Walk Montreal’s riverfront and not far from the cobblestone streets and 400-year-old buildings of the old port city you come to Habitat 67. The apartment complex on the St. Lawrence looks something like a stack of odd-sized concrete boxes balanced atop each other, holiday packages waiting for a UPS pick-up.
Habitat 67, which Architectural Digest has called a “modular masterpiece,” is striking, oddly beautiful and has been remarkably functional. It has also aged well since it was first designed as a university thesis by a 25-year-old McGill student named Moshe Safdie and built for the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair.
Safdie went on to apprentice with noted architect Louis Kahn. He has since designed landmarks such as the triangular, five-story Salt Lake City public library, the wave-like arches of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Safdie’s Boston-based firm’s portfolio includes the Jewel Chengi airport in Singapore with its indoor rainforest and an enormous waterfall that spills free-form from the ceiling to a pond below, a mosque in Dubai, and an art museum in Japan, among many other large projects.
Soon, Safdie’s portfolio will also include the largest new development Vermont has seen since Spruce Peak at Stowe: a 450-acre new base village for Killington Mountain Resort with a new base lodge, restaurants, shops and more than 225 housing units (that includes single-family homes and 193 condos), and 32,000 sq. ft. of commercial space. That’s just Phase 1.
The project has been in planning for nearly two decades. But in March 2023, voters in the town of Killington approved an infrastructure and financing plan that will allow the project to move forward. Then, in October 2023, Great Gulf, the Canadian developer of the proposed new village, announced that it had scrapped the previous drawings for what had been called “Six Peaks” and revealed fresh designs by Safdie Architects. “The design we had was good, but we wanted great,” says Michael Sneyd, Great Gulf’s President of Resort Residential.
A New Lodge, a New Village
Safdie’s new designs call for combining the current Ramshead and Snowshed base lodges into one big, beautiful lodge, The Crystal, located near where the current Snowshed parking lot is. Its large glass façade will look out over the mountain trails and open onto a huge “ski beach” as Sneyd calls it, a flat expanse where skiers can soak up the sun on spring days.
The lodge will face a second, semicircular building, The Crescent, that will rim the edge of the current Snowshed snowmaking pond, near the Killington Grand Hotel. “The old plans filled in part of the pond but we wanted to celebrate it,” says Sneyd. The new plans envision a walkthrough in The Crescent. From The Crystal, you will have a view through the walkthrough to the pond.
The snowmaking pond will be reengineered with a dammed area to keep the water level consistent as the rest of the pond level fluctuates. Shops, restaurants and a waterfront promenade will line the lower level of The Crescent with luxury condos above.
Safdie, who spent his early years farming and raising goats on a kibbutz in Israel before his family emigrated to Canada, is noted for integrating nature into his designs. With the Great Gulf project he has said that his goal “is to capture the spirit and character of a Vermont village in a contemporary rendition of vital public spaces for all seasons.”
Tree-lined walking paths and park-like open spaces will lead to new buildings in the base village that will have apartments, shops and restaurants and even a gym, dubbed “the Fitness Grove” – designed with large windows to look out at the mountains.
In announcing the Safdie partnership, Great Gulf noted “Their design philosophy is rooted in the metaphor, ‘For Everyone a Garden,’ perceiving architecture as a generous act of creating meaningful spaces that serve as catalysts for vibrant public life.”
“Previous designs were focused around cars moving through the village,” notes Sneyd. The new design puts parking underground to create a pedestrian village with shared, open green spaces. “Wherever we can, we are prioritizing skiers over cars,” Sneyd says. For instance, the mountain access road will dip under a ski bridge. “We want people to be able to come down from Ramshead and ski right to the new lodge,” Sneyd notes.
The design emphasizes a four-season village. Sneyd also helped to develop Blue Mountain, a ski resort north of Toronto near Georgian Bay, that integrates entertainment with outdoor activities. “You might go for a hike on the trails and find a piano player in the middle of the woods—those are the types of fun things I hope we can do here,” he says.
For Sneyd, it’s not the size of the mountain that matters but what’s going on in the base village. “Blue Mountain only has 700 feet of vertical but it sees 750,000 skier visits a year and nearly 2 million annually,” he notes. By comparison, Vermont’s 20 public ski areas combined average close to 4 million skier visits a year.
For Sneyd, a Canadian who has been skiing Killington for over 20 years, this project has personal significance. “When I moved back to Toronto after living in the Calgary area for some time, I was looking for a big ski area in the East. Killington was that area. It wowed me,” he says.
Previously, Sneyd was a managing director of the resort developer Replay, founded by former executives from Intrawest, the developer that previously owned Stratton, Whistler-Blackcomb and other ski areas. Within a week of joining Great Gulf in 2022, Sneyd got the go-ahead to bring the Killington project to his new employer. Great Gulf has developed residential villages and resorts around North America.
What it Will Take?
On Town Meeting Day, March 7, 2023, more than 75% of Killington’s residents voted in favor of using a $47 million TIF bond (tax increment financing, which essentially acts as a loan against future increased tax revenues) to fund the expansion of the municipal water system and improvements to the Killington access road that are crucial to development. “Without those, this development could never happen,” noted selectboard member Jim Haaf.
On May 3, 2023 Great Gulf closed on the $43 million purchase of 1,095 acres near the base of Snowshed and Ramshead from SP Lands. While the previous plans had Act 250 permits (Vermont’s land use law), the new plans will be submitted for Act 250 approval in January 2024. Sneyd is hoping that pending those approvals, work could begin in the spring of 2025. To save on on-site work, Sneyd foresees some of the new village’s modular construction being done at Great Gulf’s manufacturing facility near Toronto.
The town of Killington has a year-round population of just over 800. Infrastrucure projects have been few and far between so there have been some big hurdles to overcome. In 2024, work will begin on a pipeline to bring water up from the Route 100 valley to the top of Killington Road. The access road will be redesigned with bus pullouts, crosswalks and a side path. And workforce housing will go in.
“Workforce housing: that’s probably one of our greatest needs right now,” said Killington Resort CEO Mike Solimano as the plans for the new village were unveiled at the K1 Lodge in late October.
At that meeting, Solimano and Sneyd also held up a simulation of a large check — $700,000 the two organizations are contributing to the town to convert a 70-acre plot into 250 to 300 housing units over the next several years. Those will include 6 to 8 apartment buildings and 16 to 20 duplex or single-family homes.
““We all know the area is in need of this type of development, which will provide housing for the workers who support the whole community and will be integral to the success of the new ski village,” Solimano said. The resort currently has a co-op work training partnership with the Castleton campus of Vermont University which gives students on-the-job training in various roles at the ski area.
Killington Ski Resort has already been growing. The resort, which is owned by POWDR and accepts the Ikon pass doesn’t share skier visit numbers. However, Solimano did note that the new K1 Lodge sold 70,000 orders of French fries in the 2022/23 season (up from 20,000 in years prior) and nearly three times the number of tossed salads.
The lift-served mountain bike park, which has more than 30 miles of downhill trails, has also seen an increase in usage, going from 30,000 visits a year in 2018 to 51,000 in 2023.
Unlike the development at Stowe’s Spruce Peak, which is targeted primarily at vacationing skiers and riders and has few year-round residents, Sneyd hopes the new base village will help Killington become the primary residence for people who currently come for vacations. “With the ability to work anywhere, why wouldn’t you want to work from here?” he asks. —L. Lynn