- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

KILLINGTON, Vt. - The wind-driven snow slammed me against the door of the gondola as I tried to exit atop Killington Peak. Hunching over, I gained my footing and staggered onto the platform as the gondola gently moved past me.

I had to hurry out of the car because five other heavily bundled skiers and riders were tumbling out of the K1 Express gondola behind me and assembling on the windswept platform.

“Welcome to Killington!” boomed our guide, Todd, gesturing in the general area of the peak, now obscured by blowing snow and — could it be? — fog,

“No, that’s not fog,” said Barry, our other guide. “It’s blowing snow … and snow that hasn’t formed yet.” Oh. OK. But it’s not fog, even though I could barely make out the tree line that was no more than 50 feet away.

We yanked our skis out of the holders on the side of the slow-moving gondola, admiring for a moment the paintings done by New York artists on the cabin as another car reached the disembarkment platform. Awkward in ski boots, we made our way down wooden stairs onto the unpacked, 10-plus inches of new-fallen snow.

It was mid-morning of an early December Saturday at Killington, and a fierce nor’easter was dumping upwards of 39 inches of snow on the central Vermont resort. It was the first significant snow the area had experienced this season, allowing Killington to open terrain as the weekend progressed.

However challenging the weather was, it did make for terrific skiing. The wind-whipped snow was a soft and deep powder that felt like a velvet coverlet as we made tracks on sheltered trails. And though the chilling wind buffeted exposed areas of my face with stinging snow crystals, the temperature remained in the mid-20s, so cold was not an issue on this day.

Once in the lee of the peak, there were caches of ridiculously deep powder trapped by the wind-blocking trees. Sure, there were one or two spots on the mountain that were windswept and showed signs of wear by the afternoon, but how many times in a season could even a die-hard skier find calf-deep powder in the East?

“Maybe once,” said Emily, who does most of her skiing in the southern Adirondacks of New York.

We covered about a quarter of Killington’s terrain, but the skiing was on trails and slopes that were, or appeared to be, new to me despite my five trips to the resort over the past two decades. That experience of discovery, of finding the new, is the essence of Killington’s specialness.

Adding to the Killington experience is its vastness and diversity. Killington stretches across seven mountains and includes 200 trails covering 89 miles and 31 lifts. The terrain varies from wide-open, easy cruising slopes to narrow, twisting traditional New England trails to bumps, steeps, glades, terrain parks and a halfpipe. Skiers and riders of all abilities and inclination can find something they like and enjoy.

Because of its size and long season — typically from early November through Memorial Day — Killington attracts crowds. The multitude, though, is generally dispersed over the entire semi-circle of mountains, which make lines manageable and congestion on the slopes limited to trail junctions and some base areas.

There are six base lodges, another lodge at Killington’s peak, nine on-mountain restaurants and three on-mountain bars — more evidence that Killington is the biggest ski resort in the East.

More than 100 lodging facilities are clustered at the mountains, on access roads and the main roads leading to Killington. Choices range from condominiums (750 units in Killington’s villages alone) to hotels, motels and bed & breakfasts.

Nearly as famous for its night life as its skiing, the Killington area boasts a variety of restaurants, clubs and old fashioned ski town bars. Most famous is the Wobbly Barn, celebrating its 40th anniversary this season. It features live music, dancing, abundant food and beer choices, and typically the happiest and biggest apres ski party crowd on the mountain.

Getting to Killington takes about nine hours by car from the District, eight of them on Interstate highways. Airports, for major and discount airlines, are Burlington, Vt., Manchester, N.H., Albany, N.Y., Hartford, Conn., and the closest to the mountain, Rutland, Vt. I flew from Baltimore-Washington International to Hartford on Southwest (a 75-minute flight) and drove a rented SUV three hours to Killington.

The resort touts Amtrak service into Rutland from New York. The problem for travelers from the Washington area is the return connection from New York to the District. Because of train schedules, it could take upwards of 10 hours, including a three- to four-hour layover in New York.

Information and vacation reservations can be booked through Killington’s Web site, killington.com, or by calling 800/621-6687.

Snow Sports appears on Sundays in The Washington Times during the winter. Contact: bclapper@washingtontimes.com.

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