Killington's Vertical for the Big Time
16 Jul 2014
After a big start to the tour at Sugarbush we headed south to Killington, the largest ski area in the Eastern United States, and the second highest mountain in Vermont at 4,241 feet. It’s not far to go – just over an hour down Route 100, so it could easily be done as part of a weekend road trip, spending a day at each bike park. Most visitors come from the Boston / New York area, but there are plenty of locals that make up the numbers and it’s a busy place.
Heading south to stop number 2.
Everything is pretty spread out – but it’s a big resort of course. The bike park ‘base’ is at the K1 Express Gondola station – but this is up the hill from the concentration of hotels and restaurants that line the Killington access road. So you’ll need your own vehicle to get to and from the lift. On the weekend there is another option – as of 2014 the Snowshed Express Chairlift runs on Saturday and Sunday, so you can take this lift and ride down to the base of the K1. But this means that you’re staying in or around the Killington Grand – which is pretty pricy.
The view from the base - so you can imagine the view from the top!
Lets get straight to the real interesting stuff though – the trails. Truthfully we didn’t get off to a good start. After a big gondola ride up 1,741 feet, we were struggling to find the trail signs, and got pretty confused as we descended further and further back down the mountain on fire road – not bike park single track that we expected! Turns out there are some good reasons for this, which we’ll come to later. And before we give you the wrong idea, lets just get it out there – Killington has some fantastic trails. But if you’re new to the bike park then you need to be clear on where they are, and you need to be clear on exactly what they consist of. It's well worth calling in at the bike shop and getting some advice from the guys and girls in there, who can give you the best trails to link, depending on whether you want a DH, freeride, enduro or even cross country element for your laps.
Getting the lowdown on the best trails.
We started off by exploring the left side of the mountain as you look at the trail map, taking you down past Skye Peak and the top of the Snowshed chairlift. These were not ‘classic’ bike park trails, flowing from top to bottom, seamlessly linking with each other. Nor were they especially suited to downhill bikes – there were some major undulations in many of the trail sections that required a big stamp on the pedals and often meant jumping off to push. All-mountain or enduro bikes would have been more suited. It was also very disjointed, with the end of one trail and the start of a next often connected by access road, so a lot of vertical goes to waste. Finally you have to be careful not to drop below the yellow dotted line on the trail map. If you do this, then you’re facing an uphill push to get back to the bottom of the K1 gondola.
Going riding on the 4th of July..!
Having said all that, once you start to get in to it, there are some hidden gems in there. Cable Trail is a newly built section of fun stuff, with a few medium sized features to launch off and some nicely carved berms to link it all together. Sister of Six is a cool technical single track with roots and rocks. Double-O is fun, which takes you through the Burton Stash Snow Park, winding in and out of some great looking features that would be at home on any mountain bike slopestyle course! And Yo Vinney and Foxy Roxy are two double-black trails running roughly parallel, and these are that little bit steeper than the other stuff, technical single track and especially challenging in the wet.
Natty over the gap on Cable Run.
The full time trail crew consists of Corey Tredtin and Will Conroy. Much of the recent development has gone in to the trails around the Snowshed Express Quad lift, which is being run for bikes for the first time this summer. The trails here are aimed more at the beginner to intermediate riders, as the pitch is a little less than the main mountain and there’s less rock to contend with. Wits Wiggle is the perfect beginner trail, with smooth wide rollers and berms – the work of Will and his excellent excavator skills! And there are 2 more green/blue grade trails planned for that area as well, providing stacks of less intimidating options for beginners to cut their teeth. And one of the other projects in-progress right now is a rework of the a Hold On trail, with more berms, more fun and a slacker pitch to help the flow – due for completion later this summer.
Trey in a berm on the Rabbit Run Trail.
Trail signposting could be a little better – it’s all there but you have to look for it on occasion, and as trails are so spread out it did set us off worrying that we’d missed the start on more than one occasion. But once we knew the hill then it wasn’t a problem. And most of the signs, it’s just the trail umbers, rather than the corresponding name. This is just a personal preference, but we like seeing the full trail name and think it makes it easier to remember where you’ve been!
The Hip gap on Cable Run.
After a day on the hill we sat down for a chat with Jay ‘Rosey’ Rosenbaum – the Terrain Park Supervisor and mountain bike trail boss. Whatever gets built in the bike park – Rosey is behind it. And Jon Lamb –Ski Coach and Killington local for over 25 years, also joined us for a beer. Jon helped pioneer the introduction of mountain biking to the resort in the first place, all the way back in 1991, with a big cross country trail network on the mountain. Then along came ‘gravity’ riding and so the job of adapting and developing trails to meet this demand began. And of course this comes with the usual challenges…
Rosey and Jon - the bike park is in safe hands...!
Killington sits entirely on State land, meaning that there’s an approval process to be followed in order to do anything that needs to be done. And this, as you would expect, takes time and money. There’s also a topography issue – off the top of the mountain it’s very rocky, with hardly any dirt to work with, making it difficult to put in typical bike park trails without serious machinery and significant impact. And then there’s the wildlife – the top of the mountain is home to the endangered Bicknell's Thrush! So all this means for now, dropping off the top a little way on fire road is unavoidable.
Despite its challenges, Killington has some serious long-term plans to grow their current 7,000 to 8,000 mountain bike visitors per summer even further. The resort management has developed a ‘5-year plan’, and major trail builders from around the continent have submitted proposals for expansion. This included a visit from Dave and Rob at Whistler Gravity Logic, so you know this is being taken very seriously. The target is the “Whistler of the East”. And with some of the biggest vertical on the east coast they certainly have the mountain to make it happen. Watch this space.