By Evan Johnson
KILLINGTON—Seated in the Peak Lodge at the summit of Killington Mountain, resort officials and members of the Killington Pico Area Association (KPAA) set their sights on the coming winter season and the events and developments slated to come with it.
KPAA President Howard Smith brought the audience up to date on some of the association’s finances. The organization of area businesses brings in $80,000 annually in membership dues and organizes the holiday festival and wine festival, two signature events that collectively bring in $30,000.
The organization has a part-time executive director, Kim Peters, and membership director, Alexis King. This year, the association hired part-time volunteer coordinator Hannah Keune.
In association business, members approved the appointment of Justin Pill, Mark Stugart and Merisa Sherman to the KPAA’s board of directors. The executive board remained unchanged.
This year, the association brought in 25 new members and extended hours for the Welcome Center. The added four hours every week will last through November’s Audi FIS World Cup races.
This year, the town, KPAA and Killington Resort collaborated on three new events: the Vermont Bike and Brew, Under Armour Trail Running Series and the Fairy Tale Festival.
The KPAA has also launched a three-tiered sponsorship system for future events.
In other local amenities, the KPAA celebrated the opening of an additional five miles of multi-use trails in Killington. The next phase of development will be to connect to the Gifford Woods trails.
Riding the momentum of a two-year commitment to host the Audi FIS Ski World Cup and a 2016-2017 winter that saw 201 days of skiing, Killington Resort’s Mike Solimano provided news on some upcoming investments. While new grooming machines, snowmaking guns and lift upgrades don’t have the dazzle of big-ticket items, the president and general manager assured his audience the changes would be appreciated.
“When a house is old you don’t knock it down and put up a new house,” he said. “You fix the pieces. It’s the same with our lifts.”
This coming season, parent company Powdr Corp. has invested $5.7 million in capital improvements at Killington and Pico across the properties. Among the capital improvements slated for the coming winter season:
- $1.7 million in snowmaking improvements and upgrades for 2018, including 163 new low-energy tower snow guns
- $350,000 in snowmaking and water infrastructure developments at Pico
- $700,000 in upgrades to the 27-lift infrastructure
- $1 million for three new Prinoth grooming tractors
- $2 million for remodeling the Grand Hotel
In summer 2018, Killington will start the Bear Mountain revitalization, the first phase of which includes a new lift on the south ridge of the mountain, a bridge over the Skyeburst trail and six to seven multi-family dwellings for a total cost of $3 million.
Since Powdr purchased Killington Resort and Pico Mountain in 2007, infrastructure improvements have exceeded $50 million, including a new lift, lift drives, snowmaking systems and the Peak Lodge.
He also announced that starting this year, all Castleton University students could receive a free pass to Pico with the opportunity to upgrade to include Killington for an additional fee. Shuttle service for students will also be available.
Solimano also provided some perspective on recent developments in the national ski resort industry. The past year saw the purchase of Stowe by Colorado-based Vail, and the purchase of Intrawest.
Solimano pointed to a 16 percent increase in season pass sales over last year as proof. Since signing on to a multi-resort pass deal called the M.A.X. Pass, Killington is the Number 1 visited resort of the over 30 resorts that participate in the pass program.
While larger families of resorts consolidated decision-making power, Solimano said, Killington and the other 16 Powdr-owned properties would retain their local character. Solimano said, “From Killington’s standpoint, we still feel we’re well positioned and we don’t really need to be associated with one of those bigger resorts.
“Powdr doesn’t have a plan to get really big,” he said. “That’s not one of their goals. They want to own great resorts and have people run them locally and be part of the local community.”
Summer activities, energy efficiency
Tracy Taylor gave an update on the growing amount of solar power in the Killington area. Pico’s roof-mounted system will be finished in the next 30 days. A larger array in the Bavarian lot is awaiting final permits to begin construction in April or May. The two projects would generate 225 kilowatt hours. Over the next two weeks, a total of 14 trackers are slated to be installed at the Skyeship Base Lodge, Killington maintenance garage, Pico maintenance garage, Pico Sports Center and the Wobbly Barn. These trackers are estimated to produce 130 kilowatt hours. Killington and Pico have also bought into four 500-kilowatt solar farms in Addison County. Two are currently operational and the other two will be online later this year.
Taylor said these solar build-outs were part of a five-year goal to cover 33 percent of the resort’s power needs by renewable energy. “Make no mistake that consumers vote with their wallets and especially Millennials want to give their money to businesses that take care of the environment,” he said.
Killington and Pico are also planning to welcome electronic cars to the area by installing 50 to 70 charging stations from Tesla next year, the largest charger installation at any ski resort in North America. “They want to build their gas stations and they’re starting with Killington.” Taylor said.
Summer activity upgrades
Ticket sales have continued to rise in recent years following investment in expanding the resort’s trail network. Ticket sales for the mountain bike park have grown from $12,000 last year to $20,000 this year. Summer operating revenues for both the mountain bike park and the adventure center were nearing $1.6 million for the just-ended fiscal year. Summer staff levels at the resort have also risen. In total, $689,000 will be allocated to summer activities at Killington.
Mountain bike park
The Killington Mountain Bike Park is in the midst of a multi-year build-out designed by trail builder Gravity Logic, that started in 2013. New projects include a new 2.5-mile jump trail, skills park and a 1.6 mile old-school hybrid trail. Three high-speed detachable lifts, including the K-1 Express Gondola, service all of the bike park’s terrain. Also added this year are bike carriers on the Snowshed and Ramshead Express Quads, which allow riders to self-load their bikes. With the addition of more than 10 new miles of trail in the last two bike seasons, there are now 30 miles of trails, making it the largest downhill bike park in eastern North America. Killington will have invested $500,000 in bike park improvements before the end of operations this fall.