Killington Resortâ€™s Winter Operational Plan
by Royal Barnard
There continues to be wide speculation, and some anxiety, about exactly what to expect for winter operations this year at Killington. The resort, and the entire ski industry, are definitely in a period of change, and accurate knowledge is the best way for everyone to let go of the past, adapt and to move forward successfully.
To clear the air, I arranged a meeting with Killingtonâ€™s President, Chris Nyberg; Killington Marketing Director, Dave Rathbun; and SP Land Co. President Steve Selbo. I asked them all the questions that people told me they wanted to know about... and following is what I learned.
First, is to understand the general nature of the ski/snowboard industry... how it has changed over the last decade... and how the new owners of the resort are adapting to it. From the 1970â€™s through 1990â€™s skiing was considered a â€śgrowthâ€ť industry. That has clearly changed, both in reduced industry numbers, and higher expectations that consumers have for their vacations ... they want more variety, they demand higher quality and they expect to be entertained... and most donâ€™t mind paying an appropriate cost for the experience.
To be blunt, many of the facilities at Killington/Pico Resorts were â€śshowing wear,â€ť and in need of considerable upgrading to bring them to the standards that consumers expect. So, in the months since Powdr Corp and SP Land Co. took over approximately $5.4 million was spent on a vast array of â€śprojects,â€ť the goal of which was to maximize the existing assets, and eliminate eyesores, bottlenecks and deficiencies.... this was not a small task , and it is nowhere near done.
Some of the most obvious cosmetic changes include new paint and carpeting inside the Grand Hotel; painting and repair of lifts; painting and repair of lodges, maintenance buildings and administration offices; repair of parking areas, curbings and land drainage; refurbishing the Grand Hotel and Pico Health Clubs (Pico process just starting) ; a renovated Long Trail Pub at Snowshed; adding new Cooper Coffee shops at Snowshed and Bear; remodeling restroom facilities around the resort; and the list goes on.... and once again, this is simply to bring facilities up to basic competitive standards.
Next, was to make operational changes that eliminate consumer frustrations. Some examples include new plans to eliminate the old â€ścorralsâ€ť at lift waiting areas. These mazes will be replaced with much more friendly systems. So will the procedures for parents enrolling children in ski schools. The childrenâ€™s ski schools themselves will be much improved with a variety of offerings. Parking lots will be more convenient LY arranged and friendly.... and there is new signage around the resort designed to eliminate confusion.
To dispel a few rumors..... the road between Snowshed/Ramshead and the K-1 Base Lodge will not be closed. The Route 4 Skyeship will not be closed and/or removed. Bear Mountain will not become a â€śfair weatherâ€ť only mountain.
The resort has an established schedule for opening all of the mountains. The dates of operationcould be extended.... or in the worse case shortened.... based on weather and snowfall.
At the moment, the plan is for snowmaking to begin at altitude in the Killington Peak area once stable temperatures permit. There will be no forced efforts in marginal temperatures to create â€śtop of K1 Gondola to bottom of Snowshedâ€ť skiing prior to December 14.... however, if sufficient conditions exist prior to that date other lower elevation areas will be happily opened. Meanwhile, continued snowmaking will occur at higher elevations of Snowdon and across to Ramshead and Skye Peak.
Between the initial scheduled November 16 opening date and December 14... and after March 30.... the K1 Lodge will operate as the full service â€śresort hubâ€ť... offering complete food service, shopping, support, etc. After December 14 the K1 Lodge will be â€śfull serviceâ€ť Friday - Sunday only.... except for holiday and school break periods and all other days with partial services that include limited food and drink, first aid, restrooms, phones, ticket kiosk, and parking.
Between December 14 and March 30 Snowshed and Ramshead lodges will become the full service â€śresort hubâ€ť in full operation seven days a week.
Bear Mt. lifts will open December 27 for daily operation. Bear Mt. lodge also plans to open December 27 and will operate Friday through Sunday and all holiday and school break periods, through April 6, with â€śfull services,â€ť and be open all other days with partial services that include limited food and drink, first aid, restrooms, phones, ticket kiosk and parking.
December 14 is the projected opening date for Pico.... with a scheduled close date of March 30. Pico will not be open on Tuesdays or Wednesdays this year, except during holiday periods. December 27 is the projected opening date for Skyeship Base and March 30 is the projected closing date. Skyeship Stage 1 Gondola from US Route 4 will be closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, except during holiday periods.
