Dare 2b + RootsRated present   An Insider’s Guide to the best Northeast Winter Resorts
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Gunstock Mountain Resort

Gilford, NH

Gunstock offers great skiing and amazing views. It’s the perfect spot for downhillers looking to get the most bang for their buck.

Resort Skiing

A bluebird day at Gunstock Mountain Resort
A bluebird day at Gunstock Mountain Resort Gunstock Mountain Resort

Vertical drops and waterfront views are not the usual pairing. Then again, it’s also rare to find mountain terrain juxtaposed with panoramic views of one of New England’s most picturesque lakes. Gunstock Mountain Resort, in Gilford, NH, manages to pull that one off with aplomb.

While neither New Hampshire’s biggest nor brawniest ski area, Gunstock is one where the glitz tends to get left behind. Gunstock makes the most out of its 1,400-foot vertical drop and 55 trails. There’s also a friendly home-town feel to the mountain and its 227 acres, along with its historic base lodge that was built in 1937.

Skiing at Gunstock—especially on trails like Flintlock, for intermediate skiers—gives you the sense that you are skiing down into Lake Winnipesaukee. With the backdrop of the White Mountains and Mount Washington, this is as close as it gets in the Northeast to skiing Lake Tahoe.

The view of mostly frozen Lake Winnipesaukee from the top of Gunstock Michelle

Not being glitzy doesn’t mean Gunstock is stuck in the past. Major upgrades over the last decade, like the Panorama Quad, whisks passengers to Gunstock’s summit and offers up the stunning views of the 21-mile-long Lake Winnipesauke, the Ossipee Range, and the White Mountains—all things that skiers and snowboarders at Gunstock will remember and continue talking about for months and years to come.

A favorite run for many returning to Gunstock is Recoil—a classic New England trail with wide, sweeping turns. Usually perfectly groomed, it’s that kind of first-run that longtime skiers treasure for warming up the legs and newer skiers would do well to learn. A run down Recoil will set the stage for the rest of your day. And again, with much of Gunstock’s trails, every turn seems to deliver an even better view than the previous one.

Considered a middle-sized ski mountain by New Hampshire’s measurements, downhillers will find varied terrain that includes a number of short, steep trails, on the mountain’s east-facing front. There are also a number of glades—open when the availability of natural snow permits (like the winter of 2014-15 provided)—which will challenge the skill level of upper-end skiers. Gunstock’s niche, however, is the beginner through intermediate skier, by-and-large.

Nearly two thirds of Gunstock’s trails are in what they call their “fast-cruiser” range, with a blue diamond designation indicating “more difficult” (as opposed to “easiest”). The Gunsmoke trail, for instance, would be one of those middle-range trails that Gunstock is renowned for.

From the peak, follow Gunsmoke over its varied terrain. Early in the day you’ll probably be able to ski it in one shot. It’s one of those old-school New England ski trails, with broad open shots to the bottom and a few narrow, twisty turns mixed in to make it interesting.

The “most difficult” runs, designated as black diamond, are Hotshot and Upper Recoil—fun trails for accomplished intermediates, on up. Flintlock Extension and Cannonball are other runs suited for experienced skiers that are essentially just straight shots down the right face of the mountain.

If you are just getting started on skis or on your board and want to graduate from the bunny hill to something more challenging, Sidearm—off the Pistol double chair—is a nice, long beginner’s trail that will keep you coming back and working on developing your skills.

Skiing Trigger, off the summit, will test your higher-end intermediate skills, especially halfway down. Both Tiger and Cannonball have consistently steep pitches top to bottom, but they are not as long as the summit trails.

gunstock night skiing

Night skiing at Gunstock is a special treat. Gunstock

Night skiing is immensely popular at Gunstock. The mountain stays open till 10:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 9:00pm on Tuesdays through Thursdays. If you’ve never done the night-skiing thing before, Gunstock does it up right with 21 lighted runs—which is slightly less than half its total terrain. Skiing at night is almost ethereal, especially on nights when there’s a bright moon and few shadows. The one caveat is that the night trails tend to be the more difficult ones.

If you’re not a “morning person” and can’t hit the slopes first thing, Gunstock allows you the option of putting in an eight to ten-hour ski day if you want, if your legs don’t give out on your, first. The resort offers a variety of value-based deals for night-skiers

The lit up slopes are a favorite with snowboarders. The lower lifts takes them to the fully-lighted Blundersmoke freestyle park, replete with jumps and ramps, and 12 acres of terrain park madness. Oh, and freestyle skiers are welcome, also.

