A big man with a Vermont sense of humor and abundant Yankee
ingenuity, Royal Biathrow was one of the first locals to notice the
potential in the Killington Ski Area. A logger since high school,
he "saw the price of logs drop as plastics came out in the 1950s
and was ready to leave town when Pres Smith arrived."
His earliest memory of Smith was of towing his car. "I could
always count on Pres to come up and get that old Lincoln stuck on
Friday nights. I'd pull that old car out and take him back to the
farmhouse. I could count on making ten dollars from him every
weekend," he chuckled.
Royal became Killington's first employee in 1957 helping Smith
to build a "work road" from the farmhouse to the mountain and then,
using his steep-mountain dozer expertise, to carve trails. He
became a construction supervisor in summer and carved trails,
roads, and lift lines with a large TD-14 bulldozer. He helped
"build every lift up until Bear Mountain and worked on the
installation of the first snowmaking system."
In winter he operated lifts and supervised snow removal along
with cooking, grooming, or working in the ski shop. "We helped out
wherever needed. I did just about every job at Killington in the
early years, including Pres Smith's," he recalled, explaining that,
"Pres went to Colorado for a week and left Bob Van Beever, the ski
school director, in charge. The second day Van Beever hit a tree
and broke both ankles. Joe Sargent [a Killington founder and
chairman of the board] called me that night and said, 'You're it!'
He told me to call day or night if there was anything I couldn't
handle. I held down the fort on a busy weekend, but I never had to
call for help," Royal proudly noted.
One of the jobs where Royal used his "know how" was the setting
of the first lift towers. "Pres and his crew were doing the first
Pomalift and my crew went up to set the second Poma. We didn't have
any cranes. I told a fellow to cut me a tree, and I rigged up a
pole, cable, and pulley to create a makeshift crane and had all the
towers set by 4:30."
On their way off the mountain, they passed Smith and told him
the job was done. Smith incredulously inquired, "What? How did you
The ever-mischievous Royal had replied, "Oh, a little Yankee
Royal also recalled the agony of building the first chairlift in
the cold through the winter of 1959-60 (because it had arrived late
on Thanksgiving Day). Several inches of the threads on the main pin
on the top bullwheel had been damaged in transit, and he and Smith
had painstakingly worked outside all day, refiling them with a hand
file. "I never came so close to freezing to death as we did right
there. You didn't dare force it; we filed and turned, filed and
turned. I'll bet it was 50 below; the wind blew something fierce.
That was an awful day. We froze the whole time."
Royal said the most difficult challenge was building the first
gondola. "We had enough experience by that time to know how things
were supposed to go, but it was confusing because the blueprints
were in metric measurements and mostly in Italian. They sent one
Italian fellow over, but he didn't speak much English." Being a
cautious man, Royal devised a method for anchoring the lift tower
feet so that the helicopters delivering them could immediately take
off and leave the men to secure the bolts to the concrete
foundations without the danger of vibrations moving the tower on
With his hearty laugh, he recalled a time when his snow
removal/heavy equipment crew was put on a grooming shift. Being
more accustomed to moving earth and reshaping it into nicely
contoured areas, they "bulldozed some boilerplate until we had
created a 14-foot platform of new snow where the mountain
previously had a sharp drop off." Thinking they had done a "nice
job," Royal was amazed to see George Bradley come down the Chute in
his smaller grooming machine only to have this loose snow avalanche
out from under him and carry man and machine backwards down the
mountain in a big ball of snow.
A favorite story goes back to the early days of the state
parking-lot toll booth up near the Killington Base Lodge. After a
snowstorm, Smith was anxious to clear out the entrance to the lodge
and not finding Royal decided to do it himself. Unfamiliar with the
operation of the large bulldozer, he got to the booth and couldn't
stop. "The little house - with toll collector Gracie Barrows
screaming all the way - ended up in the snowbank," Royal
Coming upon the scene, Royal demanded to know, "Who's been
driving my dozer?!"
A young and worried Smith fumed, "Never mind that. Would you
just get that house back before we get in trouble with the Forest
and Parks Department?!"
Smith wasn't the only one to get into some occasional trouble.
Workers relish telling about Royal's expertise at lift evacuation.
Exhibiting his "can-do" attitude, he declined instructions on how
to evacuate a chair, proceeded to grab the wrong end of a rope, and
crashed to the ground. His injuries only kept him out for a week.
He escaped serious injury another time when he drove a groomer over
a cliff of machine-made snow at Snowshed.
Asked what it was like to be among the early workers who carved
a famous ski area out of a wilderness, Royal replied, "There was
plenty of opportunity for people to work hard and get ahead. We had
a lot of dedicated people. Some couldn't hack the long days - 6 or
7 a.m. to midnight at times, so they left. Those who stayed felt
that the work mattered.
"We were proud of what we built. I liked my job because I was
working outdoors and nobody bothered me. I was creating something I
knew would be there for a long, long time, something our
grandchildren could see. We built 95 percent of everything by
Norma Biathrow grew up in Sherburne. Her father Howard Towne had a
construction and heavy equipment business (he lent equipment to
Killington to help build the area) so she was familiar with the
type of work Royal did on the mountain. She recalled the nightmares
he often had when working on particularly difficult or steep
terrain. "I knew better than to ask about them. I knew how
dangerous the work could be," she noted.
Norma stayed at home for a few years caring for their young
children and then worked at the area for 16 years, beginning with
the 1961-62 season. "Phil Camp was just starting mailings, radio
snow reports, daily and weekly bulletins. Gay Littler Johnson, Ruth
White, and Don Guy worked for him then, and I joined them in a
growing public relations department."
She became supervisor of the mailroom and information services,
which "entailed a little bit of everything from overseeing the
switchboard to snow calls."
Recalling the genesis of job sharing, Norma added, "Everyone
helped out in the restaurant or wherever needed; it was like a
family operation. The original Ambassadors were a helpful group,
Explaining that she felt "a part of the team effort and
connected to the area's growth and success," Norma added, "You
could see the results of the mailings and other public relations
work. We had a larger inquiry tally each year, and we saw more
skiers each year. We felt part of that."
Norma left Killington in 1976 to become a dispatcher with the
State Police in Rutland, and Royal retired in 1980. She recalled
"the good old days, the company picnics at Lake Dunmore, the
convenience of working close to home with a schedule that fit the
school year, the sense of togetherness and contact with people, and
the interesting variety of work" with a fondness that equals
Royal's pride at having been one of the early Killington
Photo by Bob Perry
One of Killiington's original couples, Norma and Royal Biathrow on
their 35th wedding anniversary, in 1979.
Photo by Mac McGillivray, courtesy of Norma Biathrow
Royal Biathrow, Pres Smith, and Henry Biathrow at Henry's
retirement party in 1995.