By Karen D. Lorentz
“Killington Resort has the jump on mountain biking with their trail expansion and Gravity Logic designing the trails, and now with the new cross-country trail network at Kent Pond I think Killington can become the mountain biking capital of the East,” enthused Phil Black, owner of the Lookout Tavern.
Black added that every day he sees more bikers going up the road and says the new improvements at the resort and the growth in all the town’s summer activities bode well for business. The Lookout Tavern saw June and July growth with August holding steady compared to last year, which was a good year, he said.
The old business model (1980s) centered on tennis, golf and skiing and for years we were told it needed to change, Black continued. “Now I see the transition beginning,” he said, noting his approval of the town and resort working on a model that includes contemporary attractions like the Snowshed Adventure Center, zip lines, mountain biking network, more events, activities like the kids’ camps, and the new opportunities like the Kent Pond trails. The latter is an attraction that will appeal not just to bikers but to “all ages, from mothers pushing strollers to senior citizens,” he said, adding that it will be great for families riding together due to its gentle and smooth terrain.
Brett Williamson, broker at Killington Valley Real Estate, was also very enthusiastic about the summer and future growth, citing more children attending the kids camps, summer rentals starting to increase, and seeing more people in town. “The idea of a four-season resort and all the new activities at Snowshed are helping. There is something for everyone there,” he said. Combined with all the events offered now, the town is becoming more attractive for second-home buyers and renters, he noted.
He also added that Sushi Yoshi was now open year round, a sign that others are encouraged by what’s happening and the positive trend, he’s seeing.
Nate Freund, co-owner of Sushi Yoshi, backs that up, stating, “We absolutely did this in response to the great initiatives happening at Killington Resort and in the town.”
Killington Resort has continued to expand the Snowshed Adventure Center and its five-year mountain bike park expansion by adding new trails for beginner and intermediate riders, with the Gravity Logic-designed trails now extending to Ramshead.
At the same time, the town of Killington embarked on improving camp opportunities for youngsters. The Killington Camps for kids ages 4-13 expanded their offerings and “tripled our numbers,” reported Kim Peters, the town’s director of parks and recreation.
She noted expanded hours of 8 a.m.-5 p.m. for the full 10 weeks of summer accommodated working parents from the region as well as town residents and vacationing families. KPAA members receive a discount on the camps so employers like GE and RRMC were able to offer camp discounts as an employee benefit.
Peters attributes the growth of the camps to “parents liking the programming,” which included swim lessons; yoga, skateboarding, and art classes; library programs (magic shows to theater); mountain biking at Killington (new) for ages 8-13 and visiting the Adventure Center (new) for younger campers. “There is also unstructured time for kids to just be kids and throw a ball or enjoy the pool,” Peters added.
While 75 percent of attendees were local, 25 percent were out-of-state children. “They loved the camps and came back for more weeks,” Peters said, adding that grandparents also took advantage of the camp for visiting grandchildren.
Marketing data from 2009-2015 show “Q3 continuous growth in the event-based tourist coming to town,” said Amy Morrison, KPAA director and the town of Killington events and marketing coordinator.
The hard data for summer 2016 won’t be in until the state releases information on local options tax receipts — rooms, meals, and alcohol taxes are indicators of guest visits — in November, but Morrison said that anecdotally she has heard that local business owners were “happy” with summer levels.
Citing the partnership between Killington Resort, the town, and KPAA, she said that all are working toward the goal of a vibrant summer of activities and attractions.
Among summer highlights, Morrison noted:
500 amateur and pro bicyclists participated in the Memorial Day Weekend Stage Race for three days.
80+ average attendance at the Bike Bum Race Series, which kicked off in June and ran for 10 weeks with ages 3-60+ participating.
1,000+ participating in the three-day Wine Festival, which is produced by the KPAA.
144 competitors (traveling with 3-4 in family groups) in three-day Killington Junior Golf Championships over July 4.
10,000 plus people attended the eight weeks of Cooler in the Mountain concert series at Snowshed, with Rustic Overtones and the Robert Randolph and Family Band each drawing close to 3,000 guests.
Adding there are many special events now from fireworks to races — Downhill Throw Down World Cup, Race to the Peak, and Spartan — and that Killington Resort has invested millions of dollars over the last few years in the Adventure Center and mountain biking system, she noted it is “great to see the resort town is collaboratively and successfully moving toward the goal” of more summer visitors and a four-season resort.
Bill Miller, general manager of the Summit Lodge, which saw new ownership last March, reported good summer business, noting the wedding business was steady (and continues with three more fall weddings to go). He said general business (rooms and meals) was up slightly, noting the activities in town and biking/adventure center activities “definitely helped.”
Business was up 40 percent for the Basin Ski Shop’s bike business, reported Rick Torrey. He attributed that to both the mountain offering the expanded trail network and to the Basin changing its approach to the bike business.
Dave Neighoff, Basin’s summer general manager, daughter Christine Torrey, president who runs the business, and Torrey developed “a new playbook that focused not just on selling bikes but also providing service, clothing and accessories. We analyzed the changing market, addressed it, and saw tremendous growth, not just in sales but also profitability,” Torrey said.
Torrey also was enthusiastic about seeing families riding together, noting, “The kids’ market took off this year.” The beginner and intermediate trails at Killington and the new cross-country trails currently being built at Kent Pond are indicators of a growth market, he said.
Torrey, who has owned the Basin since founder Pete Sarty sold it to him, added that he’s lived in Utah for several years now and now just visits to help out. Years ago “when people asked where I was from and I said Killington, they would go, ugh. Now, they say, ‘is the mountain biking really that good’ and comment about the World Cup,” he said noting that the word about progress is getting out.
Coming up the Killington Road, he said, he noticed improvements — sidewalks, lights, etc. — and he sees that people are more positive due to the expanded offerings. “The community is pulling together, I’m proud to see that. … I am optimistic for the opportunities this brings to employees and for Christine, Dave, and Brett [Williamson, winter shop general manager] and other businesses — it’s just fantastic,” he concluded.
By Karen D. Lorentz