Learning to ski or snowboard at an early age is the perfect way to help young children instill a love for winter. Exploring the slopes helps kids build self-confidence, meet new friends and develop a lifelong affinity for the outdoors.
“Look Mom, no hands!”
“Did you see how fast I went Mom?”
“I turned so many somersaults I got dizzy Mom!”
“Can we ride the Beast again Mom? Just one more time?”
When I had the good luck to be invited with my family for a complimentary weekend stay at Killington so that we could check out the Killington Adventure Center, I wasn’t sure if we’d enjoy ourselves as much as on a ski weekend. There wouldn’t be the thrill of finding a great new glade, the speed of a cruiser run, or the intimacy of our chats on the ski lift.
Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Just like a ski vacation, our weekend was full of fast runs, treasure hunts, and even a conversation or two.
Start the Day With an A-mazing Good Time
The Adventure Center is located at the base of Skye Peak near the Snowshed Express Quad Chair, and a short walk from both the Killington Grand Hotel and the condominium where we were staying just down the hill. Our first stop when we arrived was the Terra-Maze. Here we were each handed a bright green “passport”.
The assignment? Time stamp your card when entering the maze and then see how quickly you can find the other checkpoints that mark the letters M-A-Z-E on your card before finding your way out and once again punching the clock.
My sons Tommy, 13 and Teddy, 10 love geocaching so this kind of activity was right up their alley. I watched from above the exit as they raced off; my husband Matt was left to trail along and figure it out on his own. It took them about 20 minutes to complete the course and it was funny to watch from above as they searched desperately for the letter “A” and kept coming upon the exit instead.
This is an activity that pits family members against each other with often comic effects. Tommy wanted me to be sure to tell you that he “won” although checking the time stamps it looks like he did so by exactly one minute.
Enjoy Hands-free Daring
After the maze my boys couldn’t wait to climb onto the Skye Ropes Course that looms over it (word to the wise – I recommend completing these two activities in the same order we did, as you can see the solutions to the maze from above). After suiting up with harnesses in the pro shop and a brief demonstration of how to use the ropes, we were off.
The course is ingenious: It has three levels, one stacked on top of the other, with lots of different kinds of physical challenges on each.
While you’re on the course, the rope that’s attached to your harness is connected on the other end to a clip that moves along a track overhead. So there’s no hooking and unhooking and kids can move wherever they want without needing any special help.
Tommy immediately headed skyward and spent most of his time on the top level. Teddy is usually more physically timid, but his freedom and independence on the course seemed to make him willing to take some chances. Before I knew it he was not only taking on some of the tougher crossings – from balance beams to tightropes – he did some of them without clinging to his guide rope.
For well over an hour he crossed from one side to the other until he had completed almost every route on the course. I loved his brave enthusiasm. He emerged from the course beaming with pleasure at his own competence.
‘Scuse Us While We Kiss the Skye
Matt and Tommy had long since moved over to Skyeride, which Teddy declared was too scary for him. It’s a ride that looks more intimidating than it actually is. You’re strapped into a seat and ride up the hill facing down it – which is something I wish you could do on a ski lift since the views are terrific. Pause for a minute at the top and then you head back down at a fairly gentle pace.
Gentle that is, until you reach the bottom, when in an act of mechanical mischief the seat gets a sudden burst of speed that catapults it and its riders into a spring at the bottom. It’s a quick little jolt of fun.
We did eventually persuade Teddy onto the Skyeride as well, but what he really enjoyed was practicing his somersaults on the Skyejump.
He’s a huge fan and an old hand at bungee trampolines, having sampled them at other mountain resorts. I was impressed with how friendly the attendants were with him and how they carefully adjusted his height and encouraged him to break out of his habit of turning black flips and try a few front ones.
Set Your Own Speed on the Beast Coaster
Now it was time to ride the Beast, Killington’s new mountain coaster, which was installed in the summer of 2015.