When you want to take a break from the mountain, Gunstock’s main lodge and base camp lodge are terrific. They are clean and offer a variety of food options and amenities. The Powder Keg Bar and Grille and Pistol Pub also provide a positive apres-ski atmosphere with drinks for adults and pub-style food.

In an age where bling is often the norm, this isn’t a fancy “look at me and my expensive gear and apparel” kind of mountain. But if bang-for-your-buck and a place closer to home are important, then Gunstock is your go-to mountain.

Side-Country Skiing

—Tom Ryan
—Tom Ryan

Vertical drops juxtaposed with waterfront views make skiing amazing at Gunstock Mountain Resort. Many veterans who have skied New England and the ski mountains in the West agree that Gunstock rivals any of them. From the summit, New Hampshire’s showpiece Lake Winnipesaukee is revealed in all her frozen beauty.

Glade and above-treeline runs continue to be sought after options for skiers and boarders looking for terrain beyond the marked trails and maddening crowds. This is often where superior powder can be found… when nature chooses to cooperate, of course.

These might be open slopes, runs that are studded with graceful birch trees and plenty of room for turns, or snaky trails where the placement of trees determines where you get to go.

Gun-powder
Powder day at Gunstock. Gunstock

While not as abundant as they are at some of the more well-known resorts to the north and east, Gunstock still has a handful of glades—with more planned in the future. These are open when the availability of natural snow permits (like the winter of 2014-15 provided).

Gunstock’s four glade trail options for open, deep powder skiing are varied. Parallax allows you to get out into the birch and pines and off the heavily-skied trails on the mountain. The Recoil Glades can be reached by following Upper Recoil from the peak; the trail is shielded from the wind, and the tree cover (minus their leaves) allow natural snow to accumulate. Gunpowder is a double-diamond trail, a rarity on a mountain that is mainly intermediate-level in difficulty.

If Nordic skiing is your thing, the Gunstock Mountain Resort XC provides a full-service cross-country and snowshoe hub right on the mountain. With 50 kilometers of track-set, skate, and backcountry trails, levels run the gamut from beginners through advanced Nordic practitioners. Singletrack snowshoe trails are available to take you deep into the woods nearby, and their Saturday night snowshoe hikes remain popular with resort-goers.

The center has ski touring equipment to rent, as well as private instruction. They even provide pulk sleds to carry babies and toddlers. These are easily pulled along by a skier.

For something totally different, how about trying skijoring? Hands-free skiing harnessed to your dog! Lessons are available.

If you want to test your off-the-grid backcountry skills, the Belknap Range (the range Gunstock Mountain is part of) might be the place to go. This is a rugged 11.7 mile point-to-point trail located near Gilford that is considered difficult and is used year-round by hikers, cross-country ski aficionados, and snowshoers.

If driving an hour isn’t an issue, Mount Cardigan, or “Old Baldy,” as it’s sometimes called, is a hilly network of trails geared to intermediate or better backcountry skiers.

From Meredith, pick up NH-104 and it’s a straight shot west. Directions are available at the Appalachian Mountain Club website.

Winter outdoor adventures require precautions. Always remember that winter trail conditions can change rapidly. When off-resort, it’s best to plan ahead and be prepared. Whether on skis or snowshoes, keep in mind that weather, temperature changes, and less daylight are all things to plan for. Higher elevations require certain equipment. Snowshoes with crampons or skins for backcountry skis are required. Water, some energy snacks, a guidebook (like one of the AMC guide books), map, matches or lighter, and a flashlight with extra batteries are essentials for your pack. Make sure someone knows your plans and when you are expected back.

gunstock
Gunstock

For something in-between the resort experience of Gunstock and the demanding Belknap Range Trail and Mount Cardigan, Wolfeboro XC serves up 30 kilometers of ungroomed backcountry skiing in and around Wolfeboro, many of which takes you near the eastern shores of the frozen Lake Winnipesaukee.

Wolfeboro is a worthwhile destination if lodging for the weekend in Gilford, Laconia, or a neighboring town. Or, you might even consider staying in Wolfebore itself, as it is a classic New England village—considered by many to be New Hampshire’s most upscale, yet compact resort town. It was also voted “XC Village of the Lakes Region” in 2012, by New Hampshire Magazine, and the trails range from gently-sloped novice ones to those with “screaming descents for thrill seekers.”

Perhaps most enticing of all for winter sports enthusiasts is the fact that Wolfeboro regularly receives more than 100 inches of snow. In the winter of 2014-2015, for example, it received 102.

