inside sources print logo
Get up to date New Hampshire news in your inbox

Gunstock Team Rehired, But Insists Strang Needs To Go

The management team that walked off of their jobs in protest after months of clashing with members of the Gunstock Area Commission were rehired Sunday, contingent on Commissioner David Strang resigning or being removed.

The management team told commissioners last week they could come back and restart operations at Gunstock Mountain Resort only if Commissioners Peter Ness and David Strang quit or were removed from their positions.

Last week, Strang and Ness walked out of a contentious meeting during which members of the public chanted for them to quit.

Under that pressure, Ness quit last week, but Strang continues to hold on. On Sunday, Commissioners Jade Wood and Doug Lambert voted to rehire the team, contingent on Strang’s removal. Strang did not appear at the meeting and called in from home.

A meeting of citizens and Gunstock Mountain Resort officials on Sunday, July 31, 2022. (Twitter)

The resort is owned by Belknap County and the commissioners are appointed by a vote of the county’s state delegation. Only the Belknap County Delegation can remove Strang from the commission. 

Ness and Strang have the support of the delegation head, Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont). However, they appear to have lost support from the other representatives.

Rep. Mike Bordes (R-Laconia) said a majority of the delegation’s members have agreed to call a meeting Monday, where they are expected to remove Strang. Bordes said most of the delegation is now opposed to Strang remaining on the commission.

“From my understanding, yes (they are opposed,)” Bordes said.

Sylvia has taken heat for the fiasco at the ski resort, which is the largest employer in the county and a year-round economic driver. The facility generates millions of dollars in revenue for the local and state economy. It just had a record season that saw $9 million in revenue.

Bordes said even though the delegation plans to remove Strang there are no plans to change the delegation’s leadership at this time.

The dispute over the mountain’s operation has become a wide-ranging fight. When the management team quit, Gov. Chris Sununu called out Sylvia and his followers in the delegation for their handling of the situation in an open letter to the people of Belknap County.

“These individuals have made bad decisions and until they are removed from their positions and replaced with good people who recognize the wonderful asset the Gunstock is, the County will continue to suffer,” Sununu wrote.

Sununu offered the Gunstock management team jobs with the state if they were unable to resolve the dispute with the commission.

Sylvia responded by accusing Sununu of unethical behavior in interfering with the dispute. Sylvia claims Sununu is being swayed after his reelection campaign accepted a $500 donation from the Gunstock Area Commission in 2020.

The donation check, signed by Gunstock General Manager Tom Day, is not a problem, according to Lambert, who said Day explained that donation when asked about it.

Though Sununu’s team maintains no law was broken, Democrats are using the donation to attack him. Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley issued a statement making vague accusations that Sununu may have violated the law. 

Gunstock is publicly funded by Belknap County taxpayers, and if Sununu were to have used that public funding for his 2020 gubernatorial campaign, that donation could be in violation of campaign finance law,” the statement reads.

The NHDP did not respond to a request from NH Journal for the specific law that was violated. It is not clear from any legal expert contacted by NH Journal if Sununu’s campaign broke any law by accepting the donation.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has so far stayed out of the dispute.

Sylvia Accuses Sununu of Unethical Behavior as Gunstock Battle Boils Over

The state representative blamed for the ongoing fiasco at Gunstock Mountain Resort has raised the stakes, accusing Gov. Chris Sununu of a conflict of interest and suggesting he may have accepted an improper political donation from the resort.

Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), who heads up the Belknap County delegation, is accusing Sununu of interfering with the county-owned Gunstock Mountain Resort to benefit his own ski property, the Waterville Valley Resort.

“This is an ethical quandary for the governor as it interferes with the leadership of a competitor ski area, whose closure stands to benefit his family and his pocketbook,” Sylvia said in an open letter responding to Sununu’s criticisms.

The Sununu family is the principal investor in the Waterville Valley Resort. Sununu worked as CEO at Waterville until he was elected governor. 

Sylvia is also calling out Sununu for a $500 campaign donation he accepted from the resort for his 2020 re-election campaign.

Sununu isn’t backing down, lashing out at the extreme political views of Sylvia and some of his allies.

“They wanted to secede from the United States of America, completely un-American. They don’t believe in democracy,” Sununu said Wednesday. “I think those individuals should be removed for a variety of reasons. This is just the latest episode of their craziness.”

Asked if he was urging Belknap County residents to vote out a fellow Republican — meaning Sylvia– Sununu replied, “Oh, absolutely.”

Among the three lawmakers singled out by Sununu, only Sylvia voted for secession. Sununu said it is impossible to try to convince Sylvia and his followers to return the Gunstock management team to the resort.

“There are individuals that don’t believe in government. They don’t believe in America. They don’t believe in the Republican Party. They don’t believe in anything that we really stand for, so there really is no reasoning or rationalizing with them,” Sununu said.

