|The K-1 Express Gondola at Killington delivers skiers and riders to the highest lift-served terrain in Vermont. (Justin Cash)|
KILLINGTON, Vt. - For much of its 49 years, Killington Resort has been known as the beast of the East. The biggest ski resort in the region, it offered something for everyone.
The Big K was the first to open every fall and the last to close, shutting down operations no earlier than May 1 for the past 20 years. And on weekends and holidays, everyone seemed to come, crowding the slopes and base lodges, which showed the wear and tear.
Some dubbed the resort Kmart, and the blue-light special was the All For One season pass that provided unlimited skiing and snowboarding last year at Killington (and the
Now, Powdr Corp., Killington's new owner, aims to tame the beast, giving it more of a Saks Fifth Avenue cachet. Lifts and lodges look spiffier, and the terrain - still massive - is more manicured.
Over the summer, Powdr invested $5.3 million in improvements, with $2 million used to refresh the Killington Grand Resort Hotel. Leading the list of improvements is a snowmaking upgrade that promises to provide good-quality manmade snow while using less energy.
Trails were mowed extensively, allowing more to open with less snow. The water slide near the K1 Lodge was removed, improving lift access from Lower Ovation, a steep trail that tempted experts with its direct fall-line and usually untracked snow. This year, snowmaking should keep it open more often.
The base lodges received new coats of paint, carpet, and spruced-up restrooms. And as an example of improved food quality, Cooper's Coffee outlets will serve
At the Ski and Snowboard School, children's lessons are capped at three students per class (called Max 3) for ages 2 and 3, and five students for ages 4-18 (Max 5). Previously, the classes had seven to 12 children per instructor, says Tom Horrocks, a spokesman for the resort.
But change comes at a price. Full-day instruction for ages 2-18 now runs $180 per child per day on weekends and holidays ($130 non-holiday weekdays), the highest price in the country for children's group lessons.
"The average family is not going to be able to afford a ski get-away at Killington," says Wendy Burke, a mother of four from Hingham. "This will be a place only the wealthy can afford to ski."
Even those undeterred by the price see drawbacks. "Parents want flexibility," says Debbie Ruder, from Newton, who takes her two boys skiing over school holidays. "You don't want to spend $180 if your kid might poop out after a couple of hours, or if you want to ski with them in the afternoon."
Other prices have also climbed. Season passes for unlimited skiing jumped over $300 this year: For passes purchased before July 31, the unlimited pass costs $1,299. And after spring 2009, the resort will no longer honor lifetime passes, a decision that has left many loyalists feeling disenfranchised. Daily lift tickets on Saturdays and holidays are $79, up $7 from last year. And the season is shorter, with closing slated for April 13.
For those who pay the price of admission, the beast should roar as loudly as it always has.
Peggy Shinn, a freelance writer in Rutland, Vt., can be reached at email@example.com.