Carol Lee Anderson talks about her book “The History of Gunstock: Skiing in the Belknap Mountains” at the Belknap Mill. (Erin Plummer) (click for larger version)
October 24, 2012MEREDITH — The long, often elusive history of Gunstock Mountain Resort is now in the pages of a book written by a local woman.
Carol Lee Anderson compiled nearly a century of Gunstock history, from its beginnings as plow trails to its current form, in her book "The History of Gunstock: Skiing in the Belknap Mountains," which was released in 2011.
On Wednesday night, Oct. 17, Anderson talked about her book at the Belknap Mill in Laconia during the mill's Lakes Region Talks series, sharing fascinating stories from Lakes Region history.
"My purpose in writing this book about Gunstock was to get the history down on paper," Anderson said.
Anderson's journey into Gunstock's history began with her daughter Sarah's interest in restoring the Gilford Outing Club's warming hut as a Girl Scout project. After inquiring with Gilford Public Works Director Sheldon Morgan, Anderson learned that the hut is owned by the town, and Morgan gave his blessings for a restoration. The hut has been under restoration for the past six years. Anderson said she became more curious about the Gilford Outing Club, saying few people seemed to know about its history.
Anderson said she learned the members of the club would all ski at Gunstock, a discovery that led her to do more research on Gunstock.
"It was such a great history," Anderson said. "I said it all belongs in a book."
Anderson said she found the history difficult to find. Many people know bits and pieces of details, but do not know many exact names and facts. She did extensive research, talking to many of the key players and those connected to key players in Gunstock's history to document it.
Anderson's book documents the history of Gunstock, from its start as fields in the 19th Century that became a popular location for skiers through the 1900's. Gunstock started as Belknap Mountain Recreation Area, which was built under direction of the Works Progress Administration and built and designed Hussey manufacturing of Berwick, Maine.
During World War II the federal government gave control of the resort to the county. The resort fell into disrepair with people asking the County Commissioners to do something with the resort or it would be gone. In the 1950's, the commissioners hired Fritzie Baer, famous for his red hat, cigar, and elaborate public relations. Baer turned the resort around, making it a popular destination through extensive promotion.
Baer was let go by the commission in 1959, and Warren Warner was brought in. In 1960, the resort's name was changed to Gunstock.
Gunstock through its history has brought in cutting edge ski technology such as chair lifts and snow making before it was widely used. Several Olympic skiers have practiced and had their start at Gunstock with groups such as the Gilford Outing Club and the Gunstock Nordic Ski Organization
Anderson described several of the key events and players in Gunstock's history, many of which played a significant role, though their names have been lost to history.
One of the most important figures in Gunstock's early history was Torger Tokle. Tokle emigrated to the United States from Norway in 1939. He started skiing at Gunstock and took to the ski jump, breaking three hill records in 1941. At the beginning of World War II he became an American citizen and enlisted in the Army, joining the 10th Mountain Division. He was killed in combat in Italy in 1945 at the age of 25.
The book was dedicated to Tokle and the 70-foot ski jump was named after him after Anderson's suggestion.
Anderson also described how she became close to many people she interviewed and their families, such as the members of the Hussey family and Torger Tokle's nephew Ken.
Anderson was the first president of the Gunstock Mountain Historical Preservation Society. She is no longer in that position, though she continues to be active with the society in preserving Gunstock's history.
The warming hut is still in progress after six and a half years. Rotten materials have been stripped out, new walls have been put in, and the whole process has been done with attention to historical accuracy. Anderson said the project is around three quarters of the way done, an effort that is seeking more volunteers.
The book features hundreds of photos from Gunstock's past through its present. The book's foreword was written by Penny Pitou, an Olympic Silver medalist who helped Anderson with many of the details.
The image on the cover was a painting done by Anderson. Anderson was asked to have a color image for the cover by her publisher, though all of the photos documenting the history of the resort were black and white. Anderson went to school for illustration and she painted the image of a skier going down he slope. Although she said she is not personally fond of it, her publisher loved it and made it the cover image. Three months after the book's release, it won the 2011 Shade Award from the International Skiing History Association.
"The History of Gunstock: Skiing in the Belknap Mountains" can be found on Amazon.com.
Anderson is now working on a book about "Archie" comic creator Bob Montana and his contributions to the community. A resident of Meredith, Montana made references to people and places in the Lakes Region in his comics, including a reference to Gunstock.