year-over-year; GAC votes to authorize initial discussions between snowsports committee and Day/Ness.
Wednesday, June 22, 2022 – GAC Meeting
White reports that Gunstock’s “cash and cash equivalents” were $7.7 million, $184,000 over budget and $2.8 million more than at the same time in 2021. Annual revenue has reached $18.5 million, up from $12 million prior to Day’s arrival.
GAC agrees on alternate plan to salvage Stockade Lodge remodel.
White and Ness clash over purpose of GAC audit committee, which paused annual independent audit of ski area finances.
Ness and Day clash over Ness’ request for personal contact information for every Gunstock employee.
GAC asks Day who runs the ski area. Day responds, “I do.” Commissioner Strang counters, “No, the GAC runs the ski area.”
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
Gunstock senior management resign en masse after GAC seats them in the audience, rather than their customary arrangement alongside the commissioners. All give two weeks’ notice. Kiedaisch also resigns. Day says, “It seems there’s a lot more control that wants to come from your side of it, so I feel that my role here is diminished.”
Wood follows management into the parking lot, tells them they “did a fantastic job,” and that she was unaware of the new seating arrangement and “never would have cooperated with that gesture.” Lambert “appears baffled” that management would “through [their] career away simply because of where I’m sitting.” Public in attendance takes mostly hostile posture toward GAC following management resignations.
Minutes of non-public session following public meeting indicates GAC accepts resignations; Ness explicitly says “this action was not a termination.”
Thursday, July 21, 2022
Senior management team arrives at Gunstock and finds sheriff’s deputies onsite to supervise them as they clean out their offices; locksmith is changing locks to their doors.
Employees ignore Lambert’s calls to “continue with your normal day.” Contentious meeting follows, devolves into shouting match between Ness and the crowd, and several employees walk out.
Gunstock releases statement that Adventure Park will be closed until further notice, saying that GAC had “attempted to assert a business-as-usual approach to the resort’s summer operations” but that “middle management unanimously decided to suspend operations … while staff recalibrates.” As of July 31, the Adventure Park remained closed.
GAC releases statement saying that its “objectives are to remain open, continue employment of valuable staff, provide guests with exceptional experiences and fulfill the GAC’s obligations to the taxpayers by securing financial stability of the Gunstock Mountain Resort.”
Day and other members of the Gunstock senior management team state they will consider returning to the mountain only if Ness and Strang are removed from GAC.
Governor Sununu – whose family still owns Waterville Valley – sends open letter blasting GAC’s “unability [sic] and unwillingness to work collaboratively with the management team at Gunstock.” The letter indicated that Day and his team “would always have opportunities with our Parks Department and Cannon Mountain,” which the State of New Hampshire owns.
Silber insists that “a new general manager will be hired” and that “there’s a possibility that the property will be leased,” continuing his longstanding push to privatize the ski area. In open letter, Silber also calls resignations “the result of a well-orchestrated and well-financed campaign of disinformation to divert attention from soon to be release reports from the financial and legal auditors engaged by the Gunstock Area Commission, which reports are expected to be very damaging to the reputations of the resigned commissioner, many of the resigned former staff, and the governor himself.” Also adds bizarre allusions to George Soros.
Kiedaisch tells The Boston Globe “Gunstock is in trouble. It lost its management team, and it’s now being run by a bunch of commissioners who know nothing about ski area operation. If you’re a Gunstock skier, it’s like you’re walking onto an airplane and being told that your pilot has never flown before.”
Sunday, July 24, 2022
Day tells The Storm Skiing Journal: “I’ve never seen anything like this” in his four decades in the ski industry, and says that he had to take a stand in the name of “honesty, integrity, and respect.”
Monday, July 25, 2022
Sylvia tells InDepthNH.org that he plans to convene a delegation meeting “no sooner than mid-September” to replace Kiedaisch
In Depth NH reports that a group called Citizens for Belknap, made up of “a group of citizens from across the political spectrum” is organizing to oust the Belknap County delegation, which they say is a bastion of “runaway extremism,” in this fall’s elections.
