February school vacation week found my wife Dyan and our kids, Ben (13) and Emma (15), loaded with ski gear and rolling north for a long weekend in central New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, more specifically, Gunstock Mountain Resort in the Winnipesaukee lakeside town of Gilford.
Just 90 minutes from Boston, Gunstock has long been known as a family-friendly ski destination. However, what I did not expect was the many “non-ski” activities the resort offers. More on that later.
At 2,240 feet, Gunstock is the second highest peak in the Belknap Range, which forms an eight-mile arc from Gilford to Alton, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. Originally part of the Belknap Mountain Recreation Area, Gunstock Resort was born during the Great Depression as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Works Progress Administration. In the 1930s, the Belknap County Legislature took advantage of six-to-one matching federal funds to realize the Belknap Mountain recreation project, which for nearly three years employed hundreds of laborers, some traveling from as far away as Boston. As part of the project, Gunstock Mountain Resort became one of the earliest Eastern ski resorts (the resort lays claim to the first chairlift in the East).
After buying our lift passes and gearing up in the main lodge, we boarded Gunstock’s high-speed quad to the summit. As I was soaking in the spectacular view of Lake Winnipesaukee, my kids were chirping about all the other cool stuff we were going to do over the next few days.
Gunstock boasts New Hampshire’s largest snow-tubing park; 32 miles of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking trails; fat-tire mountain biking, and even a mountain coaster. Camping is an option during the warmer months, as are mountaintop yoga classes and Segway tours.
As we offloaded at the summit, we couldn’t help but notice a large wooden structure that looked like a stack of giant Jenga blocks. This was one of Gunstock’s “Zip Rider” towers, one of four zip-line courses offered inside the Adventure Park during summer. At 1.6 miles long, it’s one of the longest zip line systems in the continental U.S.
Zip Rider tours run 90 minutes. They start at Gunstock’s summit and send riders at speeds of up to 70 mph over ¾ of a mile to another set of lines that drops them nearly 4,000 feet to the Aerial Treetops Course. Obviously, the views and the experience are both breathtaking!
Where to Stay: The Fireside Inn & Suites
The Fireside Inn & Suites in Gilford is a warm and friendly inn just minutes from Lake Winnipesaukee and a few miles from Gunstock. Fireside’s 59 well-appointed rooms and 24 suites can accommodate couples and families. Suites are 800 square feet and include a master bedroom, full kitchen, dining room, and living room with a sleep sofa.
Guests enjoy deluxe continental breakfast, indoor and outdoor pools, a large whirlpool (Aquatic Access Lifts onsite), a well-equipped exercise room, and a friendly staff.