As Route 4 heads west, it climbs out of the Ottauquechee Valley and into the Green Mountains, where it skirts some of the highest peaks in the state—notably the downhill skiing empire known as Killington Resort. Long the most popular ski resort in the East, the mountain has more than enough terrain to challenge most skiers for a week. The peak of Mount Killington has always fascinated people. In 1763, Reverend Samuel Peters climbed to its summit and christened the area around it Verde-Mont after the lush green mountains all around. Its history as a resort, however, started in the 1950s, when 25-year-old entrepreneur Preston Lee Smith identified the mountain’s location and amazing views (which reach to Maine on a clear day) as the perfect spot to realize his dream for a skiing empire. Opening Killington in 1958, Smith expanded ambitiously, opening lift after lift on neighboring peaks and making it one of the first mountains to install snow-making equipment to extend the season. (It’s still known as the first resort to open and last to close each year.)
In subsequent years, Killington became a leader in the conglomeration that consumed many of the resorts in New England. The mountain’s size and popularity led to runaway development on its flank—with the long, twisting Killington Road now a very un-Vermont stretch of hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs extending up to the summit. For some, it’s a welcome bit of civilization (and fun) in the midst of the too-cutesy towns around it; for others it’s a garish display better off in New Hampshire (which might explain why some Killington residents actually voted to secede from Vermont a few years ago and join its neighboring state to the east). In recent years, Killington has become more and more crowded, giving it the nickname “Beast of the East” in some circles. For the sheer difficulty and exhilaration of its terrain, however, it is arguably without equal east of the Rockies (only Sugarloaf in Maine compares), leading skiers to return year after year to test themselves on its slopes.
The mountain that gives Killington its name is only one of six peaks that make up this massive ski resort (4763 Killington Rd., 800/621-6867, $49–79 adults, $42–67 youth 13–18 and seniors, $34–55 youth 7–12), which together boast more than 200 trails. The main event is still Killington Peak, where most of the toughest trails start their descent. The peak is accessible from the express gondola from the K-1 Lodge at the top of Killington Road.
Quicker and more comfortable is the heated Skyeship gondola, which leaves from a base on Route 4 and whisks skiers up to the top of Skye Peak in 12 minutes. While that peak doesn’t have the challenges of the main peak, it gives a longer ride down to the base. Popular with expert skiers, Bear Mountain is a steep peak loaded with double diamonds, including several tough glade-skiing trails.
Physically separate from Killington, the co-owned Pico Mountain (Rte. 4, 2 mi. west of Killington Rd., 866/667-7426, $49–65 adults, $42–55 youth 13–18 and seniors, $34–46 children 7–12) is a quieter and less-crowded mountain with 50-some trails and a family-friendly reputation. On a busy weekend, however, both Killington and Pico get swamped—expect long waits in the lift lines and cattle herds in the cafeterias.
As might be expected, skiing is only the beginning of offerings at the resort, which stays open for outdoor recreation year-round. Killington Snowmobile Tours (802/422-2121) offers one-hour gentle rides along groomed ski trails ($94 single/$119 double), as well as a more challenging two-hour backcountry ride through Calvin Coolidge State Forest ($149/$195)
In the summer months, Killington is famed for mountain biking on trails served by the same lifts that carry skiers in the winter. In fact, the resort produces a mountain biking map for its 45 miles of trails. Trail access is $30 for adults; a $65 pass is good for two days of trail access and unlimited rides on the lifts. The resort also rents bikes for use on its trails ($70 adult/day).
Entertainment, Events, and Shopping
There’s plenty to do around the slopes after the sun sets—provided your idea of fun revolves primarily around bars and clubs. One such example is Outback Pizza/Tabu Nightclub (2841 Killington Rd., 802/422-9885, 5–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 5 p.m.–1 a.m. Fri.–Sat. in summer; opens at 3 p.m. in winter, $15–19), a convivial multilevel complex that’s a bit like spring break in the mountains. Live bands (Thurs.–Sat. in winter) play from a stage in back, while guests crowd the tiny dance floor up front.
Meanwhile, 20-somethings looking to party, families, and snowboarders alike crowd Pickle Barrel Night Club (1741 Killington Rd., 802/422-3035, Thurs.–Sun. Nov.–Apr.) for live concerts put on by bands from near and far, pub grub, and high-octane cocktails.
A popular dining spot by day, Charity’s (8 Killington Rd., 802/422-3800) turns into a fun-but-genteel watering hole by night. Appointed with Tiffany-esque stained-glass pieces, its focal point is a central bar built in Italy in the 19th century and shipped to Killington three decades ago. Another popular retro spot is Wally’s (2841 Killington Rd., 802/422-3177), which sports a chile pepper motif throughout its decor and in parts of its menu. Wally’s most dedicated crowd isn’t there to eat though, but rather to drink and socialize—mostly thanks to the friendliness of the bar staff.
