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Trail Blazing on the History of Gunstock

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - May 18, 2012

It’s hard to believe Carol Lee Anderson isn’t a skier. Given the fact that she has written and recently published an ambitious book on the history of Gunstock, one would assume she flies down the ski slopes every winter.

With a laugh, Carol says, “I can’t say I am really a skier! I’ve done some cross-country skiing and my son is a downhill skier.”

Carol, however, does see the irony in her non-skier status, but it never stopped her from writing a book that has become an instant hit. “I guess I never thought about the fact that I am not a skier and yet I was writing a book on skiing. I think it’s because I was taking the angle of writing about the history of Gunstock. Lots of people have asked me if I am a skier and they say they can’t believe I wrote a book that focuses on skiing when I don’t ski!”

It is amazing that Carol is so knowledgeable about Gunstock and the history of local skiing; her information and grasp of such subjects as the chair lifts and rope tows is detailed. “The book goes back to what was in Laconia in the early 1900s and why it was decided to build Gunstock and create the ski area,” Carol says. “I wanted to explore why the ski area was built here in Gilford, versus another area such as northern NH or Vermont. What was the atmosphere that brought the project to this specific area?”

Carol learned, during her research, that the Winnipesaukee Ski Club was started in 1918. She enjoyed tracing the development of the club, and was fascinated with such subjects as the first rope tow on the back of Gunstock.

The subject matter, she soon realized, was extensive and would require a lot of research. “No one told me to write a history of Gunstock,” she recalls. “I home school my two children and I have always liked to write. When my daughter Sarah started working on the hut project at the Gilford Outing Club, I got interested in that particular piece of local history. The early Outing Club members skied at Gunstock and I thought the story I was learning about was so good it belonged in book form.”

For Carol, the historical story was exciting to follow; not at all dull and boring history. She realized if she was fascinated with the story of how Gunstock came about and all the ski legends and regular folks who have enjoyed the area over the years, other people might enjoy learning about it too. Thus began her idea of writing a book.

“I had done local history articles in the newspaper. It gave me the confidence to contemplate writing the Gunstock book. I really took a casual approach to the project at first,” she says.

As she was mulling over writing a book on Gunstock, she happened to see in a ski publication that a woman was coming out with a history book on Cannon Mountain. “I found out she published through History Press and I looked them up online. Their website information said they require a writer to send a proposal for a book idea and a working table of contents. The usual time it would take to get an answer on a proposal was six weeks. I sent a proposal and they came back in less than a week with a yes.”

Clearly, the History Press felt the subject of a history of Gunstock would be a popular book and Carol had the green light to proceed. She was given a year to write the book, although she says she hadn’t written a word of the manuscript at that point!

“I saw this as a great opportunity and I wanted to make it happen and I did it. I delivered the finished book to them ahead of schedule,” she remembers. It was, however, months of hard work and Carol will be the first to agree that writing a book is no casual task.

The project was made even more difficult due to the fact that there was not a lot of written history on Gunstock. Carol interviewed the few surviving people that had memories of the area’s early history, but many people had passed away. She soon found that the microfilm at the local library was a wonderful source. It allowed her to read many old articles on Gunstock. “Back then, there was something in the paper all the time about Gunstock because it was so popular. Everything was new, such as the lifts, the trails, and the ski patrol. Without that microfilm resource, the task of writing the book might have been impossible,” Carol asserts.

Historically, Gunstock was built in 1935 and officially opened as the Belknap Area in February of 1937. It was a Works Project Administration job and Carol was able to locate a few surviving WPA workers.

“Sadly, those five or six people I located and interviewed have since passed. If anyone with any information on the history of Gunstock has something new to share, I welcome them to come forward,” Carol says.

Images for the book came from many different sources, such as the archives of Gunstock, some from a Laconia resident and some contemporary photos were the work of a photographer hired by Carol.

When asked what her favorite story was of the many she researched about Gunstock and the early days of skiing in the area, Carol replies, “I don’t know if I have just one favorite. I would say I was most strongly affected by the story of Torger Tokle. I was in awe of all he accomplished at such a young age. As I researched, I saw his name and his accomplishments, but then I couldn’t find his name anywhere else. It was a puzzle until I learned he was killed in World War II. That really affected me strongly. He was a great guy and so talented. It was a big loss and it stayed with me for a long, long time. That is why I dedicated the book to him.”

Torger Tokle has been called The Babe Ruth of Skiing. He came to America from his native Norway in 1939. His brilliant career as a ski jumper ignited the sport; he competed in the Eastern Championships in NH in 1939 and not only won his class but out jumped the entire Class A field. Sadly, just six years later, he fought in World War II for his adopted country and was killed.

While Carol spent a lot of time researching Gunstock’s history via library microfilm, she knew she had but one year to complete her task. “I signed the contract with the publisher in August of 2010 and I had to have it completed by August of 2011. From January to July, I was constantly writing. It wasn’t always easy because I don’t have a separate office or studio. I sat at the kitchen table and wrote on my laptop. I also had to keep in mind they gave me a word limit of 40,000 words.”

Perhaps because Carol’s children were home schooled, the whole family was used to various members of the Anderson clan being involved in projects. Their support and understanding were vital as Carol pushed ahead with the book.

In the end, she came in ahead of the deadline and within the allotted word count. She was nervous when she received the first round of editing from the publisher, fearing it would require many revisions and reworks. That was not the case and she was happily surprised to learn she had just a few minor punctuation changes to make.

The unique cover of the Gunstock book is also a Carol Anderson original. She did a painting of a skier coming down a snowy mountain slope. While she says she wasn’t crazy about the finished art, she shipped it off to the History Press and jokingly told them to do what they wanted with it. “They loved it and it ended up as the cover artwork!” Carol laughs.

Now that Carol had tackled and completed her first book, which incidentally won the prestigious Skade Award from the International Ski and History Association in Seattle, she has clearly settled into the role of writer. Currently she is working on another book for the History Press, and the subject is local cartoonist/artist Bob Montana, the creator of the Archie comic strip.

With her in-depth knowledge of the birth and subsequent growth of Gunstock, Carol is quick to answer when asked to sum up the history of the recreational area. “The ski area has changed a lot over time. Gunstock’s history is its change. It has to change to keep up with whatever the latest recreational trends may be. It’s been around for 75 years and it’s changed in all the right ways. I think today’s Gunstock is right where it should be to meet public demand.”

Carol Lee Anderson’s History of Gunstock is available for sale at the Belknap Mill in downtown Laconia, at Gunstock, Piche’s Ski and Sports and the Gunstock Inn. It can also be purchased online. 

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