If there are two things you can count on about skiing Vermont, it’s that Killington is almost always the first to open its lifts and the last to close them down. Seasons have often started in mid-October and ended as late as the first week in June.
So when we got this notice (see below) about Killington’s projected opening day and its operating plan for the 2020/21 season, it caught our attention. But there’s lots of good news in this and a reservation system that is very different from what Vail Resorts announced for reserving at its ski areas.
The key takeways are:
- Opening day is set for November 14. Why? The stairs that access the upper snowmaking trails off Killington Peak and North Ridge don’t allow for social distancing and Killington is realistic enough not to expect folks to wait patiently. Early season skiing and riding will be limited to passholders and Ikon passholders. Pico is set to open on Dec. 19. The good news, the firepower that has been directed at getting Superstar ready for the World Cup (canceled for all U.S. stops this November and December) will be redeployed to get top-to-bottom skiing off the K1 gondola and better coverage on the North Ridge and Snowdown trails.
- Skier/rider numbers will be limited. This will be done primarily through limiting day passes. and not taking bus tours on weekends, but also through parking reservations.
- Yes, that’s right; you will need to reserve parking. This is actually a brilliant approach as it allows the resort to know realistically how many passholders and others plan to show up on a given day and to potentially open up more spaces if, say, the lots empty out by early afternoon — though the details are still being worked out.
- Your car is now your locker. Lodges will be open but you can’t leave boots or bags there and food will be limited to grab-and-go. Think of the lodge as a warming hut, said CEO Mike Solimano.
- Lifts are for friends. You can board any lift with a full posse of friends but otherwise the lifts will not be fully loaded to ensure social distancing.
- No skinning early season. They’re serious about that.
- There’s an app coming. And text messages. This season Killington will roll out an app with real time lift and liftline wait status, trail opening and ways to track your skiing. They will also be setting up a text message system to better communicate.
That’s the quick version. But Killington clearly put a lot of time and thought into this so it’s worth it to read through to the end here from their release, sent out this morning:
At our core, we’re all about outdoor adventure – it’s who we are. We seek to inspire and empower the next generation of athletes, create memorable experiences in the mountains, and connect like-minded people in a shared pursuit of adventure. Like us, we know our guests share the same passion for action sports and outdoor recreation. This is why we prioritized summer operations this spring and why, now, we’re finalizing winter operations so we can continue doing what we love with the ones we love in the outdoor space.
Fortunately for us, mountain snow sports take place in the outdoor space naturally distancing skiers and riders. As part of the experience, guests already take cold related precautions – wearing masks, gloves, and goggles – and are spread across open terrain. Here at Killington, we’re particularly well positioned to operate successfully amid a pandemic as the biggest mountain resort in Eastern North America spanning seven distinct mountain areas – eight if you include Pico Mountain – with 28 lifts and nearly 2,000 skiable acres to roam when fully open.
We continue to monitor Covid-19 and, given its dynamic nature, have prepared thorough, adaptable operations plans that are consistent with the Vermont Department of Health and follow the National Ski Areas Association’s Ski Well, Be Well best practices. An important part of our planning includes putting in place assurances of appropriate physical distancing, sanitation and protocols that ensure the health and wellbeing of guests and staff. We are confident in our ability to provide a great ski and ride experience this winter at Killington and Pico. Below are more details on how we plan to operate this winter season with your safety at the forefront of our many tough decisions.
Projected Opening Day
No, that is not a typo. Yes, it feels a little unnatural to announce a projected Opening Day at Killington. We pride ourselves on putting in the work early season to get lifts running as soon as possible, but we need ample time to prepare top-to-bottom terrain to ensure proper physical distancing. We’re confident that starting our season with more acreage and lifts open will help guests spread out and maintain an appropriate distance while also providing a higher quality on-snow experience from day one of the season.
Additionally, our early season snowmaking and expansion plan is different than recent years and will focus on getting multiple lifts open and spreading out guests across the resort to facilitate physical distancing. Typically, our stairs leading from North Ridge to Killington Peak provide the connection needed early season when skiing access is not available off Killington Peak, but the stairs will remain closed this season since they don’t allow for physical distancing. This is just one of the many reasons the team at Killington is setting our sights on top-to-bottom skiing from the start.
As a result, we plan to open for skiing and riding at Killington Resort November 14, weather and terrain permitting. As you can imagine it wasn’t an easy decision; lots of time and effort went into selecting a date based on historical weather data for Killington. We believe November 14 is a realistic date to achieve top-to-bottom skiing and riding with access to multiple base area lifts. That being said, we all know East Coast weather – early season especially – can be challenging and until we can provide the space needed to facilitate physical distancing, we will delay opening. We anticipate being open for Killington Season Pass and Ikon passholders only on opening day and for a period of time as we assess operations and capacity limits. Information about when day ticket holders can access the mountain will be announced at a later date.
