The above photo was taken by Dick Smith in the late 1950's. The postcard reads: "Ride the 3200-ft Chair Tramway to the top of Mt. Rowe at the Million Dollar Belknap Mountain Recreation Area and view beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee and the majestic White Mountains."
Built in 1937, this single chairlift was one of the first chairlifts in the country (the fourth). The first chairlifts in the world had been built only a year earlier at Sun Valley, Idaho, copied from the banana lifts used in Central America to load United Fruit cargo vessels. The Rowe Mountain chairlift was the first chairlift in New England, preceding by three years the second New England chairlift, which was built at Stowe, Vermont in 1940. The original chairlift at Gunstock (the ski area changed its name in 1959 from Belknap to Gunstock), the Rowe Mountain chairlift was 3200 feet long and rose 714 feet. It ran at 400' per minute, so a ride to the top took about 8 minutes. Officially its capacity was said to be 200 persons per hour. Under construction in 1937, the chairlift was completed on January 15, 1938.
In the 1940's and 1950's, it was a very popular summertime activity to take this unique new ride to the top of Mt. Rowe. By the 1960's, summertime rides were on the decline, as wintertime skiing had blossomed all over New England, and chairlifts had become commonplace. However, it is still possible to take a summertime chairlift ride at Gunstock on certain event days.
The webmaster remembers riding this chairlift to the top of Mt Rowe in the late 1960's. There were a couple of great, challenging ski trails from the top of the lift, the best being the "Fletcher Hale" trail. (Fletcher Hale, a Laconia resident, was elected as a Republican to the Sixty-ninth and to the three succeeding US Congresses and served from March 4, 1925, until his death on October 22, 1931. His grave lies in the Union Cemetery on Union Avenue in Laconia.)
Unfortunately, in 1980, Gunstock removed this chair and abandoned the trails. During the 1990's, the former Try-Me trail was graded into an access road, and an enormous cell phone tower was built on the summit. Now, the only remaining single chairlift in the USA is at the Mad River Ski Area in Waitsfield, Vermont, which erected its single chair in 1948. (New Hampshire can also boast of two more skiing lift "firsts". The first enclosed-cabin tramway in North America was built at Cannon Mountain in Franconia in 1938; and the first gondola in the USA opened in 1958 at Wildcat in Jackson.)
On the backside from the top of the single chairlift was an obscure, little-known connecting trail to what eventually became the now-defunct Mount Rowe ski area. Adjacent to Mount Rowe, on the access road from Gunstock, are four Olympic-style ski jumps of various sizes. The largest jump has often been the site of the Hill Climb competition (scroll down to see photo below) during Motorcycle Week. These jumps are still in use today by the Gunstock Nordic Association.
Below - a late 1940's postcard "Chairlift on Belknap Mountain, White Mountains, N.H.". The postcard caption incorrectly places the Mount Rowe chairlift on Belknap Mountain.
Below - a photo from the 1957 Weirs Beach Chamber of Commerce brochure
Below, a photo from an early 1960's Greater Laconia-Weirs Beach Chamber of Commerce brochure. The foot rest was added to the chair probably around 1956. Originally, summertime passengers just let their legs dangle over the edge of the chair. It is possible the foot rests may have been added earlier, in 1951, when the Tramway was rebuilt at a cost of $50,000, with new chairs and "rubber mounted shives that give you that smooth comfortable ride to the mountain top".
Images from 1950's postcards
Detail from a souvenir mirror, late 1950's
Similar graphic as above, but from a souvenir button
Below, a winter skier rides the single chair, circa 1955; and the area entrance sign. Note the carving depicting the single chair in the circle at the top of the sign; it matches the souvenir mirror detail seen above.
A winter skier rides the single chairlift, 1941.
A winter skier rides the single chairlift, mid1940's.
The view on a beautiful fall day, taken from a single chair, on the way back down to the base of the mountain. The main lodge is visible at the center of the photo.
To the left of the lodge is Gunstock Pond. Rising to the left of the pond is Cobble Mountain.
