By Brooke Geery
Not many people can say they’ve covered New York’s Central Park with snow, but Greg Hiltz can. A select few people can say they’ve pulled off making enough snow for a World Cup course in one night, and they’d probably have to thank Hiltz for it. In his 45-year career making snow at Killington Resort, he created, innovated, and made so many laugh, but on March 21, 2023, Hiltz took out his channel locks and turned off his final snow gun at The Beast.
“That’s true, I’m done. Love the mountain, love the people, love the job, but I’ve done my time,” Greg says with the authority he’s become so well known for. “I will miss the camaraderie, the challenge, the excitement and the ability to turn around and say, ‘Wow, I had my hands on that. I helped do that.’”
Hiltz’s Killington career began during the 1977/78 season, one year after he’d first applied and realized he wasn’t quite ready to make the move from New York to Vermont. When he was offered a snowmaking job for the second time, he dove into the lifestyle headfirst.
“Back then, single and free, I would work all night and then ski during the day on my first day off. Go home and crash and then ski the next day, go home and crash and then go back to work for a while. It was awesome,” he said.
It wasn’t long before his dedication and work ethic earned him a promotion.
“So, I was working on the night shift, and by my second year, the night foreman decided to stop showing up. So ‘tag you’re it, Hiltz.’ I was promoted to the night foreman and I got a $.25 an hour raise from $2.75 to $3 an hour,” he remembers.
Hiltz was living his best life, when on July 25, 1980, his career (almost) came to its premature conclusion. Working on a snowmaking pipe above South Ridge, Greg’s hand was crushed under 900 pounds of steel.
“It was bad. It was real bad,” he said. “But through the whole thing, I kept my wits about me. I had two guys working with me and I told them what we should do to free my hand up. We basically ended up ripping it out. I called dispatch, got on the radio and said, ‘Hey, need some help up here.’”
Since no one could drive to where they were located, the trio met the truck, which happened to be loaded with 13 cases of dynamite. After a quick bandage job, they headed down the work road.
“They weren’t going slow!” Greg laughed. “The dynamite is bouncing around and I’m thinking, jeez, this could be the last ride I ever take.”
They arrived at Snowshed unscathed and unloaded the TNT. The ambulance was coming up the access road, and they flagged it down in the sweltering July heat. The paramedics pulled over opening the door to the back of the bus.
“The last thing I remember, I said, ‘What are you gonna do, try and cook me in there?’” he laughs. “Because there was no AC and when they opened the door the hot air just fell out.”
After three days in the Rutland Hospital, Hiltz was transferred to Albany Medical Center, where he said he was fortunate to have a great surgeon, whom he credits with saving his hand. The injury sidelined him for a year and a half, during which time he was unable to work. But in 1982, he was able to come back to Killington as the first-ever snowmaking control room operator.
“It was a pretty basic system then. Just a big control board with meter readings so you knew the pump was running or it wasn’t,” he says. “Probably two years later, I was getting back the ability to use my left hand, so I went back to making snow at night.”
He kept up that grind for nearly a decade, but by the season of 1992/93, his family was growing.
“At that point my daughter was 9 years old, my son was 7. I had to have some work life balance, so I went to days,” he said. “I still made snow right up until 2021/22.”
Over those 40-some years, Hiltz saw the resort grow first-hand, and was always the loudest voice in the room – not afraid to speak up to get the job done right. He was on the crew that laid the first snowmaking pipe for Bear Mountain, which is a memory he’ll never forget.
“That was 1979 and there I am in a big bulldozer with a winch on it, working with a welder and laying the pipe down the hill. I can remember one day when we were doing that our radios weren’t working, but we still had to continue moving the pipe. From where I was perched on Outer Limits — about 300 yards below where there’s trees on the left and on the right when you ride the [Bear Quad] — I was yelling. They could hear me at the bottom and understand what I was saying. Everyone laughed about that.”
Fast forward 25 years, to the first Audi FIS Ski World Cup event in 2016. As snowmaking manager, Hiltz was tasked with turning grass into a World Cup course for the first time. He recalls the first visit from Tom Johnston, who oversees all World Cup course builds worldwide.
“We had guns on the first day, we’re plugging along. He rode the lift and said we didn’t quite have it. The next day, we rode the lift again and we basically awestruck him. He just kept shaking his head. We got to the top and he pulled us aside and said, “you know, in my entire career of running World Cup races and overseeing the snowmaking, I have never seen so much power on one trail. Oh, by the way, you guys killed it, you’ve got enough snow.’”
To pull off that feat, Hiltz said he spent three days building enough splitters to enable 70 hydrants to run more than 100 guns on Superstar.
“The guys were joking that they could walk down the trail and step from gun to gun. That’s how tight together they were,” he says.
Indeed, Hiltz’s tenacity and resourcefulness have been integral in Killington securing the Heroic Killington Cup for six years running.
“We will remember Greg for his legacy,” says Killington President and General Manager Mike Solimano. “His unwavering commitment to quality (always telling me – and John Cumming we need to spend more on snowmaking, at every chance he had.) The world-class reputation of Killington Ski Resort owes much to Greg’s tireless efforts, his leadership, and his commitment to the art of snowmaking.”
On May 18, Hiltz’s storied career was celebrated at the Killington Grand Hotel, with a party for the ages. He was handed a Simon Pearce replica World Cup trophy and bid a fond farewell by the team he led so well. Even Killington Founder Preston Smith sent along a note of thanks and congratulations.
“Looking back as founder and CEO of Killington Ski Resort, I remember so many employees and their commitment and dedication to the success of Killington. Greg stands out. [His] determination exposed a strong work ethic, which then turned into leadership. Moving on to become a master of snowmaking and contributing to our company’s leading product and success story. This is not just about [his] work ethic and accomplishments, it is really about the ever-positive attitude [he] possesses,” Smith said.
In the past few years, Hiltz had stepped into an advisory role at Killington, working on projects with Director of Planning Jeff Temple that ran the gamut from research for the Great Gulf village to signing off on dig safe permits for major snowmaking projects at the resort. His experience made him the go-to expert.
“You need a dig safe permit before you can dig. There’s power lines, there’s comm lines, there’s potable water and there’s snowmaking. I’ve had digs all over the mountain so I know where stuff is,” he said. “I won’t say I know everything, but I know quite a bit about where everything is.”
He also knows everything there is to know about snowmaking and is excited to take his knowledge with him onto his next challenge. As of April, he is selling snowmaking pipe around New England. He says this time, his retirement from Killington Resort is final, but he wouldn’t change it for the world.
“I’ve had a great life at Killington, there’s no doubt about it,” he says. “We all have trials and tribulations. I had some incidents that set me back, and I’m the kind of person that I overcome. Period. End of story. I’ll always overcome.”