AlpineZone Challenge 2012 – Mike Solimano of Killington Resort

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. Mike Solimano, General Manager at Killington Resort  in Killington, Vermont, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 12/20/2012:

steamboat1:  Is the replacement of the Snowdon fixed grip quad for a High Speed Quad still on schedule for next year?

Are you still planning on using the Snowdon fixed grip quad to replace the South Ridge chair, and if so, when do you think this will happen?

Mike Solimano: Replacement of the Snowdon Quad is high on the list of major capital investments in the future. We are planning to finish the Peak Lodge next year with all related infrastructure projects ($2M in pipeline work over to Pico). Currently the replacement of the Snowdon Quad is the next major lift replacement being contemplated, however the replacement will definitely not happen next year. We have discussed a plan to move the Snowdon Quad to the Southridge area and would probably do this at the same time as the replacement of the Snowdon lift. I am unable to tell you when these lift changes will be made, but it’s doubtful that it will be in the next year or two..

steamboat1: Any chance of having the Skyeship gondola opening at 9:00am again instead of the 9:30am opening?

Mike Solimano:  Currently, we are planning on keeping the same lift mode as we have already communicated. I understand that many people want various lifts to open earlier and run more often, but we need to balance business levels and the growing power and fixed costs associated with these operations. As I have stated before, we need to make enough money to be able to re-invest in our business. There are trade off’s in the decisions to run different lifts at different times. We have agreed to run K-1 Express Gondola as well as North Ridge Triple at 8:00 a.m. to accommodate early skiers. I understand opening lifts in the K-1 pod doesn’t help the person that wants to get out early at Skyeship it is a significant change from our original plans from last year. We plan to keep the Skyeship lift time the same as previously communicated.

boston_e: Are there any plans to add more summer activities to the mountain such as a zip line, mountain coaster, water slide or bungee jumping etc. to attract more people to the mountain during the off season? Would ever consider building in a indoor water park, similar to Jay or what exists in North Conway?

Mike Solimano: We have plans to expand our mountain biking operation as well as add some more summer features as you describe. I  am unable to tell you exactly when more summer investment will occur, our primary business is during the winter and we have been focusing our capital investment on winter as it generates the best return on investment.

skiersleft: What are your plans for the interconnect? Any chance we see this happen within the next five years? oakapple adds to this, asking whether the new inbound lift would go to the top of Ramshead, putting those trails back into service?

Mike Solimano: We still have plans for the interconnect and as I have said in many different meetings, different people have different opinions of this project. I don’t see it happening in the next five years. This doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but I am trying to be transparent and honest in my assessment of capital needs moving forward Projects such as Snowdon Quad and Southridge replacement, snowmaking infrastructure, trail intersection work, K-1 Lodge improvements, and others would probably still be ahead of the interconnect on the capital priority list.

tt431:  We had several questions on snowmaking. tt431 asks; are you going to be as aggressive blowing snow this winter, as you seem to be early, and try to extend the season into the end of May or even June?  mister moose adds to this, stating you indicated Killington would return to the first to open last to close mode of years past. The early open this season certainly made a big splash. In percentages, how much snow do you plan to blow on Superstar this season? 100% of Last year? 120%? What do you think of pole mounted automated fan guns lining a signature trail like that?

Mike Solimano: Our plan on snowmaking is to be as aggressive as possible, which allowed us to have the earliest opening in 15 years and, we have maxed out our snowmaking capacity since.  The weather has not been cooperating with us and we have had to go back and resurface trails more than we would have liked. Our plan is to make snow to extend the season as long as possible. Since this business is so weather dependent, I don’t want to over promise and under deliver on something we may not be able to control. I will let our actions speak for themselves. You will see our commitment to late season and our plan is to make it into May.  Additional automated tower mounted fan guns would be a great asset to have in our snow gun fleet. Besides the individual fans we have now, we do have a few planned applications on trails where the capital costs of the infrastructure would be justified and beneficial. With their powerful throw Skyeburst and Superstar are high on the list for potential installation projects.

Skiur adds, With the Dew Tour not being held on Bear Mountain this year, have your plans changed on when and where snowmaking will be handled? Will some of the trails that were forgotten last year like Devil’s Fiddle get some love?

