Vermont fans of the Audi FIS Ski World Cup have plenty to celebrate this week.
On June 3, Killington Resort announced a new two-year agreement with U.S. Ski & Snowboard. As of this week, Killington will host the Audi FIS Ski World Cup through 2020.
The 2019 World Cup event at Killington will run November 30 through December 1. In 2018, the event drew 39,000 spectators and a release from the resort on June 3 reported that this year’s event is expected to bring millions of dollars in economic impact to the state of Vermont.
To prepare, Killington will once again ramp up its snowmaking efforts, starting as early as October.
This summer, Killington plans to run nearly three miles of pipe from Killington across the mountains to Pico. “We’ve always had nearly unlimited access to water at Killington, but Pico has relied on snowmaking ponds that can dry up or freeze,” said Solimano. By running a 16,850-foot pipeline across terrain that locals jokingly refer to as the “interconnect” (a vast area between the two ski areas) Pico will be able to double its snowmaking capacity.
At Killington, the company will also replace 12 kilometers of water pipe and add 400 low-energy snowguns and 120 low-energy towers. The new infrastructure should be online for the 2019 World Cup.
“We use every cold period in October and November to build a world-class race venue on Superstar, and getting the job done early in the season showcases Killington’s state-of-the-art snowmaking system as an industry-leading powerhouse while also setting us up to offer the longest season in the East,” said president and general manager Mike Solimano in a statement this week.
The World Cup includes women’s giant slalom and slalom races and brings big-name athletes like Mikaela Shiffrin, who has put in some spectacular performances at Killington over the last three years to earn three continuous victories in slalom.
She’s also psyched about the announcement—and the supportive, record-breaking crowds the Killington event has become famous for.
“In 2018 we—all of us together—set a new precedent for ski racing internationally, boasting the largest World Cup crowd for women on the entire circuit. To get that hat trick slalom victory in front of thousands of screaming fans at home is something I will never, ever forget,” said the Burke Mountain Academy alum. “I’m looking forward to once again competing on home soil.”
The renewed contract announcement came just days after Killington shut down its lifts to skiers after an epically long season—the second time in three years that the resort has run its skiing operation into June. But it’s not the only thing the resort is celebrating (or unveiling) this summer.
All About That Base
On Thursday, March 21, in front of a nearly packed house at the Killington Grand Hotel, Killington Mountain Resort president Mike Solimano unveiled plans for what will be the largest new base lodge in New England. This summer Killington will break ground on a 58,000-square-foot base lodge that will replace the current 37,000-square-foot K1 base lodge in 2021.
The new lodge will have three levels, putting the lodge closer to (and on the same level as) the gondola with a food court on the second level and bar on the third. There will be seating for 975 compared to the current 650 and, Solimano said with a laugh, “there’s never going to be a line for the ladies’ room again as we are actually putting in more women’s toilets than men’s (total count will be 46, compared to the current 33).”
The lodge will have a full-service bar, couches and high-top tables similar to the layout in The Peak Lodge, upscale fine china dining, and unobstructed 180-degree views of the mountain landscape.
Middlebury-based Bread Loaf Corporation will start construction this summer with the new lodge going up behind the current lodge (on the mountain side) — which will stay in place for next season before being demolished in the summer of 2020. The new base lodge is expected to be complete by fall 2020 “or winter 2021,” said Solimano, hedging his bets.
New Progression Areas
Some of the other infrastructure improvements for the 2019/20 season include replacing the North Ridge triple with a quad, a new tunnel on Great Bear trail, and reimagining the kids’ beginner terrain. In the past the magic carpet lift was located across the road from the beginner terrain at Ramshead. A whole new area at Ramshead will be devoted to children’s progression with a 600-foot bubble-covered magic carpet lift.
“We’re also looking at integrating more of the Woodward approach to progression,” said Solimano, adding that one day he hopes Killington will have a Woodward facility similar to others Powdr Corporation has installed at a few of its other resorts, such as Copper Mountain in Colorado and Boreal in California.
The Woodward facilities there feature vast barns with trampolines, foam pits, skate ramps and other apparatus that kids and adults can use to improve in any sport ranging from snowboarding and skateboarding to gymnastics.
“That’s bringing the fun back into skiing,” said industry veteran Bernie Weichsel, the man behind the Boston Ski Show and a Killington skier since 1963. “Everyone wants to be able to do what they see going on at the X Games and this would allow them to try in a safe environment.” Already this season Killington installed a Woodward Peace Park – a different style of terrain park.
World Cups and Other Events
While Solimano could not confirm any news on Killington’s most popular event, the World Cup, which drew 39,000 people to the resort last Thanksgiving, he did promise “When we can announce it, I think you will be happy.”
This summer, however, Killington will lose two of the big new events it hosted last year. Under Armour will not be bringing its trail running series back and the U.S. Open of mountain biking could not fit a Killington stop into its schedule for this coming summer, though the resort hopes it will be able to lure it back in the future.
Mountain Biking Improvements
The resort will also focus on adding more beginning mountain bike terrain to its nearly 35 miles of trails, adding trails at the Ramshead base and a beginner skills park. This past summer Killington had nearly 30,000 rider visits and expects to bring that up to 37,000 this coming summer.
All of these improvements are in addition to the massive infrastructure investments that Killington’s parent company made to The Beast of the East this past season. Last year more than $25 million went into building three tunnels to allow for better traffic flow, improving snowmaking, adding a new 6-person bubble chair, moving the old lift to South Ridge and adding new cars to the K1 gondola. The resort also added RFID ticket scanning.
“We’re working hard to improve our traffic flow,” said Solimano. While the tunnels have helped improve traffic at intersections, replacing the lifts has helped reduce waits on weekends. Citing data gathered with the new RFID scanning, Solimano noted that last year on President’s Day weekend the K1 gondola had 16 percent of the total ticket scans, this year it had just 12 percent, spreading the crowds around the mountain.
The resort has also focused on a “Create Joy” campaign —doing things like putting candy canes on windshields, having DJ Dave play impromptu sets at lift bases, and surprising guests with cookies and milk or hot chocolate on the slopes. As a result, Solimano said, “I think this will be the best year we’ve had since I started here 17 years ago.”
Over the past seven years, Killington has seen its net promoter score (a measure of how likely guests are to return and to recommend the resort to friends) rise from 47 to 75.
And on a scale of -100 to 100, any score above 50 is considered excellent.
Photos by Lisa Lynn
Featured Photo: Shiffrin on her second run at the 2017 World Cup. Photo by Alex Klein