The Mountain Times

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New Killington initiatives disclosed

The return of the Mogul Challenge and the long ski season are just two elements of a new phase of initiatives designed to bring growth to Killington Resort.

With operational basics accomplished under his predecessor, the new Killington Resort and Pico Mountain President and General Manager, Mike Solimano, told The Mountain Times that he is looking forward to another phase in the evolution of Killington. This phase will center on increasing guest visits and working in concert with various stakeholders the local community as well as the greater Rutland Region.

Solimano, who lives in Rutland, acknowledged that Killington has a leadership role in the area, which also comes with a greater responsibility to help elevate the economy of the region as a whole. He said he will be making a major effort to foster "communication and to seek ideas both internally from staff and externally from various stakeholders."

He is actively meeting with people including selectmen, local chambers of commerce, homeowners, and others to listen to concerns, identify where improvements can be made and to solicit ideas for collective efforts to grow skier visits and improve the destination vacation experience.

Solimano stressed that there isn't just one big thing that will accomplish this goal and that cooperation and partnerships are key. At the same time, Killington will do its part by examining ways to improve the guest experience as well as reach more people through a more aggressive marketing program.

A lot of the changes in this next stage in the evolution of the resort, will go back to basics; back to what Killington used to be and what worked.

Solimano said that the area will seek "to open early and stay open as long as we can," adding, "We will be the first to open if we can be." He explained that saying, "We won't do foolish things like make snow in the rain" but they would make snow aggressively during windows of opportunity and would make use of the new Peak Walkway to foster early season skiing and riding.  Yes, expect October skiing. The snow guns are ready to be deployed, weather permitting.

And for those who miss the 8 a.m. start, the K-1 gondola will open at 8 a.m. giving a great diversity of terrain to the diehards who seek "11 by 11" (11 runs by 11 a.m.). Other lifts will continue with the 8:30 a.m. opening, which allows the resort to continue grooming on the rest of the mountain, among other advantages.

Solimano also noted that the resort is committed to bring back the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge, which had succumbed to "too many rules and regulations" related to liability and insurance issues. The Mogul Challenge once was the East's largest party as well as a premier bumps event. "It's about fun and Killington can throw a good party," Solimano said, adding that his executive team is skiers and riders who appreciate all aspects of mountain life and have chosen to live here because of the lifestyle Killington provides. Along these lines, Solimano plans to meet with his managers weekly in a gondola cab rather than the boardroom.

Another change will be to the Academic Excellence Program, which rewarded honor students with passes to Pico. Now the resort will offer a $75 youth Pico season pass to all Vermont students K-12. This decision came about after some complained about the logistical complications with tracking and qualifying "academic excellence." Now, the low cost pass affords the opportunity for more youth, including home schoolers, to take advantage of skiing at their local mountain, he noted. (A Killington upgrade will cost $199, a major savings.)

Speaking to a more aggressive marketing program, Marketing Director Rob Megnin noted that Killington is expanding various programs such as the Ski Council program with youth tickets now being offered. Last year the area also put a kiosk at Costco and reaped $168,000 in sales there. This year they go from 11 to 24 stores and will include more diverse offering there and at other outlets primarily in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Other targeted discounting initiatives have been offered via Facebook, in coupon books handed out with lease offers and in partnership with smaller resorts surrounding Vermont, in addition to other trial offers. Some have been more successful than others, Megnin noted, adding that trials are part of the process.

Megnin also noted that trends in visit patterns have changed because people have less time now and that the demand for shorter "stay-cations" will be accommodated now, too.

Although this change harkens back to a more traditional Killington marketing approach of aggressively reaching out to a diverse market, the approach to capital improvements has not changed. The area will continue to operate in an efficient and cost effective manner that allows it to be profitable and to reinvest in improvements. Still on the list are the Interconnect with Pico and a detachable quad for Snowdon, and more ideas are likely be added soon. The new Killington Peak Lodge is still scheduled to open December 2013.