The same view taken 10-20 years earlier
A similar early 1940's view.
Another 1940's view
Below - a color linen postcard, whose front caption read "Passengers arriving and leaving at Base Station of Chair Tramway, Belknap Recreation Area, Rt. 11A, 7 miles from Laconia, N.H."
The back of the postcard read "View of Chair Tramway to Summit of Rowe Mt. Length 3200 feet, Rise 714 feet, located in 800 acre Sports Center and Picnic Grounds."
Although the chairlift is tinted blue in this postcard, it was probably never blue. Its original color was green, and it was later painted red.
A gentleman is arriving and a lady is leaving the Summit Station of the Tramway while an attendant in suit and tie watches carefully.
Below, another color linen postcard shows a crowd waiting to ride the Tramway. The original B&W photo appeared in the 1939 Lakes Region Association's "Where To" guidebook.
Below, the text from the reverse of the above postcard.
The text on the back side of the color linen postcard below said "The firetower inserted in the upper right is one of the many lookouts stationed at strategic points for quick fire control."
However, the firetower was located on the top of Mount Belknap, not on the top of Rowe Mountain.
Views of the Lake from the summit of Mt. Rowe.
Below - a few 1950's postcards showing the Main Lodge. The lodge has changed very little over the years and it has pretty much the same appearance today.
Below-the webmaster has annotated a 1950's aerial postcard. On the back side of the postcard, the legend read as follows: "Recreational area near Laconia, NH. Showing chair lift on Rowe Mt. (3200 ft) in center and ski trails with 4 ski jumps 10- 20- 40- 65 meter; with 5 meter ski jump at right. Lake Winnipesaukee is background."
Gunstock trail map, in 1964, after the first double chair lift to the top of Gunstock had been built. A second double chairlift was added later to run alongside the first. The Rowe Mountain lift and trail complex were still a big part of the overall ski area. In 1986 a major reconstruction project changed the feel of the mountain, quite detrimentally in the opinon of the webmaster. Newer, less challenging trails and shorter lifts were added, while some challenging trails and longer lifts were removed. Notably, the two main double chairlifts to the top of the mountain were both removed and the middle part of the Ramrod trail which had ran underneath the main chairlifts was closed permanently. Much later, a new express quad chairlift to the top of the mountain was added to the left side of the Smith slope.
A 1971 Gunstock trail map. This is the Gunstock the webmaster skied a lot. Favorite trail: Trigger to Phelps.
Here is an ad from the 1956 edition of the Lakes Region Association's "Where To" tourist guidebook.
Here's a photo from the 1957 official program for Motorcycle Week, showing that even bikers enjoyed taking a ride on the Tramway!
Below - a 1940 postcard by Harold Piper, a famous photographer of the time, especially noted for his aerial photography. B&W version first, followed by colored version.
Below - a colorized postcard by Piper,"Traveling Skyward for a Downhill Slide - Chair Tramway, Belknap Mts. Recreation Area, Gilford, N.H." On the back it said "A happy skier on her way to the summit of Rowe Mountain where she will make her descent via Tryme or Stonebar Trails or the Fletcher Hale Slalom." Postmarked in 1941.
In this reprint of the above card, the skier's pants and scarf are now tinted blue, but her hair is still fluorescent yellow!
Below - "Skiers Starting up Rowe Mountain Tramway, Belknap Mountains Recreation Area, Gilford, N.H." Postmarked 1944.
Skiing was blooming in popularity and waiting in a lift line, the bane of skiers ever afterwards, was often required in order to reach the top.
Below - a postcard postmarked in 1941. It says Chair Tow, Belknap Rec. Area, Gilford, NH on the bottom left, and Quimby Drug, Lakeport, NH on the bottom right.
"Base Station, Chair Tramway"
"Chair Tow, Summer and Winter" - from the 1955 Weirs Beach Area Chamber of Commerce brochure.
"Chair Tramway, Belknap Recreation Area, Gilford, N.H."
