Firsthand Report: The Beast of the East: Killington, Vermont 4
By Brenton Archut, Guest Columnist

As usual, I ask for forgiveness on the lack of pictures. I promise that I will try to get a digital camera, especially when I am done college this following May. Since 2003 my friends and I have snowboarded before Christmas each year. While we began at mountains such as Camelback, Blue, and Elk in previous years, our trek last year took us to Okemo. This year we decided to book a condo and travel to Killington to start our season out right. While the conditions promised to be fantastic, our trip to Vermont would be hindered by a thrashing Nor Easter.

Travel

While my friends and I live in Southern Delaware, one of our friends was returning from his college in Florida and flew into Philadelphia. We left Bethany Beach at 8 p.m. to arrive at his girlfriend’s house at 11 p.m. Since his initial flight was cancelled, and he booked a different direct flight, his bags did not arrive with him. He was told to return at 1 a.m. where his bags were to arrive on the next flight. Unfortunately, his bags did not arrive then either. He decided he could borrow some clothes and we left Philadelphia at 3 a.m. The most direct route from Philly is to cross into New Jersey to I-287 then to proceed through NY on I-87. However, we decided to track closer to the coast where rain was predominantly supposed to fall. We proceeded north on I-95 and I-91. Near exit 6 on the New Jersey Turnpike, warning signs stated that ice and snow were ahead. As of exit 10, only rain was falling. Shortly thereafter, slush began to show on the road and it quickly became covered. There were cars in the woods, SUVs spinning on the road, and pickups flipped upside down along the route. Travel progressed slowly at rarely more than 35 mph throughout the New Jersey and New York portions of I-95 until only snow began to fall in Connecticut. The roads throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts were covered in snow and mostly untraveled and untreated. The snow surface allowed slightly faster speeds and we traveled at an average of 45 mph. Once we reached Route 4 in Vermont, which is curvier and less wide, travel slowed immensely. We arrived at Killington at 3:30 p.m., 12 hours after we left Philly and 15 hours of total travel.

The Mountain and Snow

Our accommodations featured a wood burning fireplace, a trail to the condos, and a centrally located indoor pool and hot tub. Monday morning brought 17 inches of new snow and nearly 100 open trails between Killington and Pico Mountains. While both mountains are owned by Powdr Resorts and are accessible through a single lift ticket, they are separated by nearly 3 miles. Pico is only open Thursday through Monday except for holidays. Powdr Resorts, which bought the resort for a reported $83 million last year, has been scrutinized for strict opening dates on many of their lifts, base lodges, and terrain. Fortunately, Powdr relaxed their restrictions and opened new terrain throughout the week.

A skier on the Vertigo slope at Killington on December 17, 2007. Photo provided by Killington Resort.

We began Monday, and every other day except for Thursday, at Ramshead, one of the three open base lodges at Killington. Our first run was down Header. Most of my friends followed that to the lift, but I cut to the left onto Criss Cross which was covered in knee deep ungroomed powder. Most trails had been groomed the night before, but 4 inches of snow had fallen afterward. Following a few runs down Ramshead, we headed to the K1 Gondola at the K1 base area. Not only was the temperature in the single digits most of the day, but it was also windy, and the gondola had been on hold until 10:30. This produced our first of two lift lines during our entire trip. The other was also on the K1 Gondola on Friday, also due to lift stoppage.

Two of the longest downhill trails around, the Great Eastern and Great Northern, begin at Killington Peak off of the Gondola. We lapped these several times throughout the day, but the Great Eastern, which is nearly 6 miles long, was only open half way down the mountain. It ends at the Skyeship Gondola Stage 1, which wasn’t scheduled to open until the 27th, just like Bear Mountain. One of my friends and I decided to poach our condo trail, which opens on natural snow, which there was plenty of, but wasn’t open yet, and quickly realized it was a bad idea. While it opened later that day, we got stuck in thigh deep powder which tired us so much when we got stuck, that we took nearly a half hour to hike a quarter mile. Our trail would be groomed Monday night and was much easier to traverse the rest of the week.

Following lunch, we traveled to the Snowshed base area, which is connected to the Ramshead base area through a tunnel, and traveled back to the Gondola. We traversed all of the open peaks finding fresh untouched stashes of powder on the sides of the trails. We boarded everyday until close, just beating the darkness back to our condo. Light becomes sparse after 3 o’clock when the sun begins to dip behind the mountains. After relaxing, we headed to the store to pick up some local brews and some small food items we forgot to buy before leaving. We brought and cooked all of our food to cut costs.

Tuesday saw a cut in the trail count due to Pico closing for the day. However, there were still 110 trails open and the snow was even better than the day before. Many trails were groomed and the snowguns had been turned on overnight. The snowguns were turned on mostly on Needle’s Eye, Skyeburst, and Cruise Control. The snow between guns alternated between sticky and dry. Snow was also blowing on Timberline on Ramshead which is to be converted into an intermediate terrain park later this season. The temperature hovered around 15 degrees with light winds. It was a beautiful bluebird day with excellent snow. The whales began to grow as more terrain was scheduled to open.

