By Evan Johnson
KILLINGTON—Winter had its last hurrah Tuesday, snowing in much of the Green Mountains for the entire day. But in the ballroom at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel at Killington Resort, talk was entirely on the coming summer. During the course of the hour-long summer kick-off event, Killington Resort and members of the Killington Pico Area Association (KPAA) and the Town of Killington announced capital improvements, expanded summer operating hours and a full calendar of summer events at the resort and in the surrounding area.
“I think we should take a vow and not talk about the weather anymore,” said Tracy Taylor, Pico’s director of operations. “Let’s move on to more positive stuff.”
But before the full ballroom of Killington employees and community members could hear the plans for the coming warmer months, they had to get the bad news in the form of charts that drew audible groans. The 2015-16 winter recorded 66 inches of natural snowfall, down 131 inches from last year. The levels were the lowest recorded in 29 years.
The lack of snow accompanied a steep drop in traffic, as skier visits plummeted from around 800,000 last year to just under 550,000 this year.
Despite the disappointing winter, Killington Resort President Mike Solimano said Killington continues to receive steady capital allocations from its parent company, Powdr Corp., at about $5 million per winter.
Solimano also confirmed Killington’s plans to host the 2016-2017 women’s FIS World Cup over Thanksgiving weekend. The event will attract American skiing talent including Lindsay Vonn and Mikkaela Schifferin, who won her second national giant slalom title in Sun Valley, Idaho on March 27.
The event would be the first World Cup race to be held on the East Coast in 20 years. While costing the resort $1.5 million, Solimano said the event would likely not be a huge revenue generator but would draw attention to the area by attracting an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 visitors.
“The real reason we’re doing it is it’s good for ski racing, it’s good for the East, and it’s good for Vermont,” he said. “It’s going to be in 60 countries on TV. That’s huge exposure.”
KPAA director Amy Morrison spoke next and gave updates on projects wrapping up for this summer and a schedule of over 100 events between May and October.
In beautification efforts, the association plans to cut the ribbon on a footbridge on Mountain Road over Memorial Day weekend. The association is also looking into adding small “pocket parks” on Mountain Road. “Our goal is to make the road look better and make it more attractive to visitors and residents alike,” Morrison said.
This summer will also see the addition of new hiking and biking trails in the area. Opening this spring, the association has planned a hiking trail from the Welcome Center on Route 4 to neighboring Kent Pond. A mile-long multi-use mountain biking trail near Kent Pond is also scheduled to be completed this spring.
Morrison also announced a busy summer schedule, including live music, beer and wine festivals and competitions. Highlights include the Killington Stage Race, May 28-30; the Downhill Throwdown skateboarding race, June 16-18;the Long Trail Century Ride on June 25; and the Eastern States Cup downhill mountain biking races, July 2-3. The Cooler in the Mountains concert series will return in July, August and September.
Killington’s town recreation director Kim Peters announced expansions to summer camps for kids ages 4-14. Camp activities will run from June 20 to Aug. 26 and will be based at the Ramshead area at Killington Resort for this summer.
Plans for summer
Pico’s director of operations Tracy Taylor said participation in summer activities has grown in the past two years. Between 2013 and 2015, summer visitors to the mountain grew from 19,000 to 45,000.
Taylor previewed plans for a $1 million investment in summer programming that includes expansions to mountain biking and additions to the resort’s Adventure Center.
Summer plans for the Snowshed area include a dual 950 foot-long zip line that will reach speeds of up to 50 mile per hour as it swoops down across Snowshed pond.
A 40-foot high “jump tower” is also planned and will allow users to jump using a harness that integrates with the zip lines.
Snowshed will also be the site of three summer tubing lanes. The lanes will use the same tubes as winter and reach speeds of close to 30 miles per hour.
A jogging course with exercise stations around Snowshed pond is also planned.
Taylor also offered a brief preview of a three-stage zipline totaling 10,000 feet with maximum speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.
Working with Whistler-based trail builders Gravity Logic, Killington plans to bring nine miles of downhill mountain biking trails online this summer. The first three trails at Ramshead scheduled for completion include a 1.13 mile-long trail used for races, a 2.29 mile-long intermediate flow trail and a 2.15 mile-long trail with large jump features for advanced riders. A pump track and a strider bike course for small children are also planned.
Tuesday’s announcements are year three of a five-year expansion plan that includes $2 million in mountain biking projects. Killington’s communications manager Michael Joseph said the new trails for this year would come at a cost of around $375,000.
The goal, Taylor said, was to make Killington the mountain biking capital of the East Coast. “Make no mistake, mountain biking is going to be our core product and the backbone of our summer business,” he said. “Just like skiing, no one can touch us in mountain biking.”
Killington’s expanded operating schedule for the summer runs from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekend. The resort will be open on weekends until June 18 and then run weeklong until Labor Day.