Night Skiing, Tubing, and Connector to Killington are on the Horizon
by Karen Rubin, David Leiberman & Eric Leiberman
Pico Mountain is coming out of the shadows of its much bigger brother, Killington Resort, and taking its rightful place as a very special family-oriented, central Vermont mountain destination resort, with distinct charm and its own personality. Add to that the supreme value in topnotch skiing and snowboarding, and relative ease of travel, and you have one of the best choices for families.
Though Killington and Pico have a common owner – Powdrcorp of Park City, Utah – Pico is no longer being marketed as Killington’s 7th mountain, but rather, as an independent resort destination.
This is appropriate because Pico is a distinctly different mountain destination, a charming, cozy, unpretentious place where families will feel extremely comfortable and at home. In fact, Pico is everything that Killington, which is gigantic and frenetic – is not, as well it should be.
This allows Pico to provide what is probably the best value in family skiing at a major resort – from the lift tickets to the ski-and-stay packages, to a phenomenal deal on seasonal passes (here, a family of four can get season passes for under $1000, when Killington gets more than $1000 for one adult pass).
Weeklong ski-and-stay packages here actually provide an extra value: since Pico is closed Tuesday and Wednesdays, weekday packages allow for skiing at Killington on those days (a Killington lift ticket also allows for skiing at Pico any day).
Pico has all the advantages of being part of a major ski resort, with all the restaurants, nighttime places, and shops you could want just two miles away, along the Killington access road, plus all the apres-ski and non-skiing activities to add spice and variety to a winter getaway near at hand, from dogsledding to sleigh rides to moonlight snowshoeing. All of this is actually as convenient for Pico guests as it is for Killington’s (a bus service from Pico up the Killington Road is available at a $1 a ride, so you don’t have to drive).
Whereas Killington has only one accommodation at the base – the luxurious Grand Killington with spa and outdoor pool – Pico offers the convenience of condominium lodgings that are either ski in/out or just a short walk to the lifts. What is more, guests have access to Pico’s own well-appointed Sports Center with a magnificent, 75-foot indoor heated lap swimming pool, hot tubs (such a pleasure after a day on the slopes), saunas, strength and cardio training equipment and midweek exercise classes, including yoga, Spinning, Zumba, strength training and aqua.
The only thing that Pico lacks is a convenience store to accommodate people who arrive late and don’t have time to stop along the way to pick up provisions for the condo.
Classic Vermont Skiing
Pico is compact, but there is nothing small here about the ski and snowboard experience.
Pico Mountain offers the friendly intimacy of classic Vermont skiing with uncrowded slopes, long runs and diverse terrain. Typically “classic Vermont skiing” means narrow, ungroomed trails and few choices. But that is not the case here- the trails are splendidly carved and wonderfully maintained. What is more, Pico offers big-time skiing and snowboarding with a 1,967-foot vertical, 50 trails (17 miles worth), seven lifts (including two high-speed quads), timed racing arenas, a terrain park.
One of Pico’s most enjoyable attributes is that it is undeniably a big mountain – 252 skiable acres – but with a small ski area’s personal touch. There are mogul trails, glades and groomed steeps, but all the trails lead back to the same base area.
I have always felt most comfortable and skied my best here. Its 50 trails afford gorgeous, long-cruising runs, and an excellent mix of difficulty in that 20% are rated easier (green), 48% are more difficult (blue or intermediate), and 32% are most difficult (black) – and there is also a natural separation of skier abilities because of the configuration of the mountain.
The Pike, Pico’s longest trail, begins at the summit and ends right outside the base lodge. From the summit, skiers and riders can try 49er or the winding and narrow black diamonds Summit Glades, Upper KA, and Sunset 71. If you’re up to it, take a shot at the mountain’s steepest, most difficult trail, Giant Killer – it’s called that for a reason. Pico also has two tree skiing areas – Birch Woods and Doozie.
Racers often train on B-Slope, which descends in a wide arc from the top of Little Pico. Bumps usually form on the black diamond A-Slope, also on Little Pico Mountain.
The only thing lacking, though, is a green (easy) trail from the summit – there is only one blue trail (intermediate), 49er, down from the summit, and it can be challenging, but the view, alone, from the 3,967-foot high summit, is so worth it.
First-time skiers and snowboarders can board an easy-to-use chairlift, new rope tow and two gentle learning trails at the Bonanza area. Cruisers can enjoy run after run on the groomed green circle and blue square trails off the Golden Express Quad. Powder hounds will delight in fresh tracks days after a snowstorm if they can find their way into the Birch or Summit Glades.
Because it is compact and uncrowded, with long runs, Pico is one of the best places to start skiing and snowboarding. First-time skiers and snowboarders have their own chairlift and handle tow, serving two gentle learning trails at the Bonanza area. For cruising and carving, you take the Golden Express Quad up to gorgeous green and