Season Recap and Looking Forward
Posted June 8, 2012
An inside look at the 2011-12 winter season and a sneak peak of what's in store for the upcoming seasons from Chris Nyberg, Killington’s President and General Manager.
This winter season was certainly one of the more challenging seasons the US ski resort business has faced in years. I have made my living in this industry since 1971 and recall various seasons of regional drought, too much snow, warm winters, very cold winters, poor economy and fuel shortages in the President Carter era. This fall and winter are one for the record books though.
Tropical storm Irene, this past August, and the record setting warm weather through Christmas challenged the East Coast resorts. Many resorts in the East are reporting to be off in double digit figures in revenue and skier visits. Thankfully, Killington Resort’s elevation, snowmaking efforts and tenured grooming teams brought us through this tough winter quite well. Business is always off with little or no natural snowfall in the yards of our guests and few meaningful snow events in the mountains of Vermont.
For the past five years as the president of KPSRP, (Killington/Pico Ski Resort Partners, LLC.) the company that leases the assets from the property owner, over $20,000,000 has been reinvested in upgrading and improving our guests’ experience at our resorts. Thanks to our hard working crews, the majority of the deferred maintenance and much needed improvements are completed and during the 2011 summer, over $6,000,000 was devoted to enhancement projects.
Crews continued to renovate our snowmaking systems with replacement pipe (there is over 80 miles of snowmaking pipe at Killington), upgrade our gun arsenal to include more energy efficient snow guns, (we own over 3,000 snow guns), improve ski runs, upgrade lifts, update our lodge interiors and expand the Wobbly Barn’s dining area. Additionally, a lift served Tubing Park was installed at the Killington Golf Course, four new Prinoth groomers were added to the fleet and the original Killington Peak Lodge was removed and the site was prepped for the new facility.
The installation of the sewer line from the Peak to the K-1 Lodge was well underway and on schedule when all of our projects and plans came to a halt due to tropical storm Irene striking Vermont on August 28, 2011. With over 12 inches of rainfall in 24 hours, all of our watercourses in the region swelled and lifted bridges off their abutments and washed away huge sections of road.
With the power out, Route 100 and Route 4 destroyed north, south, east and west, we found ourselves on the island of Killington in the center of the Green Mountain State. Irene quickly changed our priorities including completing the Peak sewer project and setting the foundation and first floor of the new Peak facility before the first snow fall of the year.
Killington Resort and Pico Mountain sustained over $6,000,000 combined in damage from tropical storm Irene. Fortunately, our lifts and runs sustained minimal damage. However, our snowmaking systems and nearly every building had some degree of damage. Wonderful stories have been shared regarding how our teams put everything back into operational order, allowing Killington Resort to be the first resort on the East Coast to open daily for skiing and riding, just two months after Irene on Saturday, October 29. For the 2011-12 winter season, our guests enjoyed 177 on-snow days, the most in the East.
One of the unexpected benefits reaped from Irene was the replacement of the collapsed 6,800 square foot Superstar Pub in the K-1 Lodge with the all-new Roaring Brook Umbrella Bars, a 6,400 square foot heated deck and restrooms. Shortly after the tropical storm, we quickly ordered two umbrella bars from Austria and were able to have one of the bars open by Thanksgiving with the project completed by the end of December. Most guests, who frequented the Superstar Pub and enjoyed the Ubars, can say, “Thank you Irene” and be pleased with the super experience we now have at the bottom of the Superstar Trail.
Our crews were able to create a couple more unique venues this year including the Motor Room Bar atop of Bear Mountain and the Dog Sled. With a little work, we transformed the original Devil’s Fiddle Quad top drive station into an exclusive après ski experience that included an evening ride in an enclosed snowcat ride to access the bar. It was certainly a hit with our guests, and we look forward to expanding its use in the future. Additionally, with the removal of the original Peak Lodge and the demand for a quick bite to eat, we opened the Dog Sled which served specialty hot dogs and drinks. The Dog Sled was located at the bottom of North Ridge Triple chair during our early season upper mountain skiing and was moved next to the Roaring Brook Umbrella Bars for the remainder of the snow sports season.
Our goal is to enhance our guests experience and we are proud of our new improvements as well as the Ledgewood Yurt, a fine dining adventure, the Vista Deck, a ski-in ski-out venue offering a quick bite to eat and an incredible view and the Peak Walkway. This innovative walkway and stair system, built two years ago, provides early season skiing and riding for our guests. When you are finished for the day, ride the North Ridge Triple Chair and take the walkway back to the top of the K-1 Express Gondola and ride the gondola down to the base area. What a home run for early season skiing and riding!
Snowmaking is a necessity for early season skiing and riding and crucial when Mother Nature is not cooperating - what a snowmaking season it was! Winter was slow to come this year and when she arrived, the temperatures remained mild through December. Our snowmaking crews were forced to continually go back and re-make snow on the same trails as a result of the numerous rain events and warm temps. While trail count and fast expansion are important, we believe depth and snow quality come first. We were grateful to receive many positive comments about our quality of our snow in light of some awful weather scenarios. It should also be noted that we made nearly the same amount of snow for the 2011-12 season as the previous season, pumping nearly 750,000,000 gallons of water. The investment of energy efficient guns over the past four years has truly paid off this year, helping us get the job done and still come in on budget.
This summer, the Peak to K-1 Lodge sewer system, the foundation, footings and bottom floor walls of the new Peak facility will be completed. Completion of the infrastructure and foundation will give Engelberth Construction Inc., construction management company out of Colchester, VT, a good production window to complete the facility by Christmas of 2013. Furthermore, we will continue upgrades to our snowmaking systems, fine tune our trails and install an 18-hole disc golf course at Killington Resort.
Going forward, we have many exciting projects in the queue; the Snowdon Quad is slated for replacement in the next few years along with adding uphill service in the South Ridge area. The long awaited Killington Village plan has been submitted to Vermont and the Act 250 review process is underway. In addition, plans to connect Killington Resort and Pico Mountain are in place and will begin shortly after the new village breaks ground.
I want to thank all of our wonderful guests who took the time to recognize my staff for all of their hard work this year; it was a very challenging and demanding fall and winter and your appreciation has meant so much to all of us. Our businesses and staff persevered and will remain "Vermont Strong".
We look forward to continuously improving our resorts and making your experience special.