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'Beast of the East' gets a $5.3m sprucing-up

The K-1 Express Gondola at Killington delivers skiers and riders to the highest lift-served terrain in Vermont. The K-1 Express Gondola at Killington delivers skiers and riders to the highest lift-served terrain in Vermont. (Justin Cash)
Email|Print| Text size + By Peggy Shinn
Globe Correspondent / November 11, 2007

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 American Skiing Co.'s five other Eastern resorts) for just over $600.

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 Starbucks products at four of the six base lodges. Snowshed will serve as the main hub, and management is encouraging guests to start their day there.

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 pegm@highmeadow.com.

If You Go

What to do

Killington Resort 4763 Killington Road 800-621-6867 killington.com $79 Saturdays and holidays, $76 Sunday-Friday, non-holiday (walk-up rates). Check the website for multiday deals.

Where to stay

Killington Grand Resort Hotel 228 East Mountain Road 800-372-2007 killington.com Renovated suite and studio accommodations within walking distance of the lifts. Rooms run from $150-$350, with breakfast included in some rates.

Birch Ridge Inn 37 Butler Road 800-435-8566 birchridgeinn.com A small inn with an excellent restaurant one mile from Killington. B&B rates $140-$310.

Where to eat

McGrath's Irish Pub 709 Route 4 802-775-7181 innatlongtrail.com This funky pub built into a cliff specializes in hearty Guinness stew and shepherd's pie. Guinness on tap and Irish music on weekends. Kids welcome, $6-$9.

Hemingway's Restaurant 4988 Route 4 802-422-3668 hemingwaysrestaurant.com One of the finest restaurants in New England ski country. Credit-card-guaranteed reservations required. Three- to six-course price-fixed menus $48-$65.

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