When Killington Resort made $25 million in improvements in 2018, it was the largest investment at the resort and Pico in 20 years, according to resort officials.
The expenditures are part of a commitment by parent company Powdr to update the resort and make it a successful, sustainable four-season business that benefits the region’s inns, restaurants and shops, according to Rob Megnin, the resort’s director of marketing and sales.
Key to the changes at Killington were a reconfiguration and/or reclassification of many trails, along with lift changes that, together with new tunnels and radio-frequency identification (RFID) ticketing gates, aim to improve the guest experience.
At Pico Mountain, 2018 improvements included RFID gates, solar arrays and snowmaking upgrades that helped prepare the way for this year’s upcoming (pending permit approval) $2.1 million snowmaking enhancement.
Pico has been hampered by not having enough water in poor natural snow years, but this could change for the 2019-20 season with a proposed 16,850-foot pipeline, allowing water to be pumped from Killington so Pico no longer has to rely on streams to refill its two snowmaking ponds.
The additional water, combined with the installation of over 4,000 feet of new snowmaking pipe, the replacement of 5,418 feet of existing pipe, and an additional water pump, would double snowmaking capacity, allowing snow to be made for longer periods of time, more trails to be opened earlier in the season, and faster recovery from inclement weather, Megnin said.
Game changers at Snowdon, South Ridge
Asked about the large increase in spending and if it was due to competition, the need for updates, guests’ requests, or the changing marketplace, Megnin said, “All of the above.”
He noted that intermediate trails are the “sweet spot,” and that many lift and trail changes were made to better serve this segment of the market. They were also designed to improve the flow of skier traffic, which makes a big difference on busier days, he noted.
The new $7.8 million Snowdon Six Express chairlift — a six-person, high-speed, Leitner-Poma bubble lift — shortens ride time to 4.5 minutes. The bubble provides protection from wind and precipitation, offering a quieter, warmer and more comfortable ride on days when needed.
The former Snowdon Quad was installed on South Ridge, which has high-elevation cruisers for intermediate and black-diamond terrain, and access to a novice trail. The lift operates Fridays through Sundays and holidays, and provides additional ways to connect to the north side of the resort.
“The traffic around the mountain, especially on busy holiday weekends, has clearly improved. We’re seeing and hearing from long-time guests that the days of most guests lining up at a few lifts are gone — guests are much more spread out, making the lines more manageable resort-wide,” President and General Manager Mike Solimano said of that lift’s effectiveness.
Other changes to improve the experience on Snowdon Mountain include the relocation of a Pomalift to Ramshead, and eliminating closings of Bunny Buster’s intermediate terrain for race training (now done on Swirl).
Trail widenings and tunnels with skiing bridges over them at busy intersections of intermediate runs on Snowdon — Great Northern, Bunny Buster, Mouse Trap, Upper Chute and Great Northern/Lower Chute — as well as a tunnel on the Snowshed Crossover have also been implemented.
“Aside from families saying their kids really enjoy the tunnels, which is great, the point of them was to create a more seamless experience while keeping traffic flowing, and they’ve been doing just that.
“Flow is a big part of creating a positive experience. In a time when everything is at our fingertips, having to wait has become a frustration. With better flow throughout the mountain, there’s less wait and more fun,” Solimano said.
Other 2018 expenditures included: 44,000 feet of snowmaking pipe; four new groomers; solar installations; the purchase of Mendon Mountain View Lodge for housing key seasonal staff; new Leitner-Poma Sigma eight-person cabins and haul rope for the K-1 Express Gondola; new storage facilities for the K-1 gondola cabins and the Snowdon Six chairs to improve reliability and de-icing time; regrading and a re-route of Great Northern to limit trail intersections in high-traffic locations; and reopening of the Snowshed Crossover trail.
Communications Manager Courtney DeFiore explained that when the original Snowshed Crossover was closed due to its many intersections interrupting top-to-bottom ski trails, it made getting from the Bear Mountain and South Ridge areas back to the north side of the resort more challenging for beginners. Adding a tunnel and re-configuring the trail to North Brook Quad provided an easy route to Snowshed, she said.
The switch to the RFID One Pass, which is read automatically as one passes the new Axess gates, makes the lift access process easier and faster, DeFiore noted.
Asked about the reclassification of trails from green to blue, especially at Killington’s Summit, DeFiore said there are sections of Great Northern that created a problem for beginners who were not prepared for the greater difficulty on Killington Peak. If they should end up there now, a sign invites them to get on the K-1 Gondola to go down the mountain rather than risk a bad experience.
Other former green trails have also been uprated to blue, but a wealth of beginner trails remains, with 34 percent of terrain green.
Summer 2018 saw continued Mountain Bike Park improvements and the addition of the Woodward WreckTangle, an outdoor obstacle challenge at the Snowshed Adventure Center.
“We’d love to see a Woodward Mountain Center. That would dramatically improve our youth offerings and give us the capacity to run some additional night activities. Woodward is known for their exceptional facilities specially designed to promote progression, and it’d be a great tool for locals and visitors alike looking to develop their skills. If we keep getting these large chunks of capital year after year, I think it’s possible we could make this a reality in future years,” Solimano said.
While improvement plans are still being finalized for 2019-20, the tunnel planned for the Great Northern-Great Bear intersection (delayed by an early winter) will be built this spring. A replacement lift for the North Ridge Triple has been permitted and could be among the next round of improvements.