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December 24, 2014

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:

1) Mountain Times: Pico got over a foot of snow for its opening day! Was that a record? Killington did too, of course, and skiers and riders seemed to flock to the slopes for the early season power conditions mid-December. Has the resort posted higher visits due to all the snow? Are future reservations or other indicators stronger, too? The smile-factor is certainly high!

Mike Solimano: The snow was perfect in more than one way – it was just heavy enough that it was good for skiing but great for building a base to last all season, plus the timing was perfect. Winter Storm Damon allowed us to open Needle’s Eye and Bear Mountain way ahead of schedule for Thanksgiving, and we were thrilled to drop the rope on Outer Limits so early. And it was definitely the best opening day I have seen at Pico Mountain. We practically opened the entire mountain and the woods were skiable from day one – you can’t ask for much more than that!

Our historical snowfall average for December is 33 inches – and we have already received 36! Three feet of fresh snow before first day of winter is really remarkable.

We also made a major investment in snowmaking for this season and added nearly 400 high efficiency guns of varying makes and models to our fleet so we can produce top quality snow in a wide range of temperature and humidity conditions at both Killington and Pico. We will also be using this new hardware to blow snow on some steep and narrow trails that usually just rely on natural snowfall, like lower Ovation.

Resort visits are up from last year at this time, but right on pace with what we were forecasting for this season.

2) MT: The weather forecast for the Christmas week says a storm is on its way — and it might be rain! Killington resort must follow the weather VERY closely in order to prepare as much as is possible for such events. How do you prepare for rain? Do you make more snow prior or less? Do you concentrate efforts higher on the mountain or lower or just in certain areas?

MS: You’re right – we watch the weather very closely, and whatever Mother Nature delivers impacts how we approach snowmaking, grooming and lift operations. We are used to seeing variable weather before Christmas; usually the consistent cold doesn’t arrive until January.  Since our weather pattern recently has been marginal for snowmaking, we have had to stay up higher on the mountain with a focus on reinforcing the great snow we have before we lose snowmaking temps, but we are still making snow on Great Eastern all the way down whenever we have cold enough temps.

With our snowmaking system we usually work at maximum production in order to have as much snow and terrain as possible for the holiday period. We definitely don’t stop making snow due to the “R word” in the forecast – we actually do the opposite and to try to make sure what we have can last through any variable weather.

3) MT: Over the past few years we’ve heard a bit about the Net Promoter Score and the progress Killington has make over the past few years. Is this still an effort? How is it going and what are the actions one has to take to improve such a score? Especially since the experience of a guest and how likely they are to recommend their experience to a friend (which is how the score is calculated) depends on many factors outside of the resort.

MS: For the past two years, we have really been focused on improving the overall guest experience, and a big part of that is front-line hospitality. The NPS really gauges if guests would recommend Killington or Pico to a friend. We know word of mouth recommendations are the most powerful marketing we could have, so we want to make sure that guests leave smiling and remembering special experiences.

We have made great strides and monitor feedback weekly from guests. Our score has risen steadily for the last five years and our guests are really noticing a change in our culture. In that time we have increased the score from 45 to 77 (a 71 percent increase), and are now considered one of the top resorts in New England for service.

One of my favorite ways to measure if we are improving is to see how we are doing growing our Unlimited season passholder base. This group should be our most loyal and dedicated – we have grown this category by 30 percent over the past 3 years, so I know we’re doing something right.

We monitor low survey scores and the management team reaches out to all guests that felt we did not meet their expectation. We try to learn and improve our business from these discussions.

I love customer feedback and as a company we are doing a lot more listening. I personally respond to all emails sent to me (send them to msolimano@killington.com), readers can interact with us on social media, and should also check out our community blog at www.killington.com/community.

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