As always, we are committed to making snow, having an early season Woodward Mountain Park offering and getting lifts turning, but where we plan to make snow is different from recent seasons. We will concentrate our snowmaking efforts on providing a top-to-bottom route from the K-1 Gondola, in the North Ridge area and on Snowdon Mountain. Snowmaking will begin in the North Ridge area and Killington Peak and stay concentrated in those areas with a plan to expand into Snowdon area as soon as possible. Maintaining snow in these areas will take priority early season and when we feel able to spread our resources, we’ll continue concentrating on upper mountain. This means we don’t plan to offer beginner terrain in the Snowshed or Ramshead areas until mid- to late-December instead of Thanksgiving weekend like we have in the past.
Over at Pico Mountain, our projected opening day is December 19 and expansion plans will focus on giving guests the opportunity to spread out like we’re planning at Killington.
Resort Access & Parking Reservations
Throughout the season, we will be limiting the number of guests at the resort in order to facilitate physical distancing. Our primary method for limiting the number of guests will be accomplished by adjusting our ticket and pass product offerings and sales channels as well as limiting the number of tickets we sell on any given day. For example, we don’t plan to host bus groups or offer promotions/3rd party tickets valid on weekends or peak days.
We are also implementing an online parking reservation system for all guests. This means that whether you’re a season passholder or day ticket holder; you will need to let us know you’re coming. Implementing this system proactively will help us track and manage volume and ensure an experience which enables appropriate physical distancing. We plan to share more details on how this will be implemented in the coming weeks. Please be patient and understand our goal is to allow passholders to ski and ride on the days they wish. By adjusting our daily lift ticket sales strategy, we hope to reach this goal. Our size and commitment to opening as much terrain as possible as quickly as possible are also in our favor.
For day ticket purchasers, all ticket sales will happen in advance which will allow for contactless ticketing either by reloading an existing ONE PASS card or being able to pick up a new ONE PASS card from a ticket kiosk. We introduced these ticket kiosks last season at select base lodges but are accelerating our roll out of the kiosks at all base lodges for the coming season.
Early Season Skinning
I know that our first snowfall is going to get everyone excited for another season on the mountain and you may want to earn your turns before lifts spin, but uphill travel routes will not be open early season. Until we have enough snow coverage to open designated uphill travel routes, skinning is not permitted at Killington and Pico. I’m aware that many passholders have ignored our closures in the past, but this season, our uphill policy will be strictly enforced and you will be at risk of losing ski privileges if you’re caught on the mountain. If uphill routes are closed, it’s for good reason – such as unmarked hazards, poor coverage or large machinery at work to name a few – and in the best interest of our guests, staff and community first responders.
What we know is that skiing and exploring the great outdoors during this time is one of the safest ways to recreate and we are fortunate that inherent to the ski and ride experience is the wearing protective gear – masks, gloves and goggles.
Our current mask policy in conjunction with the statewide face mask mandate in Vermont that went into effect August 1, 2020 will remain in place this winter so our current mask policy will also stay in place: at the resort masks covering the nose and mouth are required at all times, except when seated while eating or drinking. I suggest keeping an extra face mask on you in case one is lost or you find your primary face covering getting too uncomfortable after freezing up from the moisture in your breath. I’ve been there; it’s not fun.
Base Lodges & Food and Beverage
Current Vermont rules limit capacity in buildings to 50%, including staff, and our operation plans will follow these limits. This means there will be certain changes in base lodges this season. For example, lodges will act more as a ‘warming hut’ for skiers and riders with limited grab n’ go food, new egress/ingress flows and other measures to ensure access to restrooms without affecting the overall capacity, and non-skiers/riders will not have access to lodges. In addition, we will have extra outdoor portable bathrooms available and, with support from our Killington sponsors, we will introduce unique outdoor dining options, add food trucks and have popular trail side venues, including the Jerk Jamaican Mountain Grill and Braut House open on a more regular basis.
I know Killington is known for and proud to deliver a great après experience, but with the need to physically distance and given Vermont’s regulations on dining and bars, which require alcohol only be served when seated, at a table, our legendary après won’t look the same this year. At this time, our more intimate structures on-mountain like the Ledgewood Yurt and Motor Room Bar will not operate this season.
