On November 22, 2023

Tour Operator Pete Campana, 80, still enjoys Killington trips, sharing the experience of skiing with others

 

Submitted

Pete Campana’s bus tours to Killington were known for fun.

 

By Karen D. Lorentz

In 1981 for Washington’s Birthday week there had been a total washout of eastern ski areas followed by Killington’s receiving two feet of snow. Some 60-plus tour buses, which had gone elsewhere for the week, showed up at Killington on a record-breaking Saturday. 

Buses normally discharged skiers in the Upper Snowshed Lot mornings and then collected them there at the end of the day — often after gassing up in Rutland or going for lunch. But by 3 p.m. that afternoon, the Upper Lot was full and the returning buses had nowhere to park so they inundated the (lower) Snowshed Lot aisles causing a massive traffic jam! 

Killington Marketing Director John Clifford was called to the scene and enlisted a tour operator to help him sort out the mess. With instructions to turn cars back and away from the congested area, which Clifford was emptying from another route, this enlisted volunteer let no one through. 

That included Preston Leete Smith. Banging on the hood of Smith’s car with his fists and telling him to turn around caused Smith to get out and inquire, “What’s going on here and who are you?!” 

To which the tour operator, replied, “I am Killington Tours Operator Pete Campana, and John Clifford told me to route all cars that way so we can straighten this mess out. Now get that car out of here.” 

Having stumbled upon and witnessed this scene, a horrified Clifford stayed out of sight.

Afterward, he asked Pete Campana if he knew what he had done. Much to his dismay, the tour operator learned he had just turned around the ski area’s president!

Fortunately for Clifford, Smith was a stickler for everyone following rules without special exceptions. 

How the tours began

Peter Campana was born in Camden, New Jersey, and after he graduated from Cherry Hill West High School in 1962, he went to work in construction and then joined his father’s restaurant Singles Saints & Skiers (now Caesar’s Tavern) in Westville, New Jersey.  

A girl he knew had talked him into trying skiing and liking it, he “wanted to take more trips.” That led to offering his first bus trip to Big Boulder in nearby Pennsylvania in 1968. 

“Then a group of us drove to Killington,” Campana recalls. 

As interest grew in the early 1970s, he started bus trips to Killington. “I showed the North Country Lady film [produced by Bob Perry for Killington] to schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, promoting Killington and ski trips. We grew to over 100 buses to Killington a season,” Campana recalled.

He arranged the bus transportation, lodging accommodations, meals, and lift tickets which with group rates made skiing more affordable. Bus tours were popular as “skiers could sit back and relax and not worry about the weather,” Campana noted. 

As his bus tour business took off, he incorporated as Killington Ski Tours, Inc. and ran tours every weekend from mid-December through March to Killington from destinations throughout the Northeast.  The groups included high schools, ski shops, company outings, and private groups. 

If you can remember when the Upper Snowshead Parking Lot would be packed with buses on any given Saturday afternoon, chances are that most of those buses were operating through Campana’s company. In 2009 he changed the name to Vermont Ski Tours to reflect the growing number of groups that his company was sending to other resorts in New England in addition to Killington.   

Challenges and memories

During the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973-74, the fuel crisis shortage led to the rationing of gas, impacting many an out-of-state skier who had to worry about finding enough gas to get home. It also impacted bus tours as drivers needed to fuel up for return trips.  

Campana, who had worked with Clifford on building up Killington’s group business, was offered fuel from Killington’s supply so they could get home. Smith was appreciative of having the business and Killington didn’t charge for the fuel, Campana recalled.  

Campana also recalled that the 1980s and 1990s were peak times for bus trips and that one weekend in the 1980s he had 20 bus groups in the Upper Snowshed Parking Lot, representing 998 skiers! 

The only winter Campana did not run any bus trips to Vermont was the 2020–21 season due to the Covid pandemic causing Vermont to restrict visits.  

“It was the most challenging year with other states and restaurants also having strict rules that affected the business. It was one of those winters you try to forget,” Campana said.

He often likes to recall the story of how he unwittingly stopped Smith’s car and, not having met Smith in person before, had told the owner to turn around! 

Another fond memory is of Clifford asking if he had any ideas for the Atlantic City Night, a popular Rotary fundraiser. Knowing people connected to the Playboy Club, Campana suggested having some bunnies attend. And that’s how real “bunnies” skied before donning their bunny getups for the evening, which needless to say was quite a hit.

Campana also arranged Amtrak train trips to Rutland and from there had buses bring skiers to Killington. During the 1980s and 90s, he also chartered end-of-season plane trips from Philadelphia to Denver and a bus ride to Vail, Colorado for groups.  

Campana is now in his 57th year as president of Vermont Ski Tours. His sons Peter and Fran assist him in running the company by managing the website and social media accounts as well as by escorting bus trips. Four additional escorts assist bus groups.

Although he’s 80 and “semi-retired, Campana still enjoys his business. 

“If Mick Jagger can still tour, I can run trips,” Campana commented, explaining, “We’re the same age.”

He’s reduced his workload to “seven weekends a year now with up to seven or eight buses on any given weekend. I still like to go on some of the trips with groups I’ve taken up for years. I’ve had a lot of good moments and have fond memories,” he noted, appreciatively adding, “I’ve lived a great life and found my niche in life that not too many people find.”

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