From Snowshed to Royal Flush, Killington’s ski trail names contain history, humor
By Karen D. Lorentz
From Snowshed to Royal Flush to Superstar, the naming of trails at Killington contains interesting histories and, at times, humorous stories.
The most historic name is Snowshed.
The Snowshed trail was named after the snowsheds built when logging occurred on a very steep section of the mountain (around 1910). The snowsheds resembled elongated covered bridges. The goal was to avoid the cumbersome use of chains by protecting habitually icy areas from snow. However, instead of remaining dry or bare, the surface beneath the half-mile long snowsheds often became icy and sped up the progress of sleds full of logs so their use was discontinued.
Although a technical flop, the snowsheds have been immortalized by the naming of the mile long beginner hill that was so gentle for the time that the French manufacturer Eugene Pomagalski called Killington’s founder to ask if a mistake had been made in the specs for Snowshed’s first chairlift.
“No mistake,” Preston Leete Smith told him. He just wanted to make learning to ski as easy as possible and prevent neophytes from picking up too much speed. The Snowshed trail was a huge success and was later widened to become the slope it is today — still catering to beginners along with other learning trails added at the Snowshed area.
In a conversation from his home in Florida, Smith recalled that someone had told him about the history of the snowsheds, and that he probably suggested the name to the group of Killington founders, which included Joe Sargent, Wally Morrison, and their wives.
“We named trails the way I named boats. I kept a list and we added to it,” Smith said, noting that the list would trigger ideas and they would “bounce names around” until everyone agreed the name was appropriate. “Some names were picked for steepness like Cascade and Downdraft and others for lack of steepness like Goat Path and Mouse,” he said.
It was Sue Smith who came up with the name Outer Limits, daughter Leslie said.
Due to its consistently long steepness and the fact that “it was ledgy and not the greatest protected exposure,” Pres Smith said they didn’t build Outer Limits until “snowmaking had become dependable enough.” The name was deemed appropriate for reaching the limits of trail design and being skiable.
While Outer Limits became world famous for its pitch and site of the Mogul Challenge, Superstar may have eclipsed its fame due to recent hosting and televising of Women’s World Cup races. The original Superstar cut in 1971 was narrow and very gnarly and only had natural snow, recalled Suzanne Jones, daughter of founders Mary and Joe Sargent.
Smith said as he stood at the top and looked straight down, its steepness elicited the exclamatory first two words of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which premiered that year, so he named it Superstar. (It was relocated and widened in 1987.)
Leslie Smith added that a steep last section of Superstar was named Preston’s Pitch, in a nice nod to her father, and was suggested by Chuck Hughes for the World Cup races.
Indicative of some of the “problems” that arose during the 1970s era of environmental zealousness, ski areas couldn’t cut trees down to build trails or install new lifts for several years.
To service the wastewater disposal needs for the new (1971) Killington Peak Restaurant, the ski area built a leach field on adjacent Snowdon Mountain. A state inspector paid a visit to the field to inspect what rumors had was “a toilet bowl.” Skiers had discovered a natural area to ski among the trees on the steep southern face of Snowdon. Due to the precipitous drop with mountains surrounding the skier on three sides, they said it was like skiing down a “toilet bowl.”
Smith took the official over to see the gladed area, remarking it was “too bad he didn’t ski because it was a great run.” When trees could be cut again in 1977, a new trail was cut there, and Smith requested that skiers please refer to it as the Royal Flush. (An adjacent steep glade was later named The Throne.)
Smith also recalled skiing “almost straight down a potential trail and turning among the trees,” saying it was “almost like a Downdraft,” another name he came up with for the trail he laid out in 1965.
Noting, “Wally, Joe and I were the principal namers,” Smith added, “Wally named Skye Peak having known of the Isle of Skye in Scotland. We liked it; it struck us well.”
Joe Sargent came up with the name Rams Head after having visited Wolf’s Head in the West, Jones said, noting her mother came up the the name Header for the trail under the Rams Head lift in a take on “head” and the straight down trail under the lift.
Some names incorporated design purpose like wildfire, on Bear Mountain. It was designed and built (1979) to resemble the giant slalom trail at the 1980 Olympics at Whiteface Mountain and was used for practice by visiting ski teams that year —the US Ski Team and others were based at Killington — and later for Nor Ams, Leslie Smith recalled, noting the song Wildfire was very popular in the 1970s.
Trail and name changes
The widening of Downdraft and Bunny Buster to 150-foot widths made 1980 a landmark year for trail changes thanks to advances in snowmaking and grooming technology. More widenings followed and, along with the new wide super steeps like Devil’s Fiddle, Superstar, Ovation, Double Dipper, and Outer Limits, today’s 200- to 300-foot wide black diamond trails attest to the efficacy of modern snowmaking and grooming while their names connote steepness.
The double black diamond Devil’s Fiddle is known for “the cliff” and “corkscrew” skiing. Google its name and you’ll find that, “According to medieval legend, Satan selected the violin as an unholy weapon for enticing people to dance … straight into hell.” Jones said that they blew so much snow on it one year that a serious avalanche occurred there. Powder hounds flocked to it during the February 4 snowstorm, she added.
With sections steeper than the infamous Outer Limits, Ovation gave new meaning to the word challenging and looking up or down that trail, it’s easy to agree that anyone who skis/rides it gracefully deserves a standing ovation! Jones noted that wind scouring on one side makes it especially challenging.
When the Skye Peak Express Quad was installed in 2008, there were number of trail reconfigurations and new trails built in the Skye Peak area. Some trails were also renamed to make way finding easier — names like Bear Trax (replacing part of Great Eastern) and Bear Cub (formerly Falls Brook) indicated easier routes to the base of Bear Mountain.
Similarly, Great Northern encompasses the former Goat Path and Vail trails as a route to two base areas, and The Glades area was renamed North Ridge since the trees were long gone and the name designates its being the northern shoulder of Killington Peak.
Mouse Trap was a steep section that is now part of Bunny Buster, and the shortened Swirl trail, which originated off the original Rams Head summit (now Ramshead) is the renamed the Alpine Training Venue. When the Killington Mountain School isn’t racing on it, the trail is open to the public. With orange fencing on both sides, you can experience a little thrill if there’s some ripper in you, and it’s a hoot when blue racing lines are still visible.
The Viper Pit, a name never found on a trail map but known to many Killingtonites, is a rocky steep section of the original Bear Claw trail where trail builders jokingly supposed that snakes lived, as some sunned themselves on the rocks.
This section of trail drops precipitously over a rock ledge, and people habitually stopped to study the transition in terrain and what lies below — sliding skiers, wind scoured snow, ice, moguls, smooth packed powder, or deep snow. Rebuilding this section would have saved money on snowmaking but such transitions in terrain were deemed integral to meeting the mountain’s challenge, so Smith refused to allow “man-made improvements just to save a few dollars.”
Under new owners this section was modified to be less difficult and is now part of the Skyeburst trail.
While he catered to beginners, Smith had also promoted the diversity of challenges for better skiers and experts. Since 1996, Killington’s second and third owners and leadership teams have made trail changes that have similarly adhered to diversity while providing a better experience, a goal that harks back to the area’s founding.