Sununu also defended the management team and their decision to walk out.

“I think (Gunstock’s General Manager) Tom Day and the team that he’s had there have done a tremendous job. It took a lot of guts to do what they did, but they’ve made it clear they want Gunstock to succeed,” Sununu said. “They want to come back and make sure it gets right back on the right track, but they’re not gonna do it under the same circumstances.”

In his letter, Sylvia also claimed Day was under investigation for using Gunstock money to make a political donation to Sununu’s campaign when he quit.

“Since Gunstock is owned by Belknap County all its funds are public monies and using public dollars to support a political campaign is clearly improper and possibly violative of the law,” Sylvia wrote.

Sylvia claims Day quit rather than submit to the investigation. Sununu has offered Day and the other managers jobs at Waterville or with the state if they cannot work out a resolution at Gunstock. Sylvia claims that is more proof of Sununu’s unethical meddling.

Sylvia also supplied a copy of the $500 check from Gunstock that Day sent to the Friends of Chris Sununu in 2020.

“Making such an offer after receiving a campaign contribution is the definition of quid-pro-quo,” Sylvia said.

Sununu’s campaign manager Paul Collins pushed back on the accusation of impropriety, saying no law was broken.

“Under state law, a contribution from the Gunstock Area Commission is not a prohibited political contribution and the Friends of Chris Sununu did nothing wrong in accepting a contribution,” Collins said. “The governor is standing with thousands of citizens in Belknap County and beyond calling for a new commission that will get Gunstock open and serving the public again. There is no quid pro quo, and such an accusation is without merit. If any of our contributors request a refund of their contribution, we of course oblige their request.”

Rep. Aidan Ankaberg (R-Rochester) called for greater scrutiny of Sununu’s actions after he learned about the donation.

“This is public malfeasance and there needs to be transparency and accountability,” Ankaberg said.

The management team at Gunstock quit last week after months of fighting with the Gunstock Area Commission, accusing the political appointees of incompetence and interference. Gunstock enjoyed record revenue under the management team. The resort employs 600 people making it Belknap’s biggest employer.

The commission is made up of five members who are all appointed by the county delegation, which is currently controlled by Sylvia. Sununu has called for Sylvia and his supporters in the delegation to be voted out of office and to have commissioners Peter Ness and David Strang removed from the commission. According to Commissioner Doug Lambert, the management team has agreed to return once Strang and Ness are removed.

Meanwhile, the Belknap County Commission has joined in the call for the two problematic commissioners to resign, and they have sent a letter to the state Attorney General’s Office urging oversight of the resort’s assets.

“The County Commissioners believe nothing less than the survival of Gunstock as we know it is at stake,” they wrote to Attorney General John Formella.


‘Resign, You Guys!’ Controversial Gunstock Commissioners Storm Out of Meeting

The Gunstock Mountain Resort management team that walked off their jobs last week will come back, but only if two Gunstock Area Commissioners quit their oversight roles. 

State Rep. Mike Bordes (R-Laconia) said the management team wants to see Peter Ness and David Strang leave the commission.

“If they resign, the management team will come back,” Bordes said.

Commissioner Doug Lambert said it is urgent to get the team back in place and get the resort operating and preparing for the coming season.

“Winter is looming, even though it may not feel like it outside,” Lambert said. “It comes fast and the preparations that are involved are rather enormous. Every day lost could potentially be impactful at the other end.”

The county-owned ski resort has been closed since the mass resignation of the management team in response to the inept oversight by commissioners. Gunstock General Manager Tom Day, Cathy White, chief financial officer; Robin Rowe, director of resort services; Peter Weber, snow sports director; Rebecca LaPense, director of human resources; Patrick McGonangle, facilities operation director; and Kristen Lodge, director of marketing, all quit last week in protest.

Though the team gave their two-weeks notice, the commission responded by sending Belknap County Sheriff’s deputies to have them removed the following day. This week, four other mid-level managers quit their jobs, too, leaving the facility unable to operate its summer activities and unlikely to be open for the winter.

Lambert said more staff is going to quit if something is not done. He plans to get the resort team to put in writing their agreement to come back once Ness and Stang are gone.

The facility generates millions of dollars in revenue for the economy, and just had a record season that saw $9 million in revenue. Without the team members who quit agreeing to come back, it would be difficult to reopen. Finding professionals in the ski industry willing to take the job might be impossible, Bordes said.

“Who’s going to want this job with everything going on around it?” Bordes asked.

The commission met Tuesday at the urging of local leaders and members of the public to set a schedule to reopen. Lambert said there was also indication Ness and Strang were set to go into a non-public session to make new hires in order to temporarily get the site going.

Instead, Commissioner Jade Wood presented Strang and Ness with resignation papers to sign. Bordes said people were chanting for them to quit and shouting over them when they tried to speak.

