My oldest daughter’s high school ski club has been taking a weekend trip to Killington for years. The first time she and her friends signed up to participate they were freshman and my reaction was, “Why the heck do you guys have to go to Killington? Killington’s huge! Can’t they take you to Bolton Valley instead?” In my mind, Bolton was the ideal place to set a group of kids free for two days. Killington, on the other hand, with it’s massive vertical and seemingly endless trails, made me a little nervous.
I sent her on her way armed with two stories I’d written to help people navigate their way around the legendary Beast of the East’s six peaks and instructions to “maybe skip Bear Mountain this time.” Stella’s response was, predictably, “Relax, Mom.”
In the end they had a fantastic time. They skied all over the place that weekend, including Bear, where I later learned they’d spend a good chunk of their time. This season marked her third Killington adventure with the ski club and in her opinion, there’s no better mountain for a group of teens.
So I was excited to take my two younger girls, Bianca (14) and Nola (12), along with their 15-year old cousin Francesca, to Killington for a girls’ weekend. All three of them are solid skiers and I knew that they’d be willing and able to head down any trail the Beast had to offer.
Cozy Mountainside Digs
We headed out after school on a Friday afternoon and pulled up to the Killington Grand Hotel, our home base for the weekend, around nine o’clock. I made a mental note to myself that from where we live in Westchester County, New York, Killington is an easy drive compared to our family favorites – Sugarbush, Bolton Valley, and Stowe – which require an extra hour or two of driving, making it a perfect destination for a Friday to Sunday getaway.
Check-in at the Grand was a breeze. Even at that late hour, several families arrived when we did – likely having hit the road after school as well – and there were plenty of staff members on hand to help us load our bags onto a trolley, whisk our skis and poles away to the gear room, and usher us to our room – a spacious, two-bedroom suite with a full kitchen and living area that offered more than enough space for all of us to spread out in comfort and style. As an added bonus, each bedroom had it’s own full bathroom, which made showering at night and getting ready in the mornings completely painless.
While the girls unpacked and explored the suite, I headed down the hall to the Grand Café, a well-stocked mini-market right off the lobby, to grab a Long Trail Ale for myself and a couple of pints of Ben and Jerry’s for the girls. Having a kitchen is such a perk when you’re skiing – with or without kids – and packing both breakfast supplies and après-ski snack provisions definitely helps keeps costs down.
Up and at ‘em!
The girls had decided they wanted to get as much time on the mountain as possible that weekend, and though seven-thirty came quickly, bagels for breakfast and blue skies outside provided my sleepy tween and teens with extra motivation.
While the benefits of staying at the Killington Grand are many, the best part might just be its proximity to the mountain. After booting up and collecting our skis from the gear room (another perk!) it was a short walk over the bridge to the Snowshed base area, which we found to be mellow and uncrowded when we arrived around eight-thirty even though the lifts had started spinning at eight. With our shiny RFID lift tickets tucked into our pockets – we’d received them upon check-in the night before – we hopped right onto the Snowshed Express and traversed our way over to the newly refurbished K-1 Gondola.
This season Killington ushered in $25-million dollars in improvements, enhancing guest experiences throughout the resort. From the aforementioned RFID cards, which eliminate the need to manually scan tickets at the lifts, to new cabins for the K-1 Express, improved snowmaking, a brand new high-speed, six-pack bubble chair at Snowdon, and new tunnels and bridges to improve flow at busy intersections, the investments Killington has made can be felt all over the mountain.
We spent the morning bouncing between Killington Peak, Skye Peak, and Snowdon, Nola and I sticking mostly to blue squares while Bianca and Francesca popped down a few black diamond shoots like Great Bear, Racer’s Edge, and Highline before linking back up with us when the trails met. The previous few days had been misty and mild and a rapid temperature drop on Friday night left surfaces on the firm side. Despite the wonky weather, trail conditions were still very good thanks to Killington’s superlative grooming and snowmaking capabilities. And with the snowguns blowing on full tilt, those conditions were even better on Sunday.
Chilly Day, Cozy Night
Despite the bright sunshine, the day was a brisk one, with highs on the mountain around 14-degrees and a stiff wind. Though we’d had a fun chat with the guy from the Brat Haus on the gondola earlier that day, who told us that the ski-in, ski-out trailside hideaway on Great Eastern shouldn’t be missed, we’d planned on treating ourselves to lunch at the Ledgewood Yurt that day.
