Community 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. Mike Solimano, president and general manager for Killington Resort and Pico Mountain, has agreed to answer some of the most common questions received.

The Boston Ski and Snowboard Expo is coming up next week (Nov. 13-16). Do you expect to see anything new within the ski industry such as programs that could be game-changers in some way for this season or seasons to come? Killington has won awards for its learn-to-ski/ride programs in recent years, are more resorts adopting these practices? Have other resorts been successful in their efforts to increase mid-week business—something perhaps Killington could adopt?

Mike Solimano: We have been very focused on trying to grow the sport. Last year we introduced a revolutionary new product where we give beginners new skis after four days of lessons. We partnered with Elan and had 500 pairs of skis available. It is an expensive program to give pairs of skis and bindings away but we think it is worth the investment. The program sold out before Christmas. Several other resorts have copied the idea for this year (we are fine with this as the goal is to get more people to enjoy our sport so we want others to follow our lead). This year we are improving the program by adding kids’ skis, as well as we have partnered with Burton snowboards to do the same program for guests wanting to learn to board. In terms of mid-week business, this is an area that we have been very focused on for the past two years. The challenge is that most skiers/riders are available on weekends and all resorts are trying to grow mid-week business. We have focused on areas where we think we can grow mid-week, especially in our international markets, and our efforts are starting to show progress. Similar to what I have mentioned with summer business, there is no silver bullet for mid-week winter business and it will take a steady and focused approach that will help us grow this market.

Beginning this season the resort, in partnership with the Killington Chamber of Commerce, has offered a regional merchant pass to business members and their employees. Has this change been well-received and created the expected growth in Chamber membership? How many more local folks do you estimate will have a season pass this year as a result of the new program? Will it be expanded further?

Mike Solimano: As part of the plan to create a new Killington Pico Area Association (KPAA), we wanted to make sure the new entity had enough resources to help make it sustainable over time. We want this organization to be able to consolidate the work that both the Chamber and the Economic Development Tourism Commission (EDTC) are currently doing in both economic development as well as event management. The first step of this process was for the resort to expand the region where we allow the merchant pass to be sold. We decided that we should include the entire region (Rutland/Woodstock) as our focus for economic development extends beyond just Killington. For example, as we grow summer mountain biking, our vision is that we can market the entire region and try to make it a destination for mountain biking. With the town creating trails near Kent Pond and hopefully someday connecting to the resort, we think this will help in making the area a destination for biking, sort of like the northeast Kingdom has done very successfully. Also, Rutland, with its biking at Pine Hill Park, has some of the best cross-country biking in the state. This is an asset for the entire region and we think it should help us bring people to the area in future years if it is part of a bigger strategy. The other benefit the extended merchant pass has, is that we require all businesses outside of Killington to join the chamber (soon to be the KPAA), which is a new revenue source for them. In addition, the resort is contributing a portion of each pass sales back to the KPAA as well. This is a new revenue stream for the organization and will help them gain a stronger financial footing. So far the response has been very strong, having signed 16 so far.

The resort’s summer plans and developments are exciting and, as residents, we hope you are able to carry them out. But it is standard practice for a business to invest in improvements in order to increase its future profits. So why would any such improvements for the resort be tied into a repeal of the 1 percent sales and use option tax levied by the town? Looking ahead, the town has some big expenses coming down the pipeline (including expensive options to fix or build a new firehouse that has recently come to our attention). Why should residents vote to repeal an option tax when we may need those funds to prevent our municipal taxes from skyrocketing?

Mike Solimano: The reason the tax was originally proposed was to create a fund of money to help create economic development in the summer months. I think the EDTC has worked hard to support and bring events to town to help improve summer business. Over time most of the money from the option tax has been moved to the general fund and now only a small portion of it actually supports what it was originally designed for. We are not asking to repeal the meals and rooms portion of the tax and are supporting the town to use this money to reduce the debt on the golf course (even though the course competes with our course). But this form of tax is very inefficient since 30 percent of the overall tax is taken by the state and does not directly help the local economy. We feel that the community’s future summer success needs to be more diverse and include assets on the mountain that will be a draw to guests during this slow time of year. To be clear: we are not saying that we won’t invest in summer without repealing the sales and use portion of the 1 percent (I don’t want this to be perceived as a threat, as we really believe what is good for the resort is good for the community and vice versa). We have been investing in mountain biking and have plans to build more trails this spring/summer. In addition, we have already signed a contract for the Soaring Eagle zip line (a mechanical zip line) to go in Snowshed this spring. Our point is that the pace at which we can expand our summer investment will be increased if we are able to use some of the money we currently pay into this tax. We understand the issues the town faces in regards to future expenditures. Remember, we are the biggest tax payer in town so as taxes go up, we pay the majority of those amounts, too. We think the best way for the community to be able to keep taxes down in the future is to grow our year round business which in turn will grow the tax base in town and allow the town to have more resources to deal with major capital improvements down the road.

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