Extension of the season after the scheduled April 13 close date will be based on the conditions and projected visit levels. The goal will be to operate as long as it is â€śpractical.â€ť
Although not every base lodge will be in maximum operation every day through the season they will always have beverages, snacks and convenience services available to support lift operations.
The new opening/closing and operational strategy at Killington is obviously different that what has happened in the past. For nearly 50 years is was a tradition that â€śFirst to open and last to closeâ€ť was a religion at Killington. Climate change has made that an increasingly expensive and unsustainable project... not to mention the huge increases in energy costs, yet vastly improved snowmaking procedures have generally made conditions throughout the winter much better and more reliable.
This yearâ€™s snow strategy at Killington is to build their foundation from the top down. Otherwise. taking advantage of the more predictable cold temperatures and natural snowfall at the highest areas of Killington Basin, and concentrating on offering the most and best available advanced, high altitude skiing/riding in The East. This will include a new terrain park that will rival anything in the Eastern industry for early season. Once operations in the higher areas are stabilized ... and weather conditions permit.... trail openings will move into lower elevations.
There is a distinct possibility that the traditional Thanksgiving madhouse weekend may not happen in quite as mad a fashion. It has been decided not to become involved in the usual clamor to have top to bottom skiing â€śopen at all costsâ€ť for Thanksgiving weekend. The option is to forego trying to capitalize on two or three days of possibly heavy traffic at huge expense.... and instead, the plan is to use those resources to build a longer and better period of skiing at altitude. It is hoped that the resort will end up with just as many overall skier visits during the period, at less cost and with more satisfaction to customers.
Part of being able to provide the best altitude skiing will hinge around improved snowmaking, and modernized grooming techniques employing Killingtonâ€™s largest in The East fleet of snow grooming machines and experienced operators. Killington President, Chris Nyberg, is a former executive with Bombardier Corp, a major grooming machine company, as well as an experienced resort operator. Chris is noticeably excited about the early season resort plan. To make things even better, summer projects included mowing down high grass and brush on many of the trail surfaces, repairing water bars, and trimming trailside trees back to reclaim the full width of the trails.
The operational changes at Killington Resort have led some observers to conclude that the new owners are deliberately scaling back in hopes of getting more dollars out of fewer visitors, at a lower cost. This is really not the plan that was presented to me. My understanding is that all changes will be in rational response to normal, expected business volume, and that most consumers will end up with a equally good or better overall mountain experience. For example: Instead of having 10 full service dining facilities open mid-week, non-holiday periods to a marginal audience, there may be three high energy restaurants open, with the remaining facilities offering snacks, beverages, normal services, etc.
What is happening this year is pretty much â€śstage 1â€ť of where the management team at Killington and Pico intend to take these resorts. The next step, according to Chris Nyberg, is â€śTo continuously improve the services and product offerings and to insure future long term success. The ultimate goal is to be among the best mountain destinations.... not just in the neighborhood... but in the nation.â€ť It is most likely that the final plan will include the long awaited Killington Base Village.
Steve Selbo, noted that â€śPeople today demand a very high quality experience for their vacation time, and the competition is no longer local. We must be able to offer facilities and activities that compete with international offerings.â€ť
Chris Nyberg added his own mantra that â€śWe must offer a quality, consistent, reliable and profitable performing product.â€ť In that regard he added, â€śWeâ€™re just beginning, and it may be several years before we start to feel content that weâ€™ve polished up this gem, and have it approach itâ€™s full potential.â€ť
Dave Rathbun noted that â€śIn some ways the facility outgrew the market, as demand for winter resort use declined across the nation in general. Itâ€™s sort of like we own a church that was built for Easter Sunday.â€ť he said. â€śEventually weâ€™ll grow back into our shoes, but in the mean time, we intend to handle the crowds, and we believe that our regular customers will be VERY satisfied with our revisions.â€ť Rathbun went on to note that â€śThe company has found early season pass sales above our expectations, and early bookings in the RSVIP program are beyond last years levels for this time.â€ť
Finally, how does this company intend to market itself successfully? The answer is less radio and more â€śone on oneâ€ť efforts through direct mail and email, specialized publications and a newly improved interactive website.... and apparently itâ€™s working .
All of the gentlemen interviewed noted that they welcome visitors to their offices, phone calls, e-mails or other inquiries about whatâ€™s happening. All were somewhat disappointed that they had fewer than expected personal contacts initiated from the neighborhood. So folks.... donâ€™t be shy... if you have ideas or need answers the doors are certainly open.
For now, the best advice is to be optimistic, creative.... and plan for a winter thatâ€™s fun and productive
Source - http://www.mountaintimes.info/index.html