Top 5 Friday July 29 2022: Lead Image

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Top Five Fridays: July 29, 2022

Lead Image: For the last two years, business at New Hampshire’s Gunstock Mountain Resort has been booming. Within the last two weeks, the entire thing has become at risk of catastrophic failure. More on this in our first highlight this week. Image: Gunstock Mountain Resort on Facebook

#1: A Week After Gunstock’s Management Team Resigned Simultaneously, the Full Story Comes into Perspective:


See for yourself as the dramatic scene unfolded in which 6 major resignations occurred simultaneously at a recent meeting at Gunstock Mountain Resort.

Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the July 29, 2022 edition! This time around we’ve got another solid lineup of summer news, starting with a story that blew up the headlines last week. That story, in case you didn’t catch it, is the story of how the entire upper management team at New Hampshire’s Gunstock Mountain Resort resigned simultaneously, immediately shutting down summer operations and resulting in massive questions for the future of the area.

When this story first broke last week, we had a choice to make: should we share it, or not? Ultimately we decided not to because it felt like a heated situation that we weren’t able to fully understand or appreciate as outsiders. That consideration, coupled with the fact that we have strong readership in the New Hampshire area who most certainly has a better grasp on the situation at hand, made us hesitant to share a story that we knew would be a hot topic. This week though, StormSkiing.com published an extremely detailed article? that paints a much broader picture of the situation than publications did last week, giving us a much better idea of the entirety of the story. As such, we’ve decided that it’s something we should share here as it has both regional importance as well as underlying themes regarding the dynamics of a ski area’s relationship to its community. To properly tell this story, we need to start with the background information that was provided to us this week by StormSkiing.com.

Gunstock ski area is the 7th largest ski area in New Hampshire, and is owned by Belknap County. In 1959, the New Hampshire legislature created the Gunstock Area Commission (GAC) to “manage” the resort. In the years since then, that’s essentially worked out to mean that the GAC is in charge of hiring senior level managers to operate the mountain, but GAC members have very little to do in the way of daily operations. The financial history of the resort has been up and down in the way that many small or midsize resorts have been in recent decades, meaning that in its early years things were great, but in more recent years the county found itself subsidizing the business with loans. Then, in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit, the GAC hired Tom Day to manage the resort. Under his leadership business boomed. Rather than requiring an annual loan from the county, Day was able to make the resort extremely profitable, raising annual income from $12 million per year to $18 million annually in the span of just two years. In doing so, the ski area was able to build cash reserves of $7.5 million. Buoyed by the financial success, the resort put together plans for significant development, including a full renovation of the base lodge and a master plan that would add 31 trails and two lifts to the resort, leveraging the neighboring abandoned Alpine Ridge ski resort and nearly doubling the skiable acreage of the resort. Under that plan, Gunstock would have gone from the 7th largest ski area in New Hampshire to the second, as measured by skiable acreage. In fact, the resort was doing so well that in addition to these plans, it even began repaying its loans to Belknap county, including a $375,000 payment last year.

Then at the start of this year, two new commissioners joined the board and decided to try their hand at running the resort. Progress on lodge renovations were put on hold, despite the fact that $400,000 had already been spent on the project. The commission demanded the formation of a new Snowsports Committee, despite the fact that the ski school’s revenue had increased an astonishing 40% in the previous year. They requested contact information for every employee (an action which Day shot down), approvals for every expense, and an audit of the resort’s finances. In other words, despite the fact that the ski resort was greatly exceeding everyone’s wildest expectations under Day’s leadership, as well as a decades long understanding regarding the roles of the commission and the management teams, the two new commissioners decided that they needed to be the ones in charge.

Ultimately this all came to a head in a meeting two weeks ago when the GAC decided to seat the resort’s management team with the public rather than at the front of the room alongside them. As a result, five members of the management team resigned on the spot, as did GAC member Gary A. Kiedaisch who let his fellow committee members know how disgusted he was with their actions. Now, the resort is in an extremely difficult position. Most summer operations have been halted and with preparations for winter looming, the GAC is in dire need of hiring an entire management team to run the resort for the upcoming winter. The problem is, finding a competent team to take on the challenge now that this falling out has become public will no doubt prove to be extremely challenging. On top of that, pass holders and the public have largely taken the side of Day and his management team as the mountain’s turn around under his leadership has been obvious. For now, that’s the story as it’s unfolding at Gunstock, told as concisely as we could. If you’d like to read the long form version, which we highly recommend doing, head over to StormSkiing.com.

#2: Vail’s Development Woes Continue as the U.S. Forest Services Halts Progress in Keystone’s Bergman Bowl:


Top Five Fridays July 29, 2022: Bergman Bowl Development Plan

A look at the proposed development plan for Keystone's Bergman Bowl area. Click here for a larger version. Image: Vail Daily

Also in ski resort news this week is yet another story that must be extremely frustrating for upper management at Vail, although for good reason. This week, the U.S. Forest Service issued a cease and desist to Keystone Resort in regards to their ongoing development of the Bergman Bowl area. The move comes as a result of construction crews at Keystone building an unauthorized access road in a high alpine zone containing fragile vegetation. Sounds pretty damning for Vail, right? Well, it’s certainly a bad look for the resort, but deeper within this story there actually are a few redeeming facts to be aware of before jumping down Vail’s throat. The first point that should be mentioned here is that Vail self-reported the violation, meaning that someone on their management team let the Forest Service know that they’d gone rogue, despite being well aware that doing so would put a halt to this massive project. Additionally, the misguided road seems to have come about due to miscommunication with the construction crew, and not as a result of Vail attempting to ignore the authorizations they were given. In other words, it sounds like it was an honest mistake, and one that Vail officials immediately owned up to upon learning of the situation.