Every summer, the hills are alive with the sounds of you-know-what, when the Killington Music Festival (802/773-4003) stages its “Music in the Mountain” chamber-music concerts. The weekend after Labor Day, 1,000 motorcyclists invade town for the Killington Classic Motorcycle Touring Rally (518/798-7888). Events include a cycle rodeo and bike judging.
The Killington Foliage Weekend and Brew Festival (802/422-6237) overlap in the town center and on the local slopes every year, getting underway in late September and early October. Family activities, from hayrides to gondola tours, are a highlight, as are the handcrafted brews served.
This is ski country, say most visitors, not shopping country. And to that end, most of the retail you’ll find is geared toward just that—gear. Ski shops are found at the base of every resort, but one of the best off-mountain is Northern Ski Works (2089 Killington Rd., next to the Wobbly Barn, 802/422-9675, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, closed May–Sept.). It’s where to head for all manner of equipment, from snowshoes and helmets to boards and, of course, skis.
Hiking and Camping
In addition to the hiking trails at Killington, a popular short trek is the one up to the scenic overlook on Deer Leap Mountain, located in Gifford Woods State Park (34 Gifford Woods Rd., 802/775-5354). The trail starts behind the Inn at Long Trail on Route 4 and is two miles round-trip to fantastic views of Pico Peak and Killington Mountain. Alternatively, you can hike the four-mile round trip from the state park campground, which also has 4 cabins, 22 tent sites, and 20 lean-tos for overnights (campsites $16–27/night, cabins $46–48/night). The northern tent loop is much more secluded than the southern. Several “prime” lean-tos are especially secluded in a hardwood old-growth forest of giant sugar maple, white ash, and beech trees. The best old-growth stand, however, is across the street from the campground. Between the entrance and the northern tent loop, a short interpretive trail leads hikers among the giants and explains the natural and human history of the area.
Accommodations in Killington
Sleeping comfortably without breaking the bank isn’t always easy during ski season; in general, the closer you get to Rutland, the better value you get. Killington teems with less-expensive motels tailor-built to keep rowdy skiers happy, as well as larger resorts close to the slopes that can run into the hundreds of dollars per night. As with most ski areas, prices drop considerably in the off-season.
Several generations of Saint Bernards have greeted guests at the Summit Lodge (200 Summit Rd., off Killington Rd., 800/635- 6343, $80–250), which is as famous for its canine companions as it is for its friendly staff. Even though the lodge is only a few minutes away from Killington Resort, its position at the top of a steep hill makes it feel secluded. Rooms are nothing fancy but are quiet and clean, with friendly service. (There’s also a pool and reading room for extra relaxation.) One caveat— rates here vary dramatically throughout the season. The same room can be $80 in summer, $150 in foliage season, and $250 in the height of ski season. Study the website carefully to get the best deal.
If you’re searching for a romantic spot seconds away from the base lodge, Inn of the Six Mountains (2617 Killington Rd., 802/422-4302, $159–239) is a good compromise. Still more convenient, the property offers ski lockers outside to keep all your gear perfectly safe.
Eleven miles north of Killington, The Mountain Top Inn & Resort (195 Mountain Top Rd., Chittenden, 802/483-2311 or 800/445-2100, $170–545) sits in what was once the barn for a historic turnip farm. Since then, it has been renovated many times over as an inn (it played host to President Eisenhower in the 1950s). A year-round destination resort, Mountain Top offers everything from horseback riding and hiking trails to rustic-but-refined rooms with private balconies, vaulted ceilings, and fireplaces. Among the top amenities, however, has to be a meal in the inn’s Dining Room, which is dedicated to serving local ingredients and supporting local farms.
Information and Services
The Killington Chamber of Commerce (2026 Rte. 4, 802/773-4181) operates a visitor information center at the intersection of Route 4 and Killington Road. Near the same intersection is a branch of Lake Sunapee Bank (1995 Rte. 4, 802/773-2581). Additional ATM machines are available at Merchants Bank (286 Rte. 7 S., Rutland, 802/747-5000, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Fri.) as well as at Killington Resort’s base lodge.
Getting There and Around
Killington is a 20-mile (30-min.) drive down Route 4 from Woodstock. For such a popular destination, public transport options are limited. It’s possible to schedule pickup service with Killington Transportation (802/770-3977) from Rutland or White River Junction. Within Killington, the resort offers shuttle bus service between the various base lodges and nearby lodging.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Vermont.