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Hundreds of people, the majority of whom appeared to support Gunstock’s former management team, attend contentious public GAC meeting at Gunstock lodge. Lambert publicly expresses support for Day and team, saying it would be “an impossible task” to replace them in time to get Gunstock open for ski season, and calls for Ness and Strang to resign. Strang, Ness walk out of meeting.
Gunstock mid-level management submit letter to GAC stating that they do not believe they can operate the Panorama high-speed quad for Soul Fest without a GM, as “there is a concern as to who is the responsible party for the operation of the lift and insuring that we are in compliance with state code.” Soul Fest officials are reportedly “not happy about this.”
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
Kiedaisch withdraws GAC resignation, saying it “has not been accepted or confirmed” by the GAC or the Belknap County Delegation; says Lambert and Wood’s support for management at Tuesday’s meeting drove decision.
Belknap County Board of Commissioners releases statement calling for “immediate resignation” of Ness and Strang.
Belknap County Board of Commissioners also writes letter asking Formella to oversee $7 million in Gunstock’s bank account and investigate conduct of Ness and Strang.
Sylvia releases copy of $500 check from Gunstock ski area and made out to Friends of Chris Sununu, signed by Day on Sept. 18, 2020. Sylvia says that “using public dollars to support a political campaign is clearly improper and possible violation of law.”
Day counters that Gunstock revenue is not “public money” because the ski resort is a self-sustaining entity. Day: “We are a for-profit entity that has a donation line item in our budget and we donate to different things to promote Gunstock and promote the area and promote skiing in general. We generate our own revenue and this donation does not affect Belknap County residents because we don't take Belknap County money.”
Sylvia calls meeting for Monday, Aug. 8 to appoint replacement for Kiedaisch.
Sununu calls for Ness and Strang’s ouster; calls Sylvia, Hough, Silber “crazy with a ‘c’” and says they “don’t believe in government” or “anything the Republican party stands for.”
Thursday, July 28, 2022
Gunstock middle management confirms that Soul Fest will go on as scheduled for 8,000 attendees and 75 artists and speakers. Do not confirm whether chairlift will operate.
Laconia Daily Sun reports that at least three mid-level managers and six front-line employees had resigned within the previous eight days.
Sun also reports that Wood and Lambert had been on-site daily to work with staff; Ness and Strang have not been to the mountain other than for the GAC meeting, and Ness’ appearance the day after the resignations.
Friday, July 29, 2022
Wood and Lambert threaten to resign at 5 p.m. if delegation does not remove Strang by then. No action is taken and neither resign.
Remaining Gunstock management team submit open letter calling on Strang to resign.
Saturday, July 30, 2022
Sunday, July 31, 2022
Strang calls emergency public meeting of GAC. Main agenda item is “motion to rehire GMR staff.”
At meeting, Strang says, “If I were to resign right now, you would not even be able to adjourn this meeting,” but agrees to resign if Belknap County Commission appoints new commissioner. Bean calls on Strang to resign, saying “We have the votes to call for an emergency meeting of the county delegation to remedy this situation and reopen the mountain immediately.” GAC, with Strang in dissent, votes to rehire entire management team upon Strang’s removal or resigntation. Gunstock management team all submitted signed statements promising to return upon Strang’s removal.
Belknap County Commission calls emergency meeting for 7 p.m. ET on Monday, Aug. 1. Agenda includes a vote to remove Strang for cause, appoint a temporary replacement commissioner, and accept resignations of Ness and Kiedaisch.
Monday, Aug. 1, 2022
Sylvia challenges legality of Belknap County Commission meeting, claiming that only the chair (him), has the authority to call emergency meetings. County Attorney Andrew Livernois releases letter stating meeting is legal and may proceed.
Belknap County Commission vote 9-1 to remove Strang. Vote 6-4 to appoint Denise Conroy as replacement commissione for Kiedaisch.
Wow, Guys, maybe running a ski area isn’t so easy after all. More to come.
After the subscriber jump: a big oops shuts down Keystone lift project, why are paved parking lots so rare in skiing?, the most important offseason ski area infrastructure project in New England, a lost ski area goes back on the market, and more.