Tucked into the woods off the Northwood Trail, the yurt can be easy to miss if you’re skiing too fast, which the girls were on our first attempt to get there. We ended up back at the Skye Peak base and hopped onto the Northbrook Quad to try again. This time, the girls took their time and, after sticking their skis into a snowbank, scrambled inside the warm, inviting space. The yurt is a popular lunch spot and it’s best to arrive right when it opens at eleven or closer to two, when they stop serving. We opted for the latter option and were lucky to score a table next to the woodstove fairly quickly.
A few years ago, my husband and I joined one of the Ledgewood Yurt’s evening snowcat dinners and loved it. Lunch is a similarly excellent culinary experience – one best reserved for adults or families, like ours, with older kids. We happily tucked into gourmet-goodies like lobster grilled cheese, chicken burritos, and a heaping plate of Vermont cheddar mac. The atmosphere inside was cozy and convivial and we lingered for a while, hot chocolate for the girls, a Guinness for me, enjoying the unique vibe and warming our chilled bones.
After lunch we squeezed in a few more runs off the Skyeship Express gondola and by four-thirty, were heading back for some well-earned R & R.
Après Ski at the Killington Grand
Killington’s legendary après scene is both varied and robust, offering everything from beers on the sunny patio at the Roaring Brook Umbrella Bar, to a sophisticated cocktail adventure at the Motor Room and live music and vintage fun at the historic Wobbly Barn. With kids in tow, après was a mellow affair that involved chilling in long johns over hot chocolate and chips and salsa, but for me, traveling with self-sufficient teens meant that I could slip away to the Killington Grand’s spa, a treat I rarely get to enjoy.
The girls planned to head to the Grand’s outdoor pool and hot tubs a bit later – all were churning with bodies at five o’clock when I headed to the spa – and I was keen to sit and schvitz in the sauna for a while before my massage. The onsite fitness center has both a steam room and a cedar sauna and though the atmosphere in both on this busy Saturday were more rollicking than restful, I reminded myself that in Finland, the sauna is a place for conversation and connection, not silent mediation and it was fun swapping stories with my sweaty companions.
Later, after my muscles had been kneaded into something resembling jelly, the four of us headed downstairs to grab dinner at Preston’s, where executive chef Gregory Lang draws from a bounty of Vermont and New England growers and producers to create delicious, warming fare.
Sunday, Sunny Sunday
Sunday dawned sunny and bright but without the previous day’s winds and we were at the lift by eight-thirty, knowing we’d have to get on the road before last chair. Snowmaking had continued throughout the night and that, paired with excellent grooming, made for great conditions.
Our goal was to hit some of the spots we’d missed the day before, so we spent some time riding Snowdon’s new bubble and the Ramshead Express, playing on the jumps and mini-pipe in Ramshead’s parks, Timberline and Astroland.
Lunch was at the Peak Lodge, where my previous visits had been under cloudy skies but today we enjoyed views for days over burgers and pulled-pork sandwiches from our cozy corner table. Later, fully fueled, we headed back to Skye Peak for a while where we found soft snow on both Bittersweet and Skyelark and hit Skyeburst to try our luck over at Bear Mountain. My daughter Bianca, who’s pretty much always champing at the bit to ski harder and faster, had her sights set on Outer Limits, a steep, double black mogul run that’s come to be known as one of the toughest trails in the east. Nola and I left Bianca and Francesca at the intersection of Bear Claw and OL Express – I couldn’t stomach letting them ski it right off the chair – and we wound our way back to the base to watch the girls navigate their way down the bumps.
Outer Limits conquered and homework calling, we reluctantly headed back to Snowshed. The Grand’s valet guys had stashed our luggage for us that morning and all we had to do was load up the car and hit the road. It had been a fantastic couple of days and, as I’d envisioned, we’d covered a ton of terrain from peak to peak and left with a solid lay of the land. By the end of the weekend I had to agree with the teacher in charge of our school ski club and my oldest daughter – Killington was the perfect place for teens.
Gina Vercesi is an award-winning freelance writer with an adventurous spirit and unwavering wanderlust. Despite growing up in New England, Gina didn’t don a pair of skis until February 2014—the result of being raised by a beach-loving dad who eschewed everything having to do with snow and cold. When she finally took her first lessons and hit the slopes at Stowe Mountain Resort, she became an instant convert. As an All Mountain Mama, Gina loves sharing the joys of Vermont skiing with powder-lovers and novices alike.
Chronicling journeys on land, water, and snow, Gina’s words and images have appeared numerous print and digital publications including National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Sierra, the Boston Globe, Delta SKY, Afar, Yankee, and many more. She is passionate about helping families (including her own!) unplug from electronics and the frenetic pace of modern life and believes that travel and adventure are the best ways reconnect to one another and the world around us. Gina lives in a friendly village on the Hudson River with her husband, three daughters, and a good dog. www.ginavercesi.com