As a result of this week’s news, progress on developing Keystone’s Bergman Bowl area has been stopped indefinitely. While there are questions about the future of the projects from both sides, the main goal for both Vail and the U.S. Forest Service for now is to put together a plan to revegetate the distrubed area. Due to the fact that this high alpine area is home to a fragile environment, the restoration process is likely to be both lengthy and costly. Despite the challenges, both the U.S. Forest Service and Vail Resorts agree that it is up to Vail to create and implement a plan to fix the environmental damage as quickly as possible. Once that’s complete, the U.S. Forest Service will review the approved development plan, compare it to what actually happened, and only then determine whether or not the project will be able to resume.

While Vail has done an admirable job of remedying the situation that they’ve created, the news is a second massive blow to the company’s Epic Lift Upgrade plans. When plans to develop Bergman Bowl were first announced, we touted the development as the highlight of the campaign. Now, with this project on hold, as well as the lift upgrades at Park City being blocked by city planners, two of Vail’s most notable lift upgrades have been stopped. Making matters worse, so too were there plans to develop additional employee housing in Vail. While none of these issues are insurmountable for the corporation, we can only imagine how high tensions are at their corporate offices in Broomfield, CO, as it’s been a frustrating summer following a frustrating winter. For more on this week’s news, check out the writeup from Vail Daily.

#3: As the World Heats Up, Europe’s Glaciers Abbreviate Their Seasons:


Top Five Fridays July 29, 2022: Zermatt Glacier Image

Scenes from the Zermatt glacier, during snowier times. Currently, the area is undergoing a heatwave and area operators have elected to temporarily close the glacier for the first time in decades in order to preserve the quality of the snow. Image: Zermatt Matterhorn on Facebook

In yet even more ski resort news this week, we caught the unfortunate update that Zermatt has unfortunately been forced to cease summer operations due to warm temperatures and rapid snowmelt. The high elevation European glacier, which has been open year round for decades (besides a stretch of pandemic related closures in 2020), announced that it will be temporarily shutting down its operations, effective as of today. While the glacier hopes to reopen as soon as weather conditions allow, the fact that it has to close at all is startling. Adding shock value to this already disheartening story is the fact that other typical European summer ski destinations are enduring the same difficulties. France’s Val d’Isere opted out of opening in June, while Tignes and Les 2 Alpes, also of France, were both forced to close shortly after opening for summer operations. Similar fates have befallen Italy’s Passo Stelvio, Switzerland’s Saas Fee, and Austria’s Molltal glacier, all of which have either been forced to close or didn’t attempt to open for the summer. In fact, Austria’s Hintertux is currently the only glacier in Europe that’s been able to remain open as planned, although reports from there suggest that operations may need to end prematurely as well. Unfortunately, there’s really no upside to this update. Yes, indoor ski areas have seen an increase in business as ski racing camps that would typically operate on a glacier have had to make alternate plans, however it goes without saying that this doesn’t qualify as a silver lining. Instead, this story is just another reminder that climate change is very real, and that our industry is in the crosshairs. For more on this, check out the report from Snow-Forecast.com.

#4: Europe’s Largest Dry Slope Ski Area Finally Opens in Ukraine, Despite War With Russia:


Top Five Fridays July 29, 2022: Vynnyky Dry Slope Image

At Ukraine’s Vynnyky ski area, the slopes have been covered in dry slope, allowing guests to ski year round. Image: InTheSnow.com

Finally, we end this week on a high note as we share a cool story coming out of the Ukraine where the world’s largest dry slope ski area has just opened for business. Vynnyky ski resort, located in Western Ukraine and a part of the 5-star Hotel Emily, was originally slated to open its dry slope offering earlier this year before the Russian invasion caused them to put plans on hold. Now, months later, the resort has begun running its lifts, making it officially the home of Europe’s largest dry slope ski resort. On the summer slopes of Vynnyky, guests are able to explore four slopes, one of which is designated for summer tubing. To complete the task, German dry slope company Skitrax installed 19,000 of their m2 dry slope panels, resulting in a combined length of 1,190m of dry slope terrain. What’s most interesting to us however, isn’t the size of the dry slope ski area, but the fact that it exists on a ski area that operates in the winter as well. In other words, with this conversion, Vynnyky now offers year round skiing, regardless of weather or availability of snow. In a day and age where ski resorts are consistently diversifying their offering to appeal to different customer bases, as well as increasingly unreliable weather patterns, the idea of using dry slope to offer year round skiing is thought provoking at the very least. To learn more about this, check out the report from InTheSnow.com.

#5: And Now, Your Edits of the Week: Enjoy Ski Mathematics as Beau-James Wells & Friends Make 2+2=5:


Is This the Most Laid Back Alaskan Ski Edit of All Time? Probably:


Finally, Learn More About Tom Wallisch’s Pennsylvanian Roots:


Written by Matt McGinnis on 07/29/22

One thought on “Top Five Fridays: July 29, 2022

  1. Midwest skiing - Leaser of Granite Peak (Wausau, WI) buys Big Snow in Upper Michigan! Changes to Big Snow? higher priced tickets? better grooming? more and better snow making? only time will tell!

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