Mike Solimano: Our plan is to spread snowmaking on more trails than last year, weather permitting As I have said before, we will be as aggressive as possible while still being financially responsible since our financial results will drive our future capital investment. Our plan is to make snow on all snowmaking trails weather permitting.  Yes, we did have a tough weather year last year and were not able to get to a trail like Devils Fiddle; with that said on a more normal weather year, we fully expect to be on the Fiddle, a trail that we love, later in the season,

Nick: Thanks for participating in the Challenge Mike! My question is on the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge – the new vision that was recently laid out mentions a return of the BMMC. Last year, the event was cancelled for the first time in 31 years. The general reasoning given was that it had to do with state laws and regulation. With that said; what do you envision the BMMC to look like this year – given the constraints that state law provides?

RENO adds, Will the BMMC happen end of March / early April like most recent years or return to the old schedule of mid April?

Mike Solimano:  The reason the event was cancelled was that we started to put many rules in place to stop the small amount of people that were causing problems (or breaking liquor laws) from getting out of control. As a result many of our faithful customers stopped attending under the new rules. Basically it wasn’t fun anymore. Our goal moving forward is to make it fun again. We will need some help from our guests, we’re  asking people attending to take some personal responsibility in their actions. We want to bring back the festive atmosphere like the tents, couches, barbecues and other items that make the event one of a kind. Vermont liquor laws are very strict so we need to be sure we can adhere to the laws and make sure people are safe. We will be working with the state to determine what the specific rules will need to be. Our hope is that we will be able to allow guests to bring alcohol on site for personal consumption.

We want to make sure this event is as fun as possible, but we need to make sure people are acting responsibly and also not driving home after drinking. Our plan is to have more shuttle buses available that will drive guests home.

boston_e: Would you ever consider again making the express card operate to give some discount at Pico as well as Killington, and would it ever be possible to have the Pico pass act as an express card at Killington? I understand that the Pico pass offers a 20% discount for a Killington lift ticket, which is a great benefit, but direct to lift access would be even better.

John Rowland also asks about the Express card, wondering why is your Express card on average $10-20 more expensive than your competitors? Plus your card is back end loaded. Most resorts offer the first day free, yours after 6 days? Thoughts?

Mike Solimano:  For guests who ski or ride four or more days a season, the Killington Express Card offers direct-to-lift convenience. Available at these prices for a limited time, the Express Card gives you 50 percent off weekday and 25 percent off weekend / peak* day ticket rates at Killington Resort, and $29 weekday and $39 weekend / peak* day ticket rates at Pico Mountain.

Because the price of a ticket at Killington is more expensive and the cost of the card is more expensive, there is a lopsided value equation, hence why the value is not good at Killington for a Pico card holder. A Season Pass from Pico is good for a 20% discount over at Killington. The issue of scanning over at Killington with a Pico Pass is a programing issue and is something that we’ll look into.

John: During the early season, we offer many opportunities to acquire a card with a Free Ticket, at special events, like ski shows. We also offer a range of price points depending on when you buy. We reward early purchase with lower price. We also offer an opportunity to acquire a pass through a “refer-a-friend” program that offers opportunity for discounts and / or free tickets. Ask a friend who already owns a card about the program. If they gave us their e-mail they can refer you! We ALSO offer this year, the back end loaded opportunity you reference, by visiting us six times, get a free lift ticket. So, depending on when you buy, and where you buy, you can acquire significant added value with our card and when stacked up against our competitors our card offers greater value.

Smellytele: If a chair is put in place on the South Ridge, any chance it could go to the top of Killington Peak? Or, at least high enough to get to the new peak lodge being built? Rogman adds on the South Ridge Triple, commenting – A lot of people were disappointed with the removal of the South Ridge Triple. Granted, it’s never been a show piece, but it serves some of Killington’s most unique terrain and provides a valuable link from Superstar, Skypeak, and Bear back into the Canyon. Without it, skiers are forced to ride the crowded K1, or make the slog across to Snowdon. Additionally, without that lift, getting out of Bear pretty much limits you to the Skye Peak Express.

