500 miles is a heck of a long way to go for a long weekend of skiing. My wife and I will think twice about trying that again with four excited children in a minivan. It takes about 10 hours of solid road time to get from D.C. to the Killington area, more when you stop for breaks. The drive can be accomplished in one big day of travel, but to maintain a modicum of sanity on our schedule we decided to break the road portion of the trip into two days. We departed Thursday after the kids got out of school and made an intermediate stop at a Days Inn in southern New Jersey on Thursday night. We completed the remaining 300 miles of the trip on Friday.
This was a fairly low budget sojourn and we opted to stay three nights at a respectable Hampton Inn in White River Junction, Vermont. I choose it for three reasons: low rates, indoor swimming pool, and a deluxe breakfast bar.
White River Junction is a small city in east central Vermont, noteworthy mostly as the location of the intersection of I91 and I89. It is about 30 miles east of the nearest Killington ski lift, the Skyeship Gondola. I had planned for this approach, knowing from prior trips to Killington that the somewhat remote Skyeship Gondola base station is one of the least crowded points to access the mountain.
When we hit the slopes on Saturday we got a good dose of Vermont weather. Temps never exceeded about 20 degrees Fahrenheit and there was intermittent snow with gusty winds at the higher elevations. The wind chill factor was probably zero or below.
The Skyeship Gondola line was significant, but not outrageous. We had about a 10-15 minute wait initially and it decreased to only a minute or so later in the day. For our first run we rode the gondola’s full 2.5 mile length, up approximately 2,500 feet of vertical, and then ventured out to find some fun and sheltered trails. Instead we wound up on several very cold and windy chairlift rides near the 4,241’ Killington Peak.
After making the 5 mile run down to the base station on Great Eastern trail, we took a warm-up break and hatched a plan to ride the heated gondola for the rest of the day and stay off Killington Peak. This worked out well and we managed to explore intermediate terrain in the Skye Peak, Bear Mountain and Sunrise sections of the Killington layout during the remainder of the day. There was a high volume of skier traffic on popular trails and I did my best to head the family down less traveled portions of the mountain.
On Saturday evening on the way back to our motel, we stopped to attend Catholic Mass in Our Lady of the Snows Church in historic Woodstock, Vermont. Two music students from Dartmouth University treated the congregation to outstanding gospel-style musical accompaniment commemorating Black History Month.
Woodstock had a lot of shops, old homes, B&B’s, and the elegant Woodstock Inn. The town reminded me a bit of Waterford or Middleburg, Virginia. Later we had a fun family meal at the counter of an old fashioned diner car at nearby Quechee Gorge Village.
On Sunday we thought about going to Pico. It is a separate ski area located a few miles north of Killington, under the same management, but normally much less crowded. However, though windless, the temperatures again stayed at 20 degrees and the lure of the heated Skyeship Gondola was strong. We decided to forgo Pico and once again hit the slopes of Killington served by this lift.
With well timed warm-up and food breaks, we had a very enjoyable day covering a lot of ground. While we did not ski the notorious Outer Limits bump run, near the end of our day we rode the short but steeply rising Bear Mountain Quad Chair up its full 1,300 vertical feet. The kids enjoyed the view of others testing their personal outer limits on the slope known as the training ground for Olympic Gold Medallist Donna Weinbrecht.
Killington is huge by eastern (or any) standards. There are approximately 200 trails and over 20 lifts, including a second express gondola called the K1. The mountain has plenty of terrain for all skill levels; demanding bump runs and glades, 5 mile long intermediate runs, and a humongous beginner area. Even on the Presidents Day weekend, with care, the formidable Killington lift capacity enabled us to avoid bad lift lines, but many popular trails were uncomfortably crowded with skiers and boarders.
I never went to the base of the Killington Peak, Snowdon Mountain or Rams Head sections of the mountain on this trip, but usually the crowds are larger over there around the original base of the ski area. Obviously, a higher quality visit could probably be obtained midweek, but like so many others we were trying to minimize missed school days.
The low intimidation factor and interesting variety of the long intermediate trails served by the Skyeship Gondola are a big attraction for my kids. There are a number of variations on these trails that are not too steep and provide miles and miles (and nearly 30 minutes) of uninterrupted skiing, with scenic vistas up top and quiet meadows and forested areas at the lower elevations.
On Sunday evening we ate dinner at The Wobbly Barn. It is Killington’s most famous bar/nightclub/restaurant. I believe it has been in business since about the time the resort first opened over 40 years ago. We had to wait almost an hour to be seated even though we arrived just a little after 5 p.m., but the steak, prime rib and salmon entrees ordered by our party were very good and they had excellent chili at the salad bar. A band from New Jersey called The Nerds played upstairs.
On Monday we headed back home to Virginia. The kids were semi-comatose from two days of hardy skiing and the southbound trip went much quieter than the way up. We made it as far as the Maryland state line and then spent the night in another Hampton Inn in Edgewood, this one with an even better hot breakfast bar. On Tuesday we finished the drive by delivering the kids straight to school at about 10 a.m.
A few lessons learned:
Unless you’re crazy like me and place a high priority on minimizing missed school days, Vermont is too far for a family with young kids to drive to for two days of skiing. Three or four days should be the minimum stay.
Choose a time other than Holiday weekends if possible to avoid the largest crowds. Warmer and cheaper spring skiing might be the best time for little kids if you can get off then.
Expect stratospheric lodging and lift ticket prices during Holidays at major resorts. I used credit card rewards to reduce lift costs.
On cold days the heated gondolas at Killington almost justify the price of the lift tickets and they continued to run during gusty winds.
I went with an independent motel chain rather than central reservations at the resort for accommodations. If you try that, always request AAA, Government or any other discount rates that you can think of when making a room reservation. Reserve well in advance if going during a Holiday period. I used www.roomsaver.com (and the hardcopy version of it found at many rest stops) for space available savings on motels along the interstates to and from Vermont.
Obviously, slopeside accommodations are optimal. On this occasion they were not part of our budget plan. In my view there is not much logistical difference between staying 5 miles or 30 miles from the slopes, but on this Holiday weekend there was a big difference in cost. I choose the much less expensive accommodations further out.
Ask locals for help or info. On the way north I stopped for lunch off I95 in Greenwich, Connecticut. A local fellow steered me to the Greenwich Colonial Diner. It was so good I made sure to stop there again on the return trip to Virginia.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.