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 have posed them directly to Mike Solimano, president and general manager for Killington Resort and Pico Mountain, who has responded here. Three questions many residents raised this week include:
1) In the community meeting held in June townspeople learned about plans for increasing summer tourism through mountain biking, zip lining, among other activities at snowshed pond. At the annual meeting held this past Wednesday, Oct. 8, the resort explained the progress that was made, some of the obstacles faced that delayed plans, and some exciting projects slated for the next three years, which includes a mountain coaster, an urban challenge course, three different types of zip lines of varying difficulty, a high ropes canopy tour, a greatly expanded mountain biking system, among other smaller initiatives.
These tentative plans are very exciting but seem to require that a lot of moving parts come together. Can you explain exactly what the obstacles are that could keep the resort from being able to deliver these offerings? Permits? Funding? Anything else?
Our goal is to under promise and over deliver. We’ve been good at it in the past, but we have such exciting plans for summer that we want to share them with the community. It is a difficult balance in trying not to over promise with also letting everyone know what our future plans entail. For example, the Peak Lodge plans were in place for four years before we started construction, but we didn’t announce our plan right away. Same with mountain biking – we had a mountain biking plan laid out before contracting with Gravity Logic, but now that we’ve inked the deal with them, we are sharing the plan publicly. We’re confident in promising expanded mountain biking and lift service for next summer along with parts of the broader summer plan, such as the high ropes course.
We continue to finalize contracts and arrangements with third-parties for these infrastructure projects, and that process can come with delays. For example, with the Soaring Eagle zip line, we had finalized a deal with the company and had permits in hand, but when we needed to change the location we had to reapply for permits. We’re doing our best to bring great new infrastructure to the mountain in the most strategic, environmentally and community friendly ways, and sometimes that means extra moving parts.
2) When you mentioned “Lake Snowshed” some people in the crowd Wednesday snickered, partly due to the size, but also due the fact that the community observed very few activities this summer on the pond. In fact, when some business owners suggested to their guests that they go paddle-boarding on the pond (or lake), they came back to report that the dock had a “no trespassing” sign on it and they couldn’t figure out where to go to get boards. The plans that we saw on Wednesday call for a much more robust effort, which is required, but Killington seemed to feel as though they delivered on that offering, which concerned many. Can you give us an estimate on what to expect for an operating schedule for paddle boarding, fishing, etc. on Lake Snowshed next summer?
I want to begin by explaining that this summer was a pilot year for us, and we had to figure out a lot of things along the way. Snowshed mountain biking was not firing on all cylinders on opening day, but by the end of the summer we had our busiest weekend with all of our bikes rented before noon Sunday, and a record number of summer gondola rides. It was the largest summer volume we have had since Powdr took over.
We were late getting the water sports up and running, and we’re aware that they need to be more accessible next year. Our original summer vision was to have all operations based out of Snowshed Lodge this past summer, but we decided to take things one step at a time keeping our mountain bike shop at K-1 instead. We’re not yet experts in summer, and we’re going to have to try a lot of new things and we will definitely make many mistakes along the way. The key is to learn quickly from challenges we have and continue to improve our operations.
In the Wednesday meeting we tried to explain that the water sports kicked off this year as a trial with a limited amount of equipment. We’re going to learn from this summer and improve the product, with the belief that this type of attraction and other smaller draws can complement our major assets. Our main focus is mountain biking, but we want a hub of other activities at Snowshed to help guests round out their visits and encourage longer stays in the area.
Our first phase of summer expansion is complete. We have a long way to go to grow midweek business levels, and a key step is offering auxiliary attractions. Thankfully we have a summer of experiences to learn from, and have shown flashes of the new services we can offer with six new bike trails cut this summer, and busy weekends spinning the Snowshed Quad.
3) The investment in snowmaking that Killington has made again this year is impressive! But there seems to have been a bit of confusion on the numbers and what the new guns will actually mean for improved ski slope surfacing. We’d love to know these details so we can be informed when passing the information along to our guests. Can you give us brief “talking points” (if you will) on the financial investment, number of guns and what that will collectively mean when added to your current fleet? (We also loved the ad that states: “More Winter. The longest season in the East starts when we say so” — and were thrilled to learn that you plan to “say so” very soon. Perhaps offering skiing/riding in as soon as two weeks!)
Answer by Jeff Temple, director of mountain operations
This past summer, Efficiency Vermont (EVT) offered ski resorts in Vermont an astounding rebate on the purchase of new low energy snow gun technology. EVT provides rebates as incentives for investing in the reduction of electrical energy – we have received rebates on a number of high-impact energy reduction programs like lodge heating, lighting and additional snowmaking projects.
Killington Resort invested in the EVT incentive program this year in exchange for 396 new portable and tower guns. In a typical year we add about 100 snow guns. This purchase is the largest single-year buy as far as I can remember in Killington history.
The resort has worked with this low energy technology for years and has extensive experience on the best locations for it, and we know where a higher-throw gun is necessary for the kind of quality we and the guest expect on a daily basis.
This significant investment greatly enhances the resort’s ability to stand by our commitment to the longest possible season by giving us great flexibility in the operation of our snowmaking system while dealing with the volatile New England energy market.
The team is watching the weather closely and would love to be skiing by Halloween if we can. The new snow guns will play a large role in kicking off the 2015 season.
Editor’s note: In the next edition, Jeff Temple will go in-depth to explain the mechanics of low energy snow guns and to provide a more details update on the snowmaking overhaul at Killington that includes these 396 new low energy guns, plus the relocation of 85 snow guns for the coming season.