Photo from a 1939 brochure,"Your Winter Vacation in the Lakes Region of NH"
Below, a photo from the 1947 Lakes Region Association's Where To guidebook. A sign cautions skiers, "Do Not Swing Chairs!"
An ad from the 1938 Where To in the Lakes Region guidebook. Interestingly, the brand-new ski area at this point was called the Belknap Mountains Park, not the Belknap Recreation Area, as it later came to be known.
Besides Gunstock, another local pioneer of the ski industry was the Northland Ski Manufacturing Company of Laconia. Founded by Christian Lund in the St. Paul, Minnesota area in 1911, the company grew quickly. In the 1920's Northland skis gained a widespread reputation for unsurpassed quality, making Northland the largest manufacturer of skis in the world. By the 1930's, Northland had also become the nation’s largest producer of toboggans, snowshoes and hockey sticks. The company was so successful it required additional manufacturing capacity, so it opened an eastern factory in Laconia in 1938. The 40,000 sq ft building on Fair Street at one time had 100 employees. The 1930's catalog whose cover is shown below included for sale not only amateur and professional skis, but also poles, bindings, car carriers, goggles, waxes, snowshoes, hockey sticks, pucks, and toboggans, as well as a 4 page "How to Ski" section. Growing competition in the skiing industry in the 1940's and 1950's ended Northland's domination of the ski manufacturing market. In particular, the company seemed to have lost its footing in the transition from wooden skis to modern fiberglass models. By the end of the 1960's, the Northland ski brand was history. Today, there are nearly 20 ski manufacturers.
Northland also sold waterskis, as seen in the following 1960s sales brochure. Once again, its products were all made of wood, and the company was left behind in the transition to modern fiberglass waterskis.
A mid-1960s "It's Easy to Water Ski" instruction booklet by Northland promoted the sport of waterskiing.
Listed in the 1937-1938 Boston and Maine railroad brochure below were trips that one could take for the weekend on the Snow Train from Boston's North Station to Laconia's Belknap Mountain. There were also organized trips to Plymouth, Waterville Valley and Franconia Notch, as well as New Hampshire's Eastern Slope region (Mt. Whittier, Conway, North Conway, Intervale). Trips to Vermont included weekends at White River Jct.(Woodstock) and the Mt. Mansfield Region in Waterbury (Stowe). Prices ranged from $3.00 to $9.00 round trip.
Below, the 1936-1937 Snow Train brochure, the sixth year of the service. The Snow Train had begun on January 11, 1931, when the B&M had run the first snow train to Warner, NH. For an interesting Weirs Times PDF article about the Snow Train, click here.
A photo of the Snow Train from the 1940 NH Troubadour Yearbook.
The 1937 Eastern Ski Championships in jumping were held at Belknap on February 28 only a few weeks after the 60 meter jump had been completed. (Work on the jump had started on March 29, 1935.) In 1939, when Belknap hosted the Championships again, it marked the debut of ski jumping sensation Torger Tokle, who tied for first that year, and later went on to set the hill record of 251' on the 60 meter jump in 1941. The vertical height of the 60 meter jump was 316 feet from the bottom of the landing hill to the floor of the starting tower.
In the early 1970's the jump was expanded to 70 meters to conform with international Olympic standards. The jump was last used in 2004. On October 29, 2009 the NH Preservation Alliance selected the jump as one of the state's "Seven to Save" most threatened historic properties.
By 1947, the jump had been renamed after Tokle. He had died a war hero, on March 3, 1945, as a Ski Trooper, fighting for the US Army's 86th Mountain Division, during the invasion of Italy during WWII.
Below, a circa 1950 map of the Belknap Area shows the Tokle jump and the trails from Rowe Mountain. The trails from the top of the main, Gunstock mountain were very few at this point.
An aerial of the ski jumps taken by Harold Piper in the 1940's. The jumps can be seen clearly in order from left to right...10 meter, 20 meter, and 60 meter.
The 60 meter ski jump. An interesting postcard, as only the top portion has been tinted. Another great Harold Piper photo.
