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October 3, 2014

Community Q&A with Mike Solimano

Community Q&A with Mike Solimano

Editor’s note: The Mountain Times receives many questions from readers every week about Killington Resort and Pico Mountain operations. In order to best answer some of the most common questions we will pose them directly to Mike Solimano, president and general manager for Killington Resort and Pico Mountain, who has agreed to respond in an honest and timely fashion. Here are a few concerns many residents have raised this week:

The Spartan Race on Sept. 20-21 brought many people to town. Businesses across the region benefitted from the influx of athletes and their supporters. Many wonder if the resort is courting other large events that could bring a similar benefits to the region and, together, could spur the summer economy. Are there other events that could have a similar impact? What can Killington do to attract (and keep) them?

The resort is very committed to trying to bring bigger and more diverse events to the region. Landing big events needs to be a partnership between the resort and the community and this is one of the reasons that we are supporting the formation of the Killington Pico Area Association as part of the 1 percent option tax repeal. In the past few years, I believe we have made a lot of progress with the resort and the community working together for our common success, but we can do so much more. This November our events team is partnering with the towns development team to solicit business at the “TEAMS conference” in Las Vegas (the largest expo for the sports-event industry in the world). This is the first time we have joined forces to promote the region as a unified front and we believe it will strengthen our collective position as we can show event organizers that we can accomplish more working together. I believe what is good for the town is good for the resort and vice versa.

From a non-business perspective, the Spartan Race seems to have left a mark on the mountain that some fear will leave a permanent scar. New trails were cut, heavy traffic on existing trails may lead to erosion and trash was littered across the full length of the 16+ mile loop (much of which was in the forest and not easily recovered.) How do Spartan Races and Killington Resort split the responsibility of clean-up and restoring the mountain? What, if any, permanent damage was made? Do you expect it will affect skiing, biking or hiking? What about the environment?

We are very focused on making sure this event has minimal lasting impact on our mountain. We take pride in making sure we are delivering our guests great experiences but also that we are being good stewards of our mountain. Each year we have learned from the past Spartan events and changed our practices to make sure the impact on our trails and mountain are reduced. This year we moved the course in several locations in order to have less impact on sensitive areas of the mountain re-routing the course to locations where the impact would be less. Our main business is still skiing and riding so we don’t take chances on messing up anything that could impact the start to the season. In terms of cleanup, we share the responsibility of clean up with Spartan Races. The Spartan crew typically focuses on taking down obstacles and cleaning up garbage and our resort teams work on the trail remediation including seeding and haying to make sure we grow back vegetation quickly with minimal impact. We need to get better at working with participants on the amount of garbage left behind. I think the mentality of some participants is like at marathons where people drop cups on the ground after a water station. I think we need to work next year to better communicate how participants and spectators can help us leave the resort in better shape at the end of the event.

We take environmental stewardship very seriously. The resort has increased recycling by 70 percent in the past 5 years (for a total of 98 tons last year alone) and we have been recognized for our efforts. Killington Resort received the 2014 Green Mountain Award for Environmental Excellence and were voted the Greenest Overall Resort in Vermont by the Vermont Ski Areas Association.

Last week the Economic Development and Tourism Commission unanimously voted to ask the select board to put repealing a portion of the 1 percent option tax on the ballot in March. The town has presented a plan for how that transition could look, but some are concerned that the resort will not uphold its part of that plan (which includes helping to fund an association that would put on events and investing in off-season offerings to growth year-round business.) Without a guarantee for such funding, some fear the town could face decreased offerings. From your point of view, why should voters feel confident in repealing the 1 percent option tax?

It’s my understanding that one of the main reasons many in the community originally voted for the 1 percent option tax was that they did not believe that the resort had the community’s best interests in mind; they didn’t trust that the resort was going to help bring more visitors to the region in the summer. In the past few years, my team has worked hard to regain the trust of the community and I believe we have shown that we are trying to do what is best for the region as a whole. We want to see the region thrive. We believe that we need more physical assets on the mountain in the summer to help attract visitors multiple times during the non-winter season. Currently, we have some modest summer attractions (golf, gondola, etc.) that consistently drive business but we largely count on events to boost the summer economy. Moving forward, we believe the right solution is a combination of both more physical assets (mountain coasters, zip lines, etc) as well as events to drive increased sustainable visitation in the summer months.

In terms of why people should trust us, all I can say is I believe that our past and current actions should speak to this issue. I also think there is little risk for most residents since the increase in property taxes would be offset by the savings residents would realize from the removal of the 1 percent tax on their utility, cable and other bills.

The way I see it, two main options can happen if the tax is repealed:

First, let’s take the pessimistic view: The resort does not honor its commitment to invest in summer assets and/or does not fund the KPAA as discussed. Under this scenario, the average tax payer would be no worse off as previously stated, but the resort would lose credibility, which would likely cause us to go back to an environment where the resort and the community did not work well together. This is not to our advantage as it negatively affects guest experience among many other advantages we now enjoy as partners.

Second, is the optimistic view: The resort does as it says it will and invests the savings it receives from the 1 percent tax repeal, in both physical assets as well into funding of the new KPAA to help fund events. If successful, the resort would grow summer visitation to the region creating a community that is more balanced year-round. This, in turn, would allow area businesses to flourish during non-winter periods, employing more people, which would also help drive up rental values as well as property values for the entire community and creating a larger tax base, which could help reduce or limit tax increases in the future for residents.

To put it most simply, I think we need to decide as a town if we want to take the chance that the resort and the community can grow summer business together by investing together and creating a win/win for the entire area. We have too beautiful of a region to be only utilizing our assets in the winter.  I know if we continue to work together we can continue to improve the community that we will all be proud of in the future.

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