With the start of the Killington Ski Area, budding entrepreneurs
sensed a ground-floor business opportunity that complemented a
desire to live in the mountains.
"It proved to be a time that brought to Killington and Vermont
not only those who wanted to share the mountain experience for
their recreation, but many families who also wanted to find a
livelihood in the mountains," Killington co-founder Sue Smith said
of the early years.
As a result, many young families left the security of jobs and
the respectability of urban life to start over. Like Killington's
founders, they were young and the dream was one of opportunity and
reward for hard work.
Even those who came to ski and "drop out" of the "rat race"
often found themselves running successful business ventures.
One "drop-out" recalled (in 1988), "I have always compared the
people who came to Killington in the sixties and early seventies to
the people who came to North America 250 years ago. It took a
special kind of person to start over. We were people who were
affected by the sixties and wanted more control of our lives. For a
lot of my generation that place was Vermont. Those of us involved
in the growth of Killington were in the right place at the right
One of the first residents to welcome both the ski area and
"transplants" was Oren Bates. Having come from several generations
of Killington farmers, he had witnessed the demise of this
livelihood. So not only did he generate support for the ski area in
the legislature, he also sold much of his land to the first
homeowners and area businesses.
Pete Sarty was the first to move to town and build a business on
the Killington Road, having purchased land from Bates in March
1958. The small Basin Ski Shop with an attached apartment for
Sarty, opened in December 1958. Sarty had used a $3,000 loan to get
started, and his partner Steve Chontos had supplied an equal amount
in merchandise. The building was expanded with a lodge in 1959,
another wing in 1960, and new adjacent ski shop in 1965.
Looking back in 1987, Sarty observed that operating a seasonal
ski business was "not an easy way to make a living, but most people
were just starting out so we weren't alone in the struggle to get
established." The sense of "being in this together" supported many
an entrepreneur's efforts to build a business. (Sarty sold the
Basin in 1988 to serve as a representative to the
Bob Van Beever, ski school director, built the "A-frame" Skol
Shed, Killington's first restaurant and cocktail lounge and the
only establishment in the basin with a liquor license in
1959-60. There was nightly dancing to records and a German
accordionist. A small place, it was often packed in the days before
restaurants and lodges with lounges began to proliferate on the
Winslow B. Ayer went into partnership with Van Beever and financed
the first modern motel, Skol Haus, which was built next to the Skol
Shed in 1960. Eventually the old nightspot was converted to an
office, but the Skol Haus continues as the Happy Bear Motel (new
George Stevenson purchased the CCC Hut, which had served as
Killington's first base lodge, and moved it to the Killington Road
where he added on to it to create the Ski Bunk Lodge in 1959.
In 1960 he advertised "lowest rates despite the fact that the TV
has been repaired;" and in 1961, "same low dormitory rates despite
the fact that the outside has just been painted."
Gene Stiles bought the two-dorm ski lodge (1962), doubled its
size, added a lounge, and converted it to the Troll Inn with
private rooms in 1966. Stiles also built the Sugar Shack in 1964
and operated it as a gift shop and an under twenty-one night club
before converting it to a restaurant and lounge in 1969.
Later, he converted the lodge to business rentals before selling
the complex to Jay Shapiro (1980).
He sold the Sugar Shack (renamed Showcase East) to local
entrepreneur Jack Giguere after Giguere drove his car into it one
night. Giguere turned it into the Pickle Barrel, illustrating that
"many people were in the right spot at the right time."
One of the more astute and financially successful businessmen in
town, Giguere also built the Wobbly Barn and Charity's, owning
three of the most acclaimed après-ski restaurants and nightspots in
Vermont! He also bought the Fireside Lodge and Alpine Inn
When asked how he came to Killington, Stiles quipped, "I'd been
coming up to ski - how else? Regrets? Yes, financial. Rewards?
Healthier climate than New Jersey." Not liking the vagaries of a
seasonal mountain business, though, Stiles relocated to U.S. Route
4 in Rutland Town where he operated Leisure Lines for many
Jim Bigelow was another early mountain supporter and
businessman. He built Bigelow's Lodge, which opened December 31,
1959, offering dormitory-styled accommodations for 55 skiers. With
his wife Priscilla, he operated the lodge until 1969, then leased
it to Romaine and Charlotte Willis before selling to Giguere, under
whose auspices the lodge operated as the Fireside Lodge (now
Like so many others, Merle Schoenfeld had been interested in
skiing and had searched the state looking for the right place to
operate a lodge. He recalled being "turned down by every bank in
Rutland until the last one because in those days they didn't
believe in skiing." He converted an old farmhouse to Mountain
Meadows Lodge and with renovations to the house and barn
accommodated 90 guests. (He also started the Mountain Meadows Ski
Touring Center in 1970 "with a few fellows who came down from Stowe
and cut trails and operated the center under a lease
Among others who had opened lodges by December 1960 were: Mike
Cohen, Trailside Lodge; Bud and Marie Hubbard, Alpenhof; Red Glaze,
Red Rob Inn; Bob and Jack Donnelly, Skrid Finnen (Killington
Village Inn); Tom Zabski, Summit Lodge; and Perley and Ruth Ann
Pike, Fondue House (renamed Pike's Lodge).
They were joined by many more business people, who, sensing a
"last frontier" opportunity, built more lodges, restaurants,
stores, ski and gift shops and developed services such as real
estate firms. As they did so, the town's permanent population grew.
It was 266 residents in 1968; 558 in 1978; 891 by 1988; and 1,019
As more people moved into what one native Vermonter described as
"a practically dead town," Killington came alive with families
working to create a better, more vital community for themselves and
In coming weeks, some of those "transplants" will share memories