A bang board sounds like a terrain park feature you bonk with your skis or board. But no, the original bang board was a solid oak plank located at the top of Gunstock Mountain's 1935 rope tow. The rope tow slipped through a drilled hole in a wooden board just prior to the bullwheel. If skiers had not let go of the fast moving rope in time, or their gloves or coats got caught, they would bang into the board. How's that for an aptly named, primitive but effective safety device?
Skiing was a hearty sport back in 1935 in New Hampshire, according to Carol Lee Anderson, author of "The History of Gunstock." But you did not have to pay for your lift ticket unless you survived the rope tow and made it to the top. "Tickets could only be purchased at the top of the tow, so if any injury occurred on the way up, liability was not an in issue." Already skiing had earned the reputation as a risky sport, put into the same insurance liability category as a roller coaster according to Anderson.
That original rope tow, known as "Gunstock's Ski Hoist," was the country's second following Suicide Six's rope tow in Woodstock, Vermont. Gunstock's rope tow was made of 6,200 feet of rope that traveled at 30mph, carrying only four skiers at a time, according to Anderson. Talk about earning your turns when and if you reached the top, and did not smack the bang board. Even a successful tow ride tended to shred the crude leather ski gloves or woolen mittens if your grip wasn’t super secure.
Skiing at Gunstock has come a long way since rope tows and the first chairlift in the East in 1938, a single chair built by Maine-based Hussey Manufacturing, which was the second chairlift in the country to Sun Valley, Idaho.
Today, skiers ride Gunstock's Panorama high-speed quad to the scenic summit, you can ski or snowboard down, or Zipline the entire descent in three speedy sections. The downside, nowadays you have to pay before you ride. "The History of Gunstock" is a great read, full of anecdotes of Gunstock's evolution, quoting legendary locals, Olympian Penny Pitou, and Torger Tokle - the Norwegian ski jumper.
Tokle is revered for his long-standing record of soaring over 250-feet off Gunstock's Nordic jump in 1941. This February marks the 75th anniversary of Gunstock's 70-meter, dedicated as the Torger Tokle Memorial Ski Jump. Gunstock Mountain's Historic Preservation Society is currently restoring all four Nordic ski jumps, the 10, 20, 40 and 70-meter.
We tend to believe today's young jibbers, jumpers and freeskiers are pushing the sport by going bigger and better than their predecessors, but it’s worth looking back at our alpine ancestors and their ski survival skills and ingenuity that brought us the sport we continue to loved today. Gunstock has been a trend setter in skiing from first lifts and ski jumps to today’s Big Air Bag and the longest Zipline tour in the Continental US. Thankfully, there is no wooden bang board at the base of Gunstock's Zipline, just lots of springy rubber stoppers.
Rope Tow Photos courtesy of Bob Arnold, his grandfather Fritzie Baer was GM at Gunstock 1950-59
Gunstock Photo by Greg Burke
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.