Killington, Local News

Killington reflects on pandemic, looks ahead

By Polly Mikula

On Thursday, June 10, a couple hundred people from the community gathered, in-person, at the Killington Grand Hotel for the semi-annual update. Typically the event draws 600-700 attendees, Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort and Pico Mountain, told the crowd. Invitations were limited this year, he added, “but it’s so nice to be able to gather — and to see all your faces.”

Solimano then gave a brief update on how the resort fared last winter.

“We just really didn’t want to get shutdown,” he said.

The resort worked with the state and other resorts to design safety protocols that would ensure they could still operate. They took the regulations very seriously, but also allowed the marketing department to remain on-brand and have a bit of fun with their messaging. 

During the pandemic, skiing was a popular option nationwide, with 59 million skier visits this this winter according to NSAA — the fifth best season on record. 

But small ski areas did better than larger ones, said Solimano. “I don’t think Vermont helped,” he said, referring to the state’s restrictions on travel and quarantine requirements for all visitors. 

The state of Vermont hasn’t yet published its official count of skier visits for the past season, but Molly Mahar, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, estimates it’ll be a decrease of about 20%. However, that statistic comes with a caveat: Season pass holders still frequented their favorite resorts at high rates, but the number of day pass visits plummeted. 

Solimano noted that trend at Killington. “Season pass sales weren’t bad, as many people moved here and bought them and then skied all the time,” he said.

The trend was also evident in the number of skiers and riders that joined the 100-day club this past season. The club began during the 2012-13 season, when about 50 people achieved the coveted title. This year, over 400 people crossed that milestone. In fact, on the 100th day of the season, 18 people had perfect attendance, skiing every day the resort had been open. By closing day, five people retained their perfect record — skiing 170 days in all. 

In general, low expectations kept spirits high at the resort. “We expected it to be the worst year ever, but it turned out to be more like a bad average year,” Solimano said. “If you lower your expectations enough it’s easier to exceed them,” he laughed. 

Vermont resorts were limited to 50% capacity on lifts, so Killington Resort strategically encouraged more mid-week visits. That way, demand remained below capacity. 

“Last season we didn’t have to turn away any passholders,” Solimano said proudly. “Most resorts can’t say that … and it didn’t happen by accident,” he continued, praising his team for making that achievement possible. 

Like many of the area’s restaurants, the resort invested in outdoor options including food trucks and a new deck on the Jerk Shack at mid-Skyeship.

Looking ahead

With pandemic restrictions now lifted, the resort had 30 conferences and 29 weddings booked as of Thursday. The largest events include: AJGA junior golf tournament June 21-24, Total Archery Aug. 13-15, Spartan Race Sept. 11-12, Brewfest Sept. 25, Harvest Fair Oct. 9 and the World Cup Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 27-28.

Mountain biking also continues to be a huge draw to the area, and the resort expects to hit a new record for rider visits. While Killington’s bike park is celebrating it’s 30th season, during the years prior to 2014 it only attracted about 2,000 riders each season. Since then — and after significant investment and development of the beginner and intermediate terrain on the lower mountain — ridership at the resort has grown, hitting 37,000 riders in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, “which is a success considering most guests were not allowed in Vermont,” Solimano said of last summer.

This year, the resort has set a goal of 50,000 bike visits.

Community aid

“Play it Forward was launched to expand our Play Forever corporate responsibility commitment to protecting the environment and enabling participation,” said Solimano. 

The Cummings Foundation and John and David Cumming, Powdr’s owners, donated $2.25 million across Powdr businesses. Killington received $350,000. Of that money, $100,000 went to the Killington Business Relief fund, $90,500 went to food insecurity programs, and $25,000 went to the Sherburne Education Foundation (to help fund a new playground).

New construction

Solimano acknowledged that the Bear Mountain development, announced years ago, hit some unexpected delays due to issues with their third party developer. But, he said, Powdr was able to fund the planned bridges/tunnels and the new Southridge quad chairlift despite not having the revenue expected from that development. Solimano also announced that instead of just renovating the Bear Mountain lodge, a new lodge was now being planned. 

Demolition of the old K-1 lodge in March 2020 was also delayed. Construction has now restarted, with work on stairs, railings, sidewalks, paving and siding as well as work on indoor spaces. The resort has reset their teardown date for for the old part of the lodge for mid-March 2022 and expects the new lodge to be completed for the 2022/23 season.

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