Killington: Early Christmas
By David McKay Wilson
My sons and I awoke on December 15 at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel complex to find a couple of inches of fresh powder on the slopes. Then my elder son, back from college on a semester break, opened his ski bag to discover what Santa had sent early: a new pair of Rossignol Soul 7’s.
“Thank you, Daddy!” he exclaimed as he embraced me in a big hug.
So began a mid-December trip to Vermont to ski with nary a liftline, room to spread out at the base lodge at lunch, and time to get in some turns together before the Christmas crowds descended.
There’s always a roll of the dice with December skiing. The snow was skimpy at Banff in 2013. We hit powder pay-dirt at Beaver Creek and Vail in 2014. Vermont was mired in autumn last December, with ferns sprouting in the mid-December rain.
But 2016 was the bomb, with more than four feet of snow piling up in Vermont by mid-December, and resorts gearing up for happy times at Christmastide.
I hadn’t skied Killington since the early 1980s, when I was learning how to ski the bumps on Outer Limits in Telemark gear – with leather boots secured to my skinny skis with three-pin bindings. I switched back to alpine gear to keep up with my boys. And it’s been my challenge to keep in shape so I could continue to chase them down the double-black diamond trails, which abound at the mountain at Killington.
Nothing like skiing with your kids, especially when they’ve hit college age.
Killington opened in late October, so by mid-December, the mountain had already been open 50 days. There were worries in late November, when the World Cup came to Killington for early season slalom and giant slalom races. But temperatures held, the Killington snow guns covered Superstar to a decent depth, and Vermont native Mikaela Shiffrin brought home the gold in the Northeast’s first World Cup event in 25 years.
The snow kept falling once December kicked in. And by the time we hopped on the gondola for a ride to Killington peak, a goodly portion of the mountain was open. Killington Peak was in marvelous shape. In fact, the trails we descended despite the warning of “thin cover” ended up having the best conditions, with fresh powder making the early-season bumps forgiving. My sons even explored the glades off Double Dipper to find some powder stashes between the hardwoods.
The early season snow had caked the evergreens on the upper mountain. My younger son suggested we hike up the Catwalk to reach the summit so we could really see what Mother Nature had bestowed upon Vermont in the late fall of 2016. We climbed up about five minutes with our skis on a narrow path between the snow-covered trees. We entered a winter landscape that was other worldly. Near the top, we dropped our skis and continued to summit, where we could see the Green Mountains in all their whitened glory. Even the tight Catwalk descent had good snow to make those quick turns on the steep eminently doable, even on our first day on the hill.
By late afternoon, I was feeling my oats, so we stopped for hot chocolate at the the Peak lodge at the top of the gondola. It’s a real gem, with floor to ceiling windows revealing the Green Mountains to the south, and comfy chairs and couches to relax in while we geared up for our final runs.
The lodge even had a feature from the category they call: What Will They Think of Next? At the Peak lodge, Coca Cola had sponsored a free phone charger system. To charge up, you used a credit card to open a chamber that had all sorts of charger cords. You plugged in, and closed the chamber until it locked. You then retrieved your phone in a run or two, using the credit card, but for no charge.
We stayed in a modest one-bedroom unit at the Pinnacle condominiums at the Grand Hotel resort. It has a fully equipped kitchen, two twin beds and pull-out couch, and a collection of empty maple syrup bottles on display by the gas fireplace. A shuttle bus could take you a mile up the road to the lifts, but this was mid-December, so parking was plentiful by the lodge.
By day’s end, we headed back to the Pinnacle. But with reports of a below-zero temperature predicted for the next day, I headed down Killington Road to upgrade my base layer. At the Forerunner Ski Shop, my skiing world came full circle. While in Finse, Norway this spring, I’d eyed the Merino wool garments made by Bergans of Norway, but had resisted the temptation.
Forerunner owner Peter Smith lamented that Bergans had stopped doing business in the US, but he had a few sets remaining. I’d been a good boy this year. Santa had a pair of long undies for Daddy.