Everyone doing everything they can will help us ensure the longevity of the ski season. This means that the new normal for this season at Killington and Pico will be booting up in the parking lot, going straight to the lift and back to your car without ever going inside a lodge. Boot bags and bags in general will not be permitted in lodges and complimentary bag check will be closed. That being said, I recommend grabbing an extra pair of socks this season, getting a pair of boot heaters (I love mine!), and keeping your boots near the floor heat vents on your way up to the mountain this winter. Plan to operate out of your car like it was a base lodge and pack extra snacks to re-fuel throughout the day. New England winters can be chilly, so we ask that you use the base lodges sparingly and limit your time inside. This will make it more available to everyone that needs it while we work around current capacity restrictions.
Physical Distancing on Chairlifts and Gondolas
High capacity chairlifts and closed cabin carriers will be loaded in a way that allows for physical distancing. For example, on the gondola and our high speed, high capacity lifts, guests will have the opportunity to ride with only members of their traveling party, or load at a reduced capacity with other skiers and riders. On our other lifts, we will load at 50% capacity or with members you traveled with. Masks covering the nose and mouth are required at all times in lift lines and while riding lifts.
Physical distancing in lift queues occurs organically due to the length of skis and snowboards and guests will notice additional spacing measures, including extended maze designs, more lateral spacing and increased signage, to further ensure a consistent flow of appropriately spaced traffic.
New Killington Resort App, Text Messaging and More
Our team has been working behind the scenes to develop a new Killington Resort App, which will be available for Apple and Android phones at the beginning of the winter season. A few key features of the app will be real-time lift and trail status, lift wait times and tracking. The tracking feature will allow you to track your ski day, see where you’re at on the map and allow you to see where friends and family are on the mountain. We will also be able to send push notifications with real-time updates and information as needed allowing us to improve communication to guests who are at the resort.
Speaking of improving communications, we’re also rolling out a text messaging platform. We know the likelihood of needing to communicate with guests outside of email and social media is greater than ever this coming season. We promise we won’t bog you down with endless text messages but plan to use it for communicating critical operations updates as needed, important information about upcoming visits and the occasional promotional message such as a season pass deadline reminder. You can opt into text messages today by texting Beast to 64600. Opt-in details for Pico Mountain coming soon. Standard message rates may apply.
We are also implementing new software to enable contactless credit card payments in our food and beverage outlets. We will also be issuing new ONE PASSES to season passholders that will integrate with the new system for discounts. Be on the lookout for an email next week to verify your address for mailing.
Ski & Snowboard Rental & Snow Sports School Lessons
We want to provide a great experience this season and that includes having rentals and snow sports programming available. Rentals will be available out of K-1 at the beginning of the season; however, since we plan to operate with intermediate to advance terrain only early season, lessons won’t be available until mid- to late-December. Advance reservations will be required for both rentals and lessons. All equipment will be sanitized between guest uses.
The 20/21 season will begin with private lessons only for related parties at Killington Resort and Pico Mountain. We will offer our Unleashed and 4241 seasonal lesson programs. Ministars, Youth Group Lessons, childcare and our group Learn to Ski & Ride programs will not be offered this season at Killington. We will not offer Youth Group Lessons or childcare at Pico.
Employee Health Screenings
All employees will continue to be required to get their temperature checked and submit a daily health screening before arriving to work verifying that they are feeling well and have not been in contact with someone showing symptoms or exposed to Covid-19. If employees are not feeling well, they are required to stay home. We ask that our guests join us in this practice and stay home when experiencing symptoms or feeling unwell.
As we close out the summer and shift to fall operations, we will continue to refine and adjust our winter plans to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our community, guests and team. While ample snow and the longest season in the east have been signs of success in the past, this season success means facilitating a season of skiing and riding in a socially responsible way. In order to do that, we know we need the cooperation of our local community, guests and employees. We’re all connected.
We thrive in unison, not as individuals. To operate effectively this winter, and the remainder of the summer for that matter, we all need to do our part and follow safety measures to keep ourselves and others healthy. Regardless of what happens to Covid-19 cases in the future, whether they spike or decline locally or around the country, we’re in this for the long game and need to remain consistent with our safety protocol so we may continue to play in the mountains for years to come. So wear a face mask, practice physical distancing, wash your hands often and stay home if you’re not feeling well.
While there is always a competition to open first, we believe winning this year means everyone doing their part to put into place thoughtful plans and follow guidelines and best practices to keep one another safe, so that we may enjoy a full season of skiing and riding. I hope our commitment to maintaining candid communication gives you some comfort in our plans for the upcoming season. We know everyone’s adapting in their own way and we want to make sure you know how we plan to adjust.
I look forward to seeing you on the trails.