Killington, VT: Where Altitude Comes With Hip Attitude
By Karen Rubin
Killington is the megalopolis of skiing in New England. It is hard to fathom just how big this place is. Suffice to say, you can ski a different mountain each day of the week; or, putting it another way, you can 200 different trails, totaling 87 miles or 1,182 skiable acres. The trail map is so big, it opens like a map of the state (even without including Pico, now the seventh mountain).
People love the frenetic pace of Killington, its hip attitude, the choices and variety of trails, how much there is to do on and off the slopes. It is a New England version of Vail, and like Vail, extends literally for miles. End to end, Killington is the size of Manhattan. And with a season that extends from October and into June, it is also often the only place to ski in New England.
As big as Killington is, it is best for black-diamond trail skiers and confident, independent intermediate skiers. Experts revel in its challenging double-black trails and mogul runs, like Outer Limits, known as the steepest lift-serviced bump run in New England. Beginners and never-evers will have relatively sparse pickings: the learning area at Snowshed, and two trails on Ram's Head, which is designated as the Family Center, and is where childcare is housed, both of which provide the most separation of beginner skiers from faster, more advanced skiers. If conditions permit, there are meandering green-trails from the highest peak, Killington, at 4,41 ft.: the 6.7-mile long Juggernaut (which does not have snowmaking, so may not be open, and inexplicably turns into Fall's View before resuming as Juggernaut); Great Eastern, and Great Northern (designated a slow-skiing zone). But the green trails are mostly connectors that keep crossing much busier, more advanced trails, so the beginning skier, besides having to stop constantly to look at the map, is constantly having to watch out for much faster skiers whizzing by.
You can spend your day just getting from one part of Killington to another-there are six different base lodges; 31 different lifts, including the K-1 eight-passenger gondola, an attraction in itself, which whisks 2,000 people an hour to the top of the 4,241-foot Killington Peak in just six minutes, and the Skyeship Express, the world's fastest and first heated eight-passenger lift, which goes to Skye Peak in two stages.
But for less confident skiers, Killington can also be extremely frustrating the way the trails keep crossing and turning and you have to pull out this enormous map every few minutes to find out where you are, trails change names as you descend, or take dramatic turns (Blue Heaven becomes The Jug, a blue trail, which turns into a black trail, then becomes Falls Brook, but you can bail off The Jug to Escape, a green, and either go onto Pipe Dream, a blue, or continue on Great Eastern, a meandering green, but make sure you make the hard left turn because Great Eastern flows into a double black). It is also very easy to start off in one area, and wind up at a completely different lift you may not have intended. If you are skiing people of different abilities, you can expect not to see anyone for the rest of the day (skiing at Pico avoids this problem.)
Blue trail skiers will like the trails from the Skyeship Express Gondola to Skye Peak the best, where there are the best selection of long, top-to-bottom blue-trails (one of my favorite combinations was Skyeburst to Dreammaker to Homestretch to Great Eastern).
Because of this, I am frankly happier spending our entire time at Pico, which used to be its own ski resort (founded in 1937, it is one of the oldest in America), and has a much better selection of trails for all abilities with its 48 trails, 14 miles of terrain and 1,967 foot vertical. In contrast to Killington's hip attitude, Pico offers a calm, cozy scale; relatively uncrowded slopes, accessed by six lifts, including two high-speed express quads; long, interesting runs, diverse terrain; a central base lodge; ski in/out convenience from wonderful condominium units; a marvelous sports center with 75-foot long indoor pool. Pico is also favored by telemarkers, and there are many telemark activities at this mountain. Tip: Full-time college students with a valid college ID can ski or ride at Pico any day of the season for just $29 without restrictions. Pico e-tickets are an easy and convenient way to handle all of your pre-purchased lift tickets and you'll save an additional 20% on all 2-7 day ski plans when they're booked 14 days or more in advance. Check out www.picomountain.com or call 866-667-PICO.
Killington-bound families should go straight to Rams Head Mountain. Rams Head is home of the Rams Head Family Center and features a trail network of novice and intermediate terrain that lets beginners get their start, while more advanced skiers and riders can still find challenging terrain. Rams Head also has a "fusion" zone, an area through the trees, giving lower intermediates a taste of what tree skiing is all about. All terrain is serviced by three lifts, including a five-minute ride on the Rams Head Express Quad, a Magic Carpet, plus two surface lifts. The Rams Head Family Center houses Perfect Kids clinics, rentals, ticket sales, a ski shop specifically with kids items, a food court and restaurant, and childcare.
Never-ever skiers can easily get from Rams Head by way of an underpass to the Snowshed Area, a self-contained novice area which is the site of Killington's Sprint® Perfect Turn® Discovery Center. The area consists of three chairlifts including one high speed express quad that whisks skiers and riders to the top in minutes. Snowshed also is home to Killington's terrain park, "The Beach," where skiers and riders can challenge themselves on rails, jibs and table tops. The Snowshed Base Lodge and Resort Center includes an indoor climbing wall, Sharpshooters Photography, Crisports ski and snowboard shop, Double Diamond tuning, repair and demo shop, and the Long Trail Pub at Killington.
Families can take the K1 Express gondola to Killington Peak, the highest lift-serviced peak in New England, where skiers and riders of all abilities can access all mountain areas at Killington. From the peak, novices can take the Great Northern route down to the bottom or Juggernaut, a 6.7-mile novice trail that winds its way all the way to Sunrise. Those looking for a challenge can tackle the Cascade trail, a steep and narrow run that is tough, whether groomed or bumped up.
Bear Mountain is probably the most popular of Killington's seven peaks for accomplished skiers and riders, Bear is most famous for Outer Limits, the steepest mogul run in eastern North America, and the spot where the Budweiser Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge has been held for the past 22 years. Bear tends to see the sun first and the snow softens up here before the other mountain areas. But if Outer Limits sounds a little too extreme, take a cruise down Falls Brook, a fun green circle route through the woods from the top of the Bear Mountain Quad to the Bear Mountain Base Lodge and Sunrise Mountain.
The resort is so vast, you may want to take advantage of the "Meet the Mountains" free guided, two-hour tour on easier terrain. It meets at 9:45 a.m. at the red "Meet the Mountains" sign located slopeside in front of the Snowshed Base Lodge, Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
Call Central Reservations at 800-621-MTNS or visit www.killington.com or www.killingtonchamber.com. You can purchase lift tickets online and save up to 20 percent on two to seven-day plans, including clinics and equipment, when you book online 14 days in advance. For more information, check here: Welcome to Killington.