A summertime view of the 60 meter ski jump, also by Harold Piper. The caption on the card noted that "there is an observation room in the top of the jump tower from which one can enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding country."
A pair of 1942 snapshots of the 60 meter jump
Below, one of the very earliest Motorcycle Week Hill Climb competitions at the 60 meter jump. The Hill Climb was run from 1946 until 1962, then from 1993 to 2011, and will return for the 2017 Laconia Motorcycle Week rally.
The Hill Climb competition in September, 1952
Summer Ski Jumping. This is nuts! This August 14, 1949 competition was won by Euguene Levasseur with a jump of 118 feet. Using rakes, pitchforks and shovels, course volunteers had laid down a landing base of shaved/crushed ice that was 18 feet wide and 8 inches deep, and that was surrounded by numerous bales of hay. Held again on July 23, 1950, the summer ski jump competition charged admission of 10¢ and attracted a crowd of several thousands. Smartly, the summer ski jump was held on the intermediate, 40 meter jump, not the 60 meter monster. For the July 14, 1952 competition, the Laconia Citizen boasted that "The coolest news in town these days concerns the annual summer ski meet...The mere thought of seventy tons of crushed ice glistening on the mountain side would be worth the price of admission...". The 1952 competition was sponsored by both the Laconia and Weirs Beach Chambers of Commerce, as well as the Winnipesaukee and Weirs Ski Clubs.
As shown in the next few photos, the wintertime jumping events were very well attended. Numerous spectators lined both sides of the jump from the takeoff point to the landing area. Parking lots were full. The first photo below is of the 1941 winter carnival. This is more like it!
A color linen postcard showing the summertime view from the launching point of the 60 meter jump. There was an even better scenic view from the observatory at the top of the jump tower. The observatory was about 170' higher than the launching point.
Configuration of 60 meter jump. Drawing from webmaster's notes; original drawing part of the "Got Skis?" exhibition at the Laconia Public Library, Feb 26-Apr 30, 2009.
Penny Pitou and Egon Zimmerman, who ran the ski shool at Gunstock in the 1960's the time and place where the webmaster learned how to ski. Pitou is certainly the most famous skier from Laconia; she won silver medals in downhill and giant slalom at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. Zimmerman, who also raced in the 1960 Olympics, was married to Pitou for a time. (Zimmerman should not be confused with a different skier with the same name who won the gold in the downhill at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, and who owns the Hotel Kristberg in Lech, Austria.) Pitou's and Zimmerman's equipment - leather laced ski boots and long narrow wooden skis - seems so primitive by today's standards.
Pitou and Zimmerman both went on to successful careers in the business world. In 1974, Pitou founded a travel agency in Laconia which now has a second location in North Conway. Zimmerman started a ski shop in Nashua which today has four New Hampshire locations and one in Massachusetts.
Fritzie Baer, who was the general manager for Belknap throughout the 1950's (from May of 1950 to July of 1959), shown here riding the Tucker Sno-cat up the Tiger Trail around 1951. Baer was replaced by a five-member commission appointed by the county legislative delegation. A Citizen article, commenting on his replacement, noted that "whatever is said of Fritzie, he is a born promoter...there have been fantastic gains in revenue in the ten years he has been in charge...if in the days to come he is not re-hired, Belknap County may not see his like again." Photo provided courtesy of Bob Arnold, Baer's grandson.
Still looking for more information or images about this topic?
Visit the website of the Gunstock Mountain Historic Preservation Society.
Here is a great photo of the Rowe Mountain chairlift, from the New England Ski Museum.
Here is a nice collection of Belknap postcards (scroll down a little), put together by Laurie J. Puliafico, a ski history expert.
Here is a view of the Belknap mountain range of which Rowe Mountain is part, and here is an alternate view of the mountain range.
Here is a view of the Belknap range taken from the summit of Mt. Rowe.
These mountain range views are by DCR, master photographer of the mountains of the Lakes Region area.
A cook-out in the summertime. Camping is a very popular summertime activity at the area.
Our favorite picture of Gunstock/Belknap.