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.
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.
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.