AlpineZone Challenge 2009 – Chris Nyberg of Killington

The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Chris Nyberg, President and General Manager of Killington Resort in Killington, Vermont, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 9/3/2009:

Highway Star: Why hasn’t there been snowmaking on Devil’s Fiddle for the last few years? Without any doubt, Devil’s Fiddle is the best trail at Killington, and quite possibly the best expert trail in the northeast. Historically, it has been a snowmaking trail due to the southeastern exposure, and rocky nature. It also used to be much wider at the bottom before it was allowed to grow in. Cutting back the brush, making snow, and perhaps incorporating the old lift line and nearby glades with it would make for one amazing expert skiing area. It doesn’t even need to be that much snowmaking, just enough to set a base.

(Geoff) Devils Fiddle provides fantastic southeast-facing terrain that is always the first thing to soften in March and April when the rest of the resort is frozen concrete. It was designed as a snowmaking trail and is rarely skiable on natural snow. Are there plans to blow snow on it and make this attraction available to your customers again?
Chris Nyberg: HS – Thanks for the feedback on Devils Fiddle. Agreed, that region provides a very unique experience that can be improved upon. The last 2 years nature has provided Killington with above average snowfall, particularly 07/08 when we were able to open Outer Limits on natural snow. That was a good day! The amount of natural snow on some runs is a decision driver that the Mountain Operations crew uses to determine where to focus their snowmaking efforts. Jeff Temple, the Director of Mountain Operations and his team will evaluate this run and the snowmaking needs once we get into production on Bear and make the call. My guess, most likely they will get on it unless this winter is mild and low snow in which case snowmaking will be concentrated on primary runs.

2knees:  My question is in regards to your grooming philosophy last spring. It seemed to me that Killington groomed more aggressively than in the past with a result of less in the way of spring bumps. Not to say there weren’t any, just that there wasn’t the same quantity some people have come to expect at Killington in the spring. Is this something we can expect in the years to come from Powdr?

Also, in regards to moguls, its been stated that you will be setting up and maintaining two seeded runs on superstar and O.L., if I recall correctly. My question here is more out of curiosity as to what caused a change of heart on this. Not to bring up old wounds, but I asked about this very thing a few years ago on Killingtonzone and the response was that it wasn’t needed as the terrain is steep enough that bumps form naturally and quickly.

Thanks for any response on these.

Chris Nyberg: Thank you for your question. In spending time on the mountain and listening to our guests, I have come to understand the importance of moguls for some of our guests. Offering moguls, natural and manmade on a season-long basis has been moved up our ladder of importance. Our guests will find more moguls than they have in the past on specific trails that we will advertise on the daily snow report and our Blog at

Bubbartzky: Actually, I’d like Greg: to include a question to Chris about why, having been here two years already, Chris and Killington’s new ownership still engenders so much dislike and distrust among so many of its historic customer base. I’d like Greg: to ask Chris, if they had it to do all over again, what would they have done differently? I’d also like to know why they’re spending money on a marketing consultant in Utah (I believe) to help them develop a brand identity for Killington when, in fact, they’ve had a successful brand identity for 50 years and why they haven’t done anything since they arrived here to support that brand and seemingly tried to tear down the remains of the Killington brand they purchased?

(Geoff) Do you have any progress to report on creating a Killington brand and marketing plan? The Preston Smith brand was all superlatives. Most vertical drop. Most acres. Biggest snowmaking system in the world. Longest season. Biggest, longest, steepest mogul trail in the east. Best apres ski east of the Mississippi. The data on the contraction of tourism in the town over the last half-dozen years is irrefutable based on Vermont Department of Transportation traffic counts and Vermont Department of Taxes revenue reports. Few of those Preston Smith superlatives have changed but most of the northeast shuns Killington as being a complete zoo on weekends and holidays. From a lift line, trail crowding, and base lodge crowding point of view, the ski product is the best it has ever been. How are you planning to get the word out?

Chris Nyberg: What would we have done differently? Obtained a better understanding of the community dynamics prior to making some of our business decisions. We more than likely would have made the same decisions, but we would have changed our approach in implementation.

I personally have gotten to know many Killington and Pico residents, long time skier/riders and business owners over the past two and a half years and can call many my friend. Disliked and distrusted perhaps by a few, we will take that as a result of what had to be done to stop the spiral the resort was in. (we had an increase in total skier visits last season and few resorts in the country can say that). In addition, we have launched a number of new products (Deal Grabber, K50) and re-worked the pricing on our kids ski school and season pass programs to earn back the business of those that may have chosen to vote with their wallets. Will we earn their business this season? We certainly hope so. Eventually folks will come back and kick the tires, so it is up to us to continue to provide an outstanding resort experience and a great value to keep them here.

In regards to our new agency, nearly all larger ski areas contract with a marketing firm. In our case we are pleased to work with Factory Design Labs in Denver, an outstanding agency that handles Audi and North Face among other recognizable firms. Stay tuned as you see our two ski areas re-introduced to the market.

@ Geoff: Thank you for your question Geoff. Our brand and marketing plan will be rolled out in the near future (well before our opening). Sorry, I am not able to go into detail at this point in time due to the competitive nature of our business. But, can tell you I have had several conversations with Pres Smith and will be having more in order to gain a clear understanding of the foundation on which he built this great resort. Understanding the how and why of the way they did things during his era and listening to his ideas and advice has been very helpful.

mister moose:  What is Killington doing this year to decrease the recovery time on both lifts and trails after a rain freeze event?

Chris Nyberg: MM – Thanks for the question! Skiing and riding is our business and it is in our best interest to have the resort open and operating fully as quickly as we can bring it about. We have to be able to provide lift and surface products that meet many code and industry standards before opening. The mountain staff reviews every event to determine how efficient the strategy was and apply every reasonable resource we have at recovering. Recovery time is based on the degree of severity of the weather event. It is interesting to note that nearly all the rain or sleet events that create our icing on snow surfaces and lifts usually occur in the early morning hours. The de-icing of lifts usually starts between 4 and 5 am, starting earlier can be self defeating if the storm continues and re-ices what has been de-iced. The same can apply on the snow surfaces. If we get on it too early, we have refreezing and then an iced over corduroy which has to be broken up again. Note that last year there were about the same number of ice events as the year before, roughly 14. Last year the rime ice that formed during some storms was of a denser nature and was harder to remove from our lifts than the year before.

Geoff:  Killington got to where it is by bringing a huge number of people into the sport. Your child ski school programs are the most expensive in the east. They are significantly higher than known-expensive competitors like Stratton. The second most expensive child ski school program in the east is at Pico. Your learn-to-ski and learn-to-snowboard programs for adults are also significantly higher than your competition. As your core customer base ages, it is critical to replace them. Do you have plans to address this?

Chris Nyberg: Great Question Geoff. I just returned from a 2-day strategic summit that focused entirely on how we will bring new participants to the sport and then retain them. We recognize that a replacement strategy is very important to our industry since we have roughly only 10,000,000 core participants in the USA. While our Max 5 programs have been very successful at converting, due to the smaller class size, we are not driving the volume necessary to grow and sustain our industry. As I mentioned above we are modifying our price structures and some of our lesson offerings. Pico, as you may know, has a new focus on providing inexpensive skiing and riding, the “learn to” programs will follow a similar inexpensive theme. A few facts from NSAA; 30% of our customers are pre and boomers, in 10 years this group will be leaving the sport in droves. Historically over 98% of the people who were introduced to the sport were introduced by friends and family. Our opportunities for continued growth of the sport will come from the under 30 age group.

SkiBud:  Killington threads tend to get a lot of people really stirred up. Through the 90s, it was a force to be reckoned with. First to open and last to close into the East with seasons going well over 200 days, the best bump scene in the East, etc. As Geoff (who is much more of an expert than I am) puts it, Killington used to be all about superlatives, and at this point doesn’t really have anything that you can point a finger at as being the best in the East.

Essentially, there are a lot of people that are very disgruntled with the direction Killington has taken over the last 5-10 years due to how good it used to be. The terrain and snowfall are still very good, but closing in 2008 with tons of snow coverage, stopping BYOB at the Bear Mountain mogul comp (therefore killing the biggest party in the east,) cutting staff to the point of it being noticeable for those who’ve been longtime customers, etc. have caused quite a bit of resentment.

I think that most people are fairly happy with management at Sunday River where I ski. We’ve got a fair active dissuasion board to bring up issues. Management is very available and does lots of meet and greats. We don’t always agree, but we feel heard.

After reading a lot of negative Killington posts, it begs the question “What are their goals?” I am sure they have them, they clearly are different then the old management group. So my question to Chris Nyberg is “What are your long range goals?”, do you have a written Mission, Vision and Value statements you could share.

Chris Nyberg: Thank you for your views and question. We, at Killington, interact with a great many of our guests in various ways as it is a key element to improving your products.

In our daily operations and quest interactions we practice the basic fundamentals of our mission statement: To exceed customer expectations, be innovative, profitable and environmentally responsible.As for long range goals, here is a high level view.

Don’t skimp on the experience we can provide.
The quality of the sliding experience is paramount.
Early open for momentum is important (quality product necessary).
Operating late in season has marketing value.
Replace aged/worn infrastructure with what the current and future guest will appreciate.
Grow our paid visits.

As our guests drive home we want them to be talking about the great time had and thinking about their next visit.

jsul:  Has Killington ever considered extending the spring ski season by adding spring mountain bike trials?

Whistler ski resort uses it’s lift access to combine mountain biking and spring skiing. The restaurants, shops and hotels have both skiers and bikers creating revenue. Annual snowfall totals are irrelevant to spring skiing. Killington used to blow snow on Superstar the entire month of January resulting in plenty of snow thru the month of May. But even if snow totals were low the spring pass would allow the avid outdoors person to bike. I just wonder if combining spring skiing with mountain bikers would create a viable revenue stream at a time when the mountain makes no money until the summer season begins. For example if the 2009-10 ski pass were to expire on say April 15th and a spring ski/mountain bike pass offered or simply daily tickets required after the April 15th. I believe this would have a small profit margin for the mountain. Help the restaurants, hotels and shop maintain a year round business and keep loyal customers committed to the once mighty K. I believe there is a market for avid outdoors people who hate to see the season end.

Chris Nyberg: Jsul, Thank you for the additional revenue thoughts, while we like to create new revenue this is a tough one to pull off. We will continue to operate for skiing and riding through early May, weather and snow conditions permitting and open for the summer season the first week of July for mountain biking. We are unable to open for biking much earlier due to the fact that we lease most of our land from the State and work in partnership with the Department of Forest and Parks as to trail use, time periods and maintenance. Our mountain environment is not conducive to mountain bike traffic during the “fragile” time period of snow melting and the terrain drying up. State and Federal agencies consistently discourage even hiking trail use on their lands during this period of time

Highway Star:  The Killington-Pico Interconnect is by far the most important project for the re-growth of Killington and its position in the eastern skiing market. Not the Ski Village. At full build out (four lifts), plus some glades, it would put you at 1500 skiable acres, by far the most in the east. It would improve access for day trip skiers coming from the west. It would improve revenue yield per visit due to spending at lodges from people exploring the mountain. It would certainly increase skier visits. And, it would sell real estate, or at least give the town a good reason to support building a Ski Village. QUESTION: Why has there been little to no talk about the Interconnect? At least ASC, dead broke, would talk about it. I understand Phase 1 involves 2 lifts (1 HSQ), 110 acres of trails, snowmaking, and a lodge….at a ~15 million price tag. Have there been any efforts to get SP Land or E2M to pay for part of this, to jump start the building of the village? Could Killington fund a reduced scope initial phase, such as just the Pico side lift (fixed quad), traversing trails, and limited snowmaking…..for a sub $5 million price tag?