Wednesday saw the early opening of Bear Mountain. The skies were blue and the temperature reached a balmy 23 degrees. Killington itself stated that the fresh snow needed to be tracked and they opened the Bear Mountain quad to appease skiers and snowboarders. They continued to open more portions of the Great Eastern as they moved to other base areas. Several trails to the lift were open, all in variable condition. Several trails were open with snowmaking, while some were open ungroomed after a night of snowmaking. These trails contained uncovered streams and large mounds of manmade that made for potentially dangerous jumps as the day continued. Snowmaking on the superpipe at Bear was also underway and it would open the following week. The only service offered from the Bear Mountain lodge was that of the bathrooms.

Thursday we decided to hit up Pico Mountain. Although I had been to Killington twice before, previous owners did not allow interchangeable use of lift tickets as Powdr now does. We arrived promptly at 9 a.m. and decided to head to the peak. The temperature reached 30, which was the highest of the week. The mountain is serviced by several lifts, but the top can be accessed by 2 high speed quads that still take several minutes to ascend. Around 4 inches of snow had fallen the night before, and many trails were ungroomed. There were never more than 100 people at the entire mountain, and the parking lot was essentially empty. It may seem repetitive, but we only boarded 2 trails all day. From 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., we went down a black glade trail. At 11:30 the lifts shut down for an hour so that several of the beginner trails could be groomed. We returned at 1 p.m., after lunch, to traverse a blue gladed trail on the right hand side (skier’s left) of the summit. The glades were clearly beginner glades and were excellent for us. We have not had the chance to do many glades in Pennsylvania due to their lack of existence and lack of natural snow. The trail was wide with patches of trees in the middle of it. You could also dip off the sides of the trail into other untouched woods. I took several runs at the end of the day down some different terrain where there was still untouched powder on the trails at 3:30. Despite boarding several closed glades, the ski patrollers were understanding and gave us little grief for “getting lost.” The lack of people and abundance of great snow clearly made this day, which was incredibly foggy, the best I had all week.

Friday was a bittersweet day. Killington had opened two of its lifts early, including the Skyeship Gondola, and increased its number of open trails to 178. However, Friday was our last day at the mountain and we would be leaving to go home later in the day. We packed our belongings into our ‘95 GMC Jimmy and headed to Ramshead to start our day as usual. We took runs down parts of Timberline and Header, and then headed down Caper and Great Northern to the K1 Gondola. From there we decided to traverse the fully open 6 mile long Great Eastern. It was the only trail open to the base of the Skyeship Gondola and there was no lift line all day. Although Friday was the busiest day, we never waited in a line and the most trails were groomed. There were even untouched stashes of powder throughout the trees which we eagerly gobbled up. We decided to skip lunch, which normally took us two hours, since we were always so cold, and leave the mountain at 2 p.m. This would still give us 5 hours of snowboarding which is what our average was the entire week. Snowboarding that much really tires you out! We met at the car at 2 p.m., bungeed the boards to the roof rack, and left the mountain at 2:45. We would drop my friend off at his girlfriend’s north of Philly at 9:30, and following another stop in Georgetown, DE, would arrive at my house at 12:30 a.m.

I must apologize to everyone for my delayed writing of this trip report. It took me several days to compose and was interrupted by Christmas and a family trip to New Jersey. More importantly, my two week break from snowboarding will end on January 6th when I trek 10 and a half hours to Sunday River, ME for a week before I return to school. The weather has stayed cold and conditions seem to be excellent. I am even happier that cold weather is returning to the Mid-Atlantic. As you can see from Connie Lawn’s pictures in her recent trip reports, the warm weather has not been forgiving throughout much of the area. However, the cold weather has allowed my home mountain, which after 3 years at Camelback, due to different reasons, is now Blue Mountain, to fire up the snowguns. I am hoping that by the time I return to school conditions will be top notch there and throughout the rest of the region. It will be quite a change from the bigger mountains I have been fortunate enough to go to in the Northeast. Fortunately, like everyone else, I know that a day on the snow is better than no day at all.

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About the Author

Brenton Archut lives in the tourist town of Bethany Beach, Delaware. He spends his summers working at Fisher's Popcorn. He enjoys bodyboarding and snowboarding and snowboards mostly in the Poconos, but loves to explore new places. Brenton is currently attending school at Lehigh University, where he is pursuing a business degree.

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Reader Comments

Connie Lawn
January 1, 2008
Nice going Brenton - you did a terrific job. Glad you were not hurt during the drive. Yours, Connie Lawn
robbie a
January 1, 2008
Ah the Beast never disapoints! Nice Read.
DCSki Reader
January 3, 2008
Been to Killington many times, but never Pico and enjoyed your discussion of it. Those glades there sound real good, ditto for low crowds. You are hitting the jackpot for good early winter conditions in New England. Have fun at Sunday River.
ICEMAN
January 12, 2008
KILLINGTON GOES DOWNHILL FAST,POWDR CORP.IS ONLY IN IT FOR THE LAND AND MONEY,SAFETY IS LITTLE CONCERN,SO BE CAREFUL OUT THERE,OR BETTER YET SKI FREE HEAL AND GO BACKCOUNTRY FOR THE RIDE OF YOUR LIFE.

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