Also in Wolfeboro is the Abenaki Ski Area, the oldest small ski area in the country and one of the 10 oldest overall. It offers both downhill and Nordic skiing, including a 30 kilometer network with snowmaking capability.

Given Gunstock’s accessibility, some glade skiing options, and a host of choices tending to the Nordic side of skiing, Gunstock Mountain Resort has a lot to offer. And if you are feeling adventurous and up for some backcountry skiing or snowshoeing, there are some great places to try not too far from where you’ll be staying.

Family

Family skiing at Gunstock Mountain Resort--Rob Bossi
Family skiing at Gunstock Mountain Resort--Rob Bossi

Stunning views from the top of the mountain commend Gunstock Mountain Resort to skiers of all stripes and types. Combine this with an old-school approach to downhill skiing and snowboarding, as well as a number of other winter activities and a commitment to both locals and out-of-towners alike, and you have yourself a New England resort with all the right family-friendly ingredients. And of course, being in the heart of a four-season recreational area that’s only two hours from Boston doesn’t hurt Gunstock’s popularity either.

Like many area ski areas, Gunstock underwent a major modernization and makeover in the mid-1980s. An initial investment of $10 million brought changes in the lift network, as well as widening and reworking of many of the mountain’s trails. Then, about 10 years ago, another $13 million increased snowmaking capacity and added a quad chairlift that cut ride times to the top of the mountain in half.

Gunstock Family Fun
Family fun at Gunstock. Gunstock

These are features that have enhanced Gunstock’s value for families with a budget-conscious focus towards their skiing experiences.

With other New Hampshire resorts increasingly marketing to destination skiers and families from afar, Gunstock continues to attract a mix of locals and day-trippers from an hour or two away. The fact that you’ll always find snow on the mountain is a real plus too, and it has helped bring back families for repeat winter visits.

Considered a middle-sized ski mountain by New Hampshire’s standards, downhillers will find 227 acres of varied terrain and some short, steep trails on the mountain’s east-facing front. There are also a number of glades—open when the availability of natural snow permits (like the winter of 2014-15 provided)—which will challenge the skill level of upper-end skiers.

But Gunstock’s niche still remains geared toward the beginner through intermediate skiers.

As most people can attest to, initiating young skiers into the sport of skiing can sometimes be a rather daunting task. Luckily, Gunstock has several learn-to-ski programs, like their Base Camp program, with specifically designed half and full day programs for each age group beginning at three-years-old and up.

For first time skiers or snowboarders age 6 or older, Gunstock offers the nationally recognized and award-winning instruction program, Mountain Magic. Based on a concept of terrain-based learning and putting beginners and novices on specially constructed rollers, berms, and mini-halfpipes, the program is designed to help newcomers get a feeling for what it will be like live on the hill and use their natural movements to shift skis or snowboards from edge to edge. Included in this is a package are Head rental skis or Burton snowboards, lift tickets, and group instruction from patient and passionate instructors.

Another popular lesson option are private lessons that allow parents and children to bond on the slopes together. With one-hour private lessons, your child will gain skills, and you will be then be able to ski with your child between lessons. The lessons are available daily at 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Parents must be a lower mountain skier or better.

Gunstock Family TUbing
Family tubing fun at Gunstock. Gunstock

Another thing Gunstock has going for it in terms of appealing to the whole family is its main lodge. Built in 1937, this historic building is home to a three-story fireplace with lots of tables, basic supplementary food, as well as lockers, and basket storage, and it’s the perfect place to decompress after a morning or afternoon of downhill activities. If your family requires something more, the Cobble Mountain Food Court offers many quick serve eating options—both hot and cold. Just want to warm up? Grab a cup of coffee (or a hot chocolate for the kids) and settle in by the fire.

There’s also the Stockade Lodge located just below the Ramrod Quad. This allows easy access to the mountain and maximizes ski time, while also providing options like pizza, chili, or hot dogs and fries to fuel-up midday.

What happens if some of your family love to ski and snowboard, and the others, not so much? Well, Gunstock has plenty of ancillary options. Gunstock’s Thrill Hill Tubing Park boasts the longest tubing run in New Hampshire, stretching out to 1,068 feet. The park has its own handle tow lift, too—this allows you to remain perched on your tube, while being pulled back up the hill. Then down you go again, choosing one of four different chutes.

Fans of fat bikes—bikes with wide, over-sized tires perfect for riding on snow or icy terrain—will appreciate having access to 32 miles of cross country trails for riding, and Gunstock has rentals available if need be.