“Resign, you guys, it’s what the people want!” Bordes shouted as Ness and Strang stormed out of the meeting. They did not offer their resignations.

 None of the commissioners responded to a request for comment.

“They didn’t resign. But to me, that’s walking off the job,” Bordes said,

Bordes, Wood, Lambert, and others plan to push the GOP-controlled Belknap County delegation to remove Ness and Strang if they will not go on their own. Bordes wants to see the management team brought back.

“I give them credit, they really stood up for what they feel is right,” Bordes said.

The members of the Gunstock Area Commission are appointed by the elected county delegation to the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Belknap’s delegation is controlled by controversial state Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont). Lambert has spoken to Sylvia about dealing with the situation but said Sylvia would not agree to call a delegation meeting. Lambert has been contacting all 18 members of the delegation to get the situation resolved.

“It’s unclear right now if there is some ability to have an emergency meeting,” Lambert said. “I have impressed on them that this is an emergency.”

Sylvia is part of the political fringe and was behind the effort to have New Hampshire secede from the United States. His proposal only got 13 votes in the legislature and it was widely mocked.

Commission and delegation members have been feuding with the Gunstock team for months. Lambert said it boils down to conflicts over leadership and who had authority over day-to-day decisions. He said Ness was seen as interfering in the finance office, and even the snow sports planning at the resort, by members of the team.

“(The management team) felt the relationship had become untenable. They no longer had a comfort level to be able to work with the commission,” Lambert said.

Lang and Harvey-Bolia Want Gunstock Meeting to End Stalemate

Republican leaders state Reps. Timothy Lang and Juliet Harvey-Bolia are demanding the GOP-controlled Belknap County delegation start working to reopen the Gunstock Mountain Resort. 

“The unexpected and sudden closure of Gunstock Mountain Resort is already creating a significant negative economic impact in several areas across the county,” Lang said. “I have been hearing from small businesses in the area who are being hurt by this closure, from employees hoping to get back to work, and from working families, seniors, and county officials that are concerned about how this could affect property taxes in Belknap County.”

The county-owned ski park shut down last week after months of tension boiled over between the GOP-appointed Gunstock Area Commission and the management team. The entire leadership team quit in protest on Wednesday, giving two-weeks notice.

The commissioners responded by sending sheriff’s deputies on Thursday to remove the staff, effectively shutting down the resort. Gunstock is vital to the local economy year-round and offers activities like an adventure park in summer.

Lang and Harvey-Bolia want the commission members, and members of the county delegation, to hold a special meeting to discuss reopening plans and a schedule for getting the park back in business.

When the crisis erupted last week, Gov. Chris Sununu and District 2 Sen. Bob Giuda called out members of the Belknap County Delegation for their roles in the shutdown, naming Reps. Mike Sylvia, Norman Silber, and Gregg Hough.

“These individuals have made bad decisions and until they are removed from their positions and replaced with good people who recognize the wonderful asset the Gunstock is, the County will continue to suffer,” Sununu wrote in an open letter to Belknap residents.

Giuda has tried to change the way the commission operates and have the members elected by the voters instead of appointed by the House delegation. The turmoil caused by the commission members is the reason he wanted that change.

“They just had the best year in Gunstock history, with $9 million in profit, and the commissioners went to war with the Gunstock management,” Giuda said.

Sylvia (R-Belmont), is best known as a leader in the fringe movement to get New Hampshire to secede from the Union. Sylvia, Silber (R-Gilford), and Hough (R-Laconia) have waged political war on the leadership of the popular resort. Lang said the fighting needs to end or the economy will suffer.

“Gunstock Mountain isn’t just a point of pride and a magnet for tourism and recreation, it also provides significant tax revenue to the county. This kind of disruption in operations could lead to higher local taxes which is why we need immediate action,” Lang said. 

Sununu has offered state jobs to the members of the Gunstock team if they are not rehired by the commission.

Lang, from Sanbornton, is running for Giuda’s Senate seat. District 2 includes Ashland, Belmont, Campton, Center Harbor, Gilford, Holderness, Laconia, Meredith, New Hampton, Sanbornton, Sandwich, and Thornton. Harvey-Bolia represents Belknap District 3 which includes Tilton and Sanbornton.

Sununu Urges Recall of Belknap State Reps in Gunstock Fiasco

Gov. Chris Sununu called out Republican members of the Belknap County legislative delegation over the fiscal fiasco at Gunstock Mountain Resort, and he has got an unusual ally in the fight: state Sen. Bob Giuda, who has endorsed one of Sununu’s opponents in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

Sununu, Giuda, and other Republican leaders are pointing the finger of blame at Republican Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), best known as a leader in the fringe movement to get New Hampshire to secede from the Union. Sylvia and a handful of his fellow GOP legislators, including Reps. Norman Silber, R-Gilford and Gregg Hough, R-Laconia, have waged political war on the leadership of the popular resort.