There were a few things I really liked about the Beast. It’s nice and long – 4800 feet to be exact. So even if you’ve stood in line a bit to get on it, you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time. The ride up gives you plenty of time to check out the course and get a funny feeling in your stomach. And you can pick up some legitimate speed on the way down.
If you put two people in one of the cars they go even faster, as Matt and Tommy discovered much to their delight. Having been informed by the pretty awesome attendants – who looked like they spent their winters shredding the same slopes – that the system is designed to work without any braking at all, they went even faster on their second ride down. The Beast Coaster also runs on rainy days, and apparently those are the absolutely fastest time to catch a ride.
And of course, the best thing about it is that if you’re a bit more pokey, like Teddy, the braking system makes it easy to go at your own speed. I smiled as he puttered by me, enjoying himself just as much as his father and brother.
Take a Hike or Just Go for a Ride
After maxing out on the coaster, Tommy surprised me by suggesting that he and I take a hike while Teddy and Matt stayed behind to finish out our tickets with a few more rides. To do this while staying out of the way of the mountain bikers who were flying down the trails near the Adventure Center we crossed Killington Road and explored the trails on Ramshead Mountain. It was beautiful and quiet with the fall wildflowers in full bloom. We wandered from open trails to glades where streams tumbled over the rocks, chatting all the while about school and enjoying ourselves almost as much as if we’d been on skis.
Killington offers an excellent trail map, and there are clear blazes and plenty of signage on all the trails as well – better than any other resort I’ve visited in the summer or fall. There are a good number of trails to choose from and the map indicates both difficulty and length.
We all had tickets to ride the K-1 Gondola as part of our Adventure Center package, but since a wedding at the top meant we couldn’t have dinner up there that evening, we decided to save it for the next day.
We woke to a chill drizzle but were still able to enjoy a couple of short hikes – one from the base of the mountain to the base of the gondola, the other a short loop that circles the top of Killington Peak. Unfortunately for us there were no views, but we could only imagine how spectacular both the ride and the hikes would have been on a sunnier day.
More Tips for Enjoying the Killington Adventure Center
Although we spent a very full day and a half at the Adventure Center, there was even more to do that we didn’t experience. The 18-hole disc golf course was closed the weekend we visited because the resort was preparing the course for a race the following week. We also didn’t take a motorized mountain tour – they are offered on ATVs and Segways – or rent kayaks or paddleboards at the Snowshed Pond.
You could easily spend an entire weekend at the resort and fill all your time at the Adventure Center, especially if you added in some rides in the nearby Mountain Bike Park. Slopeside lodging is available at the Killington Grand Hotel, or stay like we did in one of the nearby condos at The Pinnacle. Both have heated outdoor pools. Condos come equipped with full kitchens and there are numerous restaurants on the road leading up to the mountain.
Adventure Center tickets come in several different forms – buy tickets for individual activities or get an all-day pass that entitles you to 3 Skyerides, two hours on the ropes course, unlimited runs in the maze, a round of disc golf, and a round-trip ride on the chairlift. For an extra fee, you can add three runs on the Beast Coaster and a turn on the Skyejump. Another option is to add in a round-trip gondola ride. If you do purchase all-day passes, you can share “extra” activities as needed. For instance, none of us wanted to use the Skyejump except for Teddy, so he was able to do it four times by scanning each of our tickets.
You can grab lunch or snacks (including local ice cream) at the Vermont Fresh Cafe, a cafeteria located in Snowshed Lodge. But for an even more special dining experience, I recommend planning your day so that you ride the gondola up and have lunch or dinner at Peak Lodge, which offers gorgeous views and the best food on the mountain. Teddy ate one of the best ski-area burgers I’ve ever tasted there and Matt and I loved the mushroom soup and heirloom tomato and grilled cheese sandwich.
The Adventure Center is open daily from late June through the middle of September and then weekends through mid-October; check the website for exact dates and hours of operation.
Big thanks to Killington Resort for offering us free lodging and tickets for the Adventure Park, Beast Coaster, and K-1 Gondola. Our visit made us all realize that we definitely don’t need snow to enjoy fun and beauty in the Vermont mountains.