With easy access from Southern New England, a mountain suited for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities, and a longtime tradition of offering great value, Gunstock Mountain Resort is, and will continue to be, a go-to destination for families of all kinds.

Après Ski

Patrick’s Pub and Eatery is a favorite with locals and Gunstock skiers—Jim Baumer photo
Patrick’s Pub and Eatery is a favorite with locals and Gunstock skiers—Jim Baumer photo

Its location in the heart of a major four-season recreation area that includes Meredith, Weirs Beach, and Lake Winnipesaukee makes Gunstock Mountain Resort a fantastic place for skiers and snowboarders looking for things to do after a long day on the slope.

In the beginning, après-ski culture was born out of the need for a place to warm up and dry damp ski gear (in that time before Gore-Tex and tech-based performance gear). Likely, this took place in front of a crackling fire, and there was a libation involved. Fast forward to today, and our post-ski rituals aren’t that far removed.

Gunstock apres-ski
Chilling out after a day on the slopes. Gunstock

After spending a day traversing Gunstock’s 55 trails, or riding up and over its 12 acres of terrain madness, there’s nothing better than heading to the main lodge to find refuge from the elements and to enjoy good food in good company. The historic building, built in 1937, has that classic three-story fireplace with a crackling fire, and it’s the perfect locale for families and friends to gather and swap stories from the day.

The Pistol Pub is a favorite within the resort. A traditional pub, hearkening back to what was common at ski areas 20 years ago for mountainside après-ski, the pub has standard items like burgers, nachos, and panini sandwiches, as well as a full bar. You’re likely to find live entertainment on weekends, too.

Gunstock’s address places it in the town of Gilford, one of those picturesque New England towns with church steeples and many houses that date back to Revolutionary War times. There are also a handful of dining options in Gilford as well as a couple of bed and breakfasts and hotels.

One of them is the Gunstock Inn & Resort. A colonial-style inn with 25 rooms, the new owners have been systematically updating their property. Standout features include a rustic fireplace and the indoor Olympic-sized saltwater pool for swimming out the kinks and relaxing after a day of pounding the slopes.

The inn has their own restaurant, Schuster’s Tavern. Here you’ll find pizza, burgers, sandwiches, as well as an in-house NY Strip steak. Gunstock Inn & Resort and Schuster’s are also only a half-mile down the road from the main entrance to the mountain, the closest accommodations, or après-ski opportunities at Gunstock.

Given the resort’s popularity as a day-skiing destination, lodging may not be as important as places to find good food and drink. Luckily, you’ll find several worthwhile spots in the surrounding communities bordering main thoroughfares like Route 3 or NH-11, or even 11A.

Gunstock apres ski
Sing a little song at Gunstock. gunstock

If headed back to points north or south, Patrick’s Pub & Eatery, in Gilford, is a recommended place to stop. This Irish-styled pub—also a longtime Lakes Region standard—goes far beyond being your typical watering hole. There is a daily Happy Hour from 4:00 to 6:00 with select drink specials and $1 off drafts. Sundays, it runs all day. Plus, there’s live music Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. On weekends, you’ll find a nice mix of out-of-town skiers and locals intermingling.

Laconia, a mere 10 miles away has a number of restaurants to choose from. During the winter months when much of the Weirs Beach summer tourist places are closed, it’s also one of the best options for overnight accommodations. Even if you are near the mountain, Laconia will only entail a 10-15 mile ride for drinks and dinner. Or, there’s also the popular option of staying there and then driving over to Gunstock in the morning for your skiing.

Tavern 27 in Laconia sports a menu centered on tapas and other creative fare like chickpea fries and Scotch egg, along with pinchos (various chicken skewers). They serve up huge salads with the greens being locally-sourced and organic (if available). Many of the items are gluten-free. If you want a steak or pizza, they have that too. Their Blueberry mojito gets rave reviews. Located in a historic 1781 home, Tavern 27 is a great choice for winding down after a long day skiing.

While it’s a chain restaurant, T-Bones Great American Eatery/Cactus Jack’s fits the bill for après-ski, whether feeding a brood of hungry kids or teenagers, or bellying up to the bar for drinks by yourself or with friends. On a winter weekend, this combo restaurant can get pretty crowded.

Whether you’re winding down your day at or near Gunstock, or even if you are staying in one of the surrounding towns, there are a number of cozy places for unwinding, with good food, drinks, and even some live music after that last run. Sit by a fire, saunter up to the bar for drinks and appetizers, or sample a full-blown menu at one of the suggested eateries, and savor the best of what Gunstock Mountain Resort and the surrounding area has to offer.

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