Your predecessor suggested a surface lift might someday go in there; but it seems unlikely that it would go high enough to allow Canyon access, furthermore it would require destroying the quirky character of “The Jug”. The triple was literally the backbone Killington’s “upper west side”. Would you discuss your plans (if any) for the future of this area?

Mike Solimano:  We were  disappointed as well when South Ridge needed to be taken out due to age and type of technology. Although many of the older lifts can be refurbished over time it was not possible with South Ridge Triple.  Unfortunately, the timing of the lift coming down did not align with the capital available to replace it. Although a surface lift has been suggested, our current plan would be for an aerial fixed grip lift utilizing the old downhill path of the previous lift. The advantage of the aerial lift aligned in this path would be protection from the wind as well as not impacting the great trail structure. The lift will not terminate any higher as the reliability would be directly impacted by incoming south and south west weather patterns. We totally agree that this is a critical piece of the lift flow out of Bear and hope to replace it as soon as possible in the near future.

skiNEwhere: The Sunrise Triple use to extend all the way down to US-100, but it was shortened in the mid 90’s, with the previous owners stating that low snowfall due to lower elevation, and lower skier volume was the reasoning behind the truncation. The original reasoning behind opening up Sunrise was to expand southeast towards Parker’s Gore, but this was put on hold because this area was believed to be a bear habitat. Is there any plan to re-open sunrise, or build in Parker’s Gore? I could see a benefit in real estate in that area if the economy turns around.

Mike Solimano:  The Sunrise Triple was older technology when put in and if you remember the ride was 15 minutes plus. Although this area had some great terrain on the lower half, it was not utilized very much as an entry point or for its trails. There was as you refer to above a significant commitment in snowmaking to connect this area to Route 100, so the decision was made to shorten it to service the Sunrise residential area. The old trails are now used for a snowmobile enterprise and a water supply route for the resort. There are no plans to re-open this area for alpine skiing at this time or seek approvals to expand southeast towards Parker’s Gore which would not be possible.

RENO:  Will you be running the Needles Eye Quad and Bear Quad midweek this season?

Mike Solimano:  Needle’s Eye and Bear Mountain Quad operate Friday through Sunday. Due to the proximity of high speed lifts they do not run mid-week days as they are redundant lifts and used mainly on our busiest days. We need to balance the amount of lifts running with the quantities of skiers on the mountain. We have added days to Canyon Quad and North Ridge Triple. Canyon Quad is now Monday, Wednesday and Friday mid-week and North Ridge is seven days a week. The increased operation of the Canyon and North Ridge lifts is a direct result of feedback from our customers.

SKIQUATTRO: My question is about Killington’s little sister down the road, Pico: what are the operational/snowmaking plans for the 2012/2013 season and beyond? True, last year mother nature didn’t supply a ton of natural, but Pico really lacked in firing up the guns…it hurt to come over the ridge on the Summit chair, look across and see Killington under a full gun assault when there wasn’t one gun firing at Pico. We are season pass holders, drive 4.5-5 hrs every weekend from mid December to the end of March as my girls race for Pico. Hopefully Ullr will reap this year, but if not, will Pico step up? Also, why not mow Exhibition? That’s the first trail you see, would make it look nice…thanks!

Mike Solimano:  Operational / snowmaking plans for this season are budgeted and planned based on a five year historical weather patterns. The snow production for the resort on a “normal” weather year is more than sufficient to cover the snowmaking trails with a depth and quality to provide great skiing and riding. Last we not only suffered from lack of natural snow, but quite a few warm weather events as well where we had to “re-surface” snowmaking terrain that we had already covered once to maintain at least the depth we had prior to the weather event. This occurred at both resorts significantly impacting financial resources allocated to snowmaking production.

In addition to snowmaking, we also rely heavily on natural snow and grooming to enhance the snowmaking coverage as mentioned previously. Natural snowfall was lacking last year unlike a year or two earlier when we did not even need to make the amount of snow made last year to have excellent conditions throughout the season due to the great natural snowfall. Lastly, some key trails at Killington will see more snowmaking than other trails at both resorts due to operations having to run until May. Exhibition will be tracked in with a grooming tractor as we begin to see natural snow which makes a nice mat for the snow; winter mowing.

To view forum comments on this Challenge and the Challenge Results, please visit the following page: