Editor's note: This is part 4 in a series that provides an
historical perspective on the Killington Village and progress over
a 44-year period.
The stockholders of S-K-I Ltd., Killington's founding/parent
company, approved the sale of the company on June 10, 1996, and Les
Otten's newly formed American Skiing Company (ASC) officially
purchased Killington and its sister resorts on June 28.
During the period of transition, Allen Wilson returned to the area
as President and Carl Spangler as VP for Planning and Development.
They were two familiar faces who inspired confidence as they had
worked with Otten at Sugarbush and many years at Killington (and
Otten's transformation of Sunday River into the East's number-two
area was well known, as were his purchases of the Attitash,
Sugarbush, and Cranmore ski areas. His team had made upgrades and
resolved issues similar to Killington's and with an ability to get
things done, including construction of 1,150 units at Sunday River,
a 63-million gallon snowmaking pond at Sugarbush South plus a
connecting lift between Sugarbush North and South, hopes were high
that he could overcome the barriers that had stood in the way of
S-K-I's Board had determined that real estate development was the
wave of the future, and expectations were that Otten was going to
make the commercial area or Village Center happen at
Otten had actually begun working on his vision for Killington
before the sale was officially approved. He had instructed Carl
Spangler, who had joined Killington in 1982 but left in 1993 to
become his executive assistant, to work on the due diligence
process and the issues that had stalled the Village and Parker's
Gore projects as well as water for snowmaking. When Pico filed for
bankruptcy in June 1996, Otten had also entered into talks with
Pico's owners, and Spangler further explored a Killington-Pico
An ambitious entrepreneur, Otten was out to fulfill dreams for
Killington. In a 1988 interview, he had said, "Who knows, someday I
may be the person to take Pres where he needs to go."
That comment resonates for his insight that new approaches might be
needed to get beyond the obstacles. In a 1997 interview, he
explained how he endevoured to find out what environmentalists or
other opponents wouldn't allow and accepting that "red light" while
finding a way to work with them so that they understand a ski
area's needs so you can get a "green light" and get something done.
For Otten, it was about collaboration not confrontation.
Otten's plan was to maximize Killington's potential by: obtaining
the necessary water supply for snowmaking; putting in a slopeside
bed base; developing a village with hotel and conference center;
providing improved service for families; and implementing a new
To do that, Otten set out to consummate all the agreements
previously worked on by Killington but never completed.
"If you don't get it done now, it won't happen in our
lifetimes," Spangler recalled him saying in a 2008 interview. "He
was very intent on having everything on the table and stressed that
we needed a comprehensive resolution and gave me permission to meet
Then Spangler had laughed as he recalled something he didn't have
permission to do.
"Allen Wilson and I met with Barbara Ripley in Montpelier just
before the agreement to explore the land exchange was to be
announced by Governor Dean. It was the eleventh hour, and she told
us she needed $375,000 to purchase 800 acres of land adjacent to
Parker's Gore. Allen and I looked at each other and said,
"Then, on our way back, we had to call Les to tell him what we had
done. We figured we might be out of jobs.
"We told him and he screamed, 'We have a deal! You guys are going
to be rich.'"
Well, history has its humor, but this does show how well meaning
Otten had been for Killington.
In that exuberance (which included spending whatever it would take,
unfortunately), he accomplished much: from the
Ramshead Family Center to preserving Pico as a classic ski area
that never closed (as other bankrupt areas had to do); from
building the Grand Hotel and Conference Center to gaining access to
500-millions gallons of water for snowmaking.
Most importantly, he set the stage for a Killington Village by an
historic land swap in 1997.
In his 1997 comments on the historic land exchange, Allen Wilson
noted that Governor Howard Dean summed it up well when he credited
"the maturing of the environmental community and their acceptance
of Vermont's need for jobs and the ski industry's contribution to
the winter economy, especially in the Rutland Region where tourism
plays a major role."
Wilson also spoke of "a maturity on the part of ski areas that
recognizes that Vermont is what sells and that once the Vermont
environment is gone, it can never be replaced."
He had added: "The true significance of the swap is that it allows
the dream to go forward. We are at the beginning of being able to
fulfill the vision. There is a long way to go, but with the swap
accomplished the hard work to get there has paid off, and we can
now draw up a master plan for a world-class destination resort. The
entire region can be a true four-season destination. The beauty of
Vermont coupled with the protection of that asset will work to the
region's advantage, not just Killington's."
Killington Village Legacy
Spangler proceeded with new Killington Village planning, which
included many hearings to gather input. Millions were spent
permitting and planning as Otten set a different tone on behalf of
Killington. By utilizing a collaborative approach, he let it be
known that he wanted "to work cooperatively within the system" and
was willing to listen to others if they would listen to
Killington's needs, too.
It was the change that was needed to move Killington forward, and
Otten and his team of managers had the skills, attitude, and
confidence to make it happen.
"By playing by the rules," Otten said he was hopeful that he would
be able to proceed with business and achieve the goals he had set
for Killington. By being a good corporate citizen and giving
something back to the state (Parker's Gore, more land for bears,
better route for the Appalachian/Long trail, etcetera) he was
optimistic that his style would "win friends rather than
This public approach was part of Otten's astute take on Killington,
foreshadowed in 1988 when he noted that someone else might be
needed to take Killington forward. He had been well aware that
Killington was suffering from a bad environmental reputation
(albeit undeserved) that was impeding the area's progress.
The result was that all groups came to the conclusion that
Killington should have a "growth center' designation for its
Killington relinquished 2,948 acres for bear habitat and hiking
trail protection in return for 1,070 acres in the Killington Basin.
In the process Otten gained a "green light" for growth and
development paving the way for the Village center.
But Otten had also lost control of his overleveraged company, which
had grown to the largest in America - with western acquisitions ASC
did almost 10 percent of U.S. skier visits. When Otten
over-leveraged ASC in the booming 1990s, the banks had been only
too willing to grant loans for acquisitions and real estate
But times changed as the weather and economy tanked. Soon loans
were in default.
ASC's creditors failed to see the light at the end of the tunnel,
and Killington wasn't able to make further progress after the
snowmaking pond as profits left the area.
ASC shareholders had lost a bundle as did their lenders by 2001.
Had the majority owner that now controlled ASC's Board (Oak Hill
Partners) had patience and/or deeper pockets, the outcome for ASC
and Killington might have been different.
But they didn't - time ran out - and orders were given to sell the
So it's understandable that some folks dislike and discredit Otten
although history tells us that the Canyons, Steamboat, and Heavenly
Valley were all seen as desirable properties that have done very
well for new owners.
As for Killington, Otten's legacy was to make progress for the ski
area and lay the foundation for a Village Center with approvals for
his new Killington Village Master Plan.
That progress featured a new era of collaboration in which
environmental groups and the State approved the concept of a
At recent Act 250 hearings for SP Land Company's application, not
one environmental group requested party status or showed up to
object to new plans for a Village Center.
To have a region agree on a "growth center" for Killington is
progress indeed. And it only took 44 years to get to this
Next week we'll take a look at the latest 9 years in Village
patience and progress.