Chris Nyberg: HS, This question is similar to what pepperdawg: asked in 2007. We understand the advantages of having the two resorts connected from a marketing and skier growth standpoint. But, for the next few years we will need to spend our capital dollars on existing assets that would include; upgrading of lifts, snowmaking infrastructure, lodge buildings and parking/road infrastructure.

Highway Star: I see that Killington is aiming for a season “early November to early May”. While encouraging, will there be any enhancements to the strategy to bring this about? Opening top to bottom on the K-1 is proven difficult in the past. Needing to produce 100+ acre feet of snow in variable weather is an obvious challenge. In 2006, Killington wasn’t able to open until Thanksgiving Day, even though Stowe had 2ft at the summit in late October. Eastern weather is unreliable, and I think it’s entirely possible that poor weather could cause a delay of opening until early December, as a worse case scenario. Have you considered an alternate strategy, such as opening on Superstar/Skyelark, or installing a new upper mountain lift and using downloading on the K-1? What about the spring? I’m sure most diehards would rather you stayed open until mid-May or Memorial Day. Oh, and opening on a Sunday, and closing on a Saturday…..will you be changing that?

Chris Nyberg: HS, As you can imagine, we spend a lot of time discussing our strategy early season. The strategy we have employed the last 2 years seems to be the best for early season and we will continue to follow these basics; get snow made up high to provide a quality product off Northridge chair, get an easy way to the bottom for the lower level skier/rider (temps permitting). We have discussed an upper lift that would bring people to K-1 top for download and have some ideas. As far as what day we open, we will open the day we have a “decent” product regardless what day of the week and closing at end of season will usually occur on a Sunday.

Geoff:   I am concerned about the impact on day skiers with the long-term SP Land proposal to obliterate the Snowshed, Rams Head, and Vale parking lots. In the renderings, the main Killington lot is also shrinking. A fortress gated community and a sprawl of trophy homes are slated to be built on that land. Close-in day parking is a competitive advantage. Remote parking lots incur large operating expense and result in a less-than-desirable first impression for day skiers. Does KSRP support this plan?

Chris Nyberg: Geoff – Yes, KSRP supports SP Land’s plan. First, the plan has significant day skier parking at K-1 Base Lodge and in a shared parking lot in the Snowshed area adjacent to the proposed Village. After the resort acquisition in 2007, we sat down with SP Land over the course of that summer and worked on planning issues that were important to us in resort operations. One of those items included enlarging and right-sizing the parking area adjacent to the Village. We came out of those meetings very satisfied with the parking plan. Also, during those meetings, we came away with agreements on a new Snowshed Lodge, the proposed Skier Bridge connecting Snowshed and Rams Head, and three new transit centers, one of which was located around the proposed Village Green. Significant planning work went into moving the day skier drop off in the Village closer to the Snowshed slope than was previously planned. Remote parking when used will have an efficient shuttle system to bring day skiers to the lodges of choice. Second, Geoff, I can’t agree with your statement of a “fortress gated community and a sprawl of trophy homes”. The plan shows quite a mix of residential units and nowhere are there signs of a gated community. Quite to the contrary, the plan is significantly open and maintains a strong mix of open space for natural resources and ski terrain. We believe the plan will enhance skier flow in and around the existing lodging areas in the Killington Basin. Finally, your question lets me address one significant issue surrounding the SP Land’s proposed development. We are in the “resort” business; a very competitive market exists out there for what we do. In order to meet the customer expectations of the majority, to attract the volume necessary to sustain, grow and improve our ski operation, and to enhance the “Resort Community” including the town of Killington and Rutland County, a quality, economically viable Village is a necessary component for Killington Resort’s next fifty years.

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