By Polly Lynn
KILLINGTON — On Wednesday, Oct. 8, the Killington Chamber of Commerce held their annual meeting and reception, featuring an update and outlook report from Killington Resort. About 200 people attended the event held at the Killington Grand Hotel.
Chamber President Howard Smith welcomed the crowd and outlined the agenda for the meeting: Election of new Chamber officers would be followed by an annual update from the Chamber, then an update from Killington Resort, concluding with a presentation on a proposed plan for option tax reform and the formation of the Killington Pico Area Association (KPAA.)
All board of director nominees were voted in. They include: Hannah Abrams, from AdviCoach; Kyle Kershner, from Killington Pico Realty; Nancy Koch, from Killington Deli & Marketplace; and Steve Prentiss, from Killington Motel.
Smith then highlighted new developments at the chamber over the past year, including its move to the new offices located at the intersection of Route 4 and 100 (formerly Bill’s Country store) and the increased traffic that has created. He also touched upon the recent success of the regional Killington season pass program which has already brought in new members.
Killington Resort update
Next, Killington and Pico Resort President Mike Solimano highlighted major developments at the resort over the past year (like the Peak Lodge which opened Dec. 27, 2013) and pointed to some encouraging growth trends. Among those trends, he noted that the pace of booking was 23 percent up over last year thus far for 2015 and season pass holder retention had greatly increased, as did the resort’s Net Promotor Score (NPS), which indicates how likely visitors are to recommend their experience. The resort had placed an increased emphasis on improving their NPS after it placed 15th in the east a few years ago (47 percent of those polled were identified as promoters and 10 percent detractors). This past year, with the business community participating in the initiative, too, Killington placed second in the East with 77 percent identified as promoters and only 3 percent detractors.
“We’re pissing off less people,” Solimano summarized.
Rob Megnin, marketing director for the resort, followed presenting some of the resort’s new marketing efforts. “Stay and play” pushes make up for half of their total marketing budget, he said, and the resort is expanding it’s marketing efforts in South America and the UK, positioning Killington as an alternative choice to western resorts, he explained.
Megnin also reported that extended average stays have increased over the past few years from 3.1 to 3.4 days, a trend they hope to grow with incentives.
Killington has also seen great success from the free skis “Discovery” partnership it piloted with Elan last year. This year it has greatly expanded those offerings and included Burton snowboards in boarding packages. Because of that and other multi-day, lift-lesson-rental programs, Killington’s skier retention rate is much higher than average. Industry statistics show that 84 out of 100 people who try skiing once do not return to the sport, Megnin noted. At Killington, 40 percent return.
This year, Killington plans to expand its Terrain Based Learning programs and build slopes with intentionally placed curves to help novice snowsports athletes turn with a consistent flow.
“I believe we have the strongest learn-to programs in the country,” said Megnin.
Tracy Taylor, director of operations for Pico Mountain, then outlined plans for summer growth for the next three years. These are just our ideas at this point, “I don’t want to be accused of over-promising and under delivering,” he said, “but do want to give you all an idea of the directions we are planning to move and, if all goes according to plan, will be developing.”
“Business is pretty much flat in the winter,” he said, “We have to work very hard just to stay even.” Summer is our “biggest opportunity for rapid growth,” Taylor explained.
Starting with progress made this past summer, Taylor highlighted adjustments being made to mountain biking services at Killington. He noted that 10 percent of all riders nationwide are advanced and 90 percent are novice. “We got that backwards,” he said of the terrain currently offered. This past May, the resort brought in Gravity Logic, a consulting company with a great record for success, to help design a world-class mountain bike system over the next five years.
Some of the other offerings they had hoped to incorporate over this past summer had been delayed, Taylor explained. For example, the UTV and ATV permits were delayed long enough to make it not worth pursuing this summer but are already in place for next summer, he said. Similarly, the Soaring Eagle Zipline, which they hoped to install this fall, was delayed due to wetland permits, but the resort is “now under contract” and that zipline will be installed in the spring.
To show it’s confidence in that development, the resort gave out free ride tickets on the Soaring Eagle Zipline to all participants at the conference.
Taylor then outlined a long list of summer activities the resort hopes to add over the next three years, again emphasizing that there are many moving parts that accompany these projects (such as permitting, funding and third party partnerships) that are well beyond the resorts control, especially with regards to the timing of their completion.
Soaring Eagle Zipline (a two-person seated zipline on lookers left of the Snowshed Quad.)
Mountain Bike expansion on Snowshed, with new novice trails, rentals, services and tours.
Urban Challenge Course at Snowshed.
Short ziplines (100-feet-long on lookers right of the Snowshed Quad.)
Paddle boards and the installation of a sandy beach at Lake Snowshed.
Mountain Coaster (the resort has submitted permits, but project pends funding. Could be built as early as next fall, if everything goes perfectly.)
Mountain biking expands to Ramshead.
High ropes canopy tour.
Showshed becomes epicenter of summer activity with Segway tours, amazing maze, mining, paint ball. The resort plans to move the 10-meter umbrella bar to the Snowshed base.
A “big and Beastly” zipline from Peak Lodge. “They will come to Killington for this,” said Taylor, explaining that it will have a 4,900-foot span, which is the longest in the USA. Participants will reach speeds up to 70 mph!
On Oct. 7, the Killington Chamber board voted to support the development of the Killington Pico Area Association (KPAA). The effort progresses the “One Killington” initiative, explained Amy Morrison, director of the chamber.
The formation of the KPAA developed after the resort had asked the town to consider repealing the sales and use portion of the one percent option tax. If repealed, the town would face a deficit of tax revenue, which would be off-set by the development of the KPAA combined with a property tax increase.
The KPAA would be responsible for services currently being offered by the chamber, as well as putting on events formerly coordinated by the town, thus removing a significant budget item and lessening the amount to be made up by taxes. It would require an operating budget of $450,000 in order to accomplish those tasks, according to Morrison (the Chamber’s current operating budget of $80,000.)
The funds would come from three main revenue streams, Solimano explained: 1) Membership, which would make up 25 percent of the total (projected membership expansion will make up 14 percent of that total); 2) Killington Resort’s contribution to the KPAA would make up 35 percent of the organizations operating budget; and 3) Non-dues drivers, like events and sponsorships, projected to make up the remaining 40 percent.
The resort has asked the select board to put the question of removing the sales and use portion of the option tax up to a vote at Town Meeting in March. If this measure passes, the resort says it will be able to move forward with capital expenditures and plans for expansion as outlined above, much faster, which it expects to significantly boost the local economy.