In response to the questionable tactics of the commission appointed by the delegation, Gunstock’s leadership resigned en masse.

“These individuals have made bad decisions and until they are removed from their positions and replaced with good people who recognize the wonderful asset the Gunstock is, the County will continue to suffer,” Sununu wrote in an open letter to Belknap residents released Thursday. Sununu called out Sylvia, Silber and Hough by name, as did Giuda.

“They just had the best year in Gunstock history, with $9 million in profit, and the commissioners went to war with the Gunstock management,” Giuda said.

“The delegation, under Mike Sylvia’s chairmanship, have taken it upon themselves to wreak havoc for no reason. This is a vindictive bunch who believe in extreme measures, and this is not the New Hampshire way.”

The new commission has been sparring with Gunstock’s management team for months, with Sylvia making unfounded accusations of mismanagement. 

On Wednesday night, the resort’s management teams were excluded from the commissioner’s table at the meeting, a break from past practice. That was seen as a bridge too far, and Gunstock General Manager Tom Day stood up and gave his two weeks’ notice. His resignation was quickly followed by Cathy White, chief financial officer; Robin Rowe, director of resort services; Peter Weber, snow sports director; Rebecca LaPense, director of human resources; Patrick McGonagle, facilities operation director; and Kristen Lodge, director of marketing, according to an NHPR report.

The resort is now closed for business.

The ski area is owned by Belknap County. It has always been managed by a five-member commission appointed by the county delegation. Giuda said the ski area is vital to the local economy and the leadership team at the mountain had been doing a great job.

Sylvia did not respond to a request for comment. Silber said Thursday he was preparing a statement on his behalf, as well as Sylvia and Hough’s, but that statement had not been received at press time.

District 2 State Senate Candidate Tim Lang said he “stands with Governor Sununu and Senator Giuda in opposing the Belknap County Delegations’ reckless actions that have led to this mass departure at Gunstock. Gunstock is a jewel of the Lakes Region that has brought outdoor family recreation to generations of Granite Staters.”

Commissioner Gary Kiedaisch quit in protest Wednesday night soon after the management team gave their notice. Neither Kiedaisch nor any of the remaining members of the commission, Peter Ness, Douglas Lambert, David Strang, and Jade Wood, responded to requests for comment on Thursday.

Giuda blames all the GOP members of the Belknap County delegation, and he also blames Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem). According to Giuda, Morse killed his amendment that would change the Gunstock Area Commissioners from being appointed by the delegation to being elected by the voters of the county.

Giuda included the change as an amendment to a bill that would have changed the length of terms for Rockingham County officials, but Morse opposed it because he did not want to potentially alienate Rockingham voters, Giuda said.

“I asked him why, to which he answered, ‘Because I need the Rockingham County vote,’ referring to his U.S. Senate campaign,” Giuda claims. “By killing the amendment for his own political gain, Morse emboldened the warring delegation members and hostile GAC to continue their assault on the Gunstock team.”

Morse’s team did not respond to a request for comment.

Morse is a candidate in the GOP U.S. Senate primary. Giuda has endorsed Don Bolduc in that race.

Gunstock Mountain hosts summer activities, including an adventure park, that have been forced to close after the commission sent sheriff’s deputies to have staff removed from the premises on Thursday. Giuda called the situation a complete disaster.

“They have destroyed the most profitable, forward-looking management team the Gunstock Area Commission has ever had,” Giuda said.

Giuda said there is a method to the seeming madness. He accused Silber of wanting to privatize the public asset, and that the destabilizing actions of the commissioners he helped to appoint move the mountain resort closer to that goal. Right now, no one with any experience in running a ski area will want to work for the commission.

Silber has made no secret of his stance, writing op-eds for local papers urging the resort’s privatization.

Sununu is calling on the commission to find a way to keep the management team and keep the operations at the mountain going. Short of that, Sununu is offering jobs to all the team members who quit, either with the state Parks Department or at the state-owned Cannon Mountain.

“Their loss is immeasurable for Gunstock, and we all hope that this crisis can be avoided,” Sununu said.

“The people of Belknap County have all the opportunity in the world, whether it’s through elections or a recall effort,” Sununu told WMUR Thursday. “Change that team. Bring that management team back in.”

Sylvia, who moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State libertarian movement, could only convince 12 of his fellow House members to vote for his secession plan, a vote that inspired mockery of New Hampshire around the nation. Sylvia was also caught on a hot mic making racist comments, saying that secession supporters should tap into racist sentiment to push their agenda.

For Giuda, however, Sylvia’s most damaging actions have been right in Belknap County.

“This is the worst debacle in Gunstock’s history,” Giuda said. “I would be surprised if Gunstock survives.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote by Sen. Giuda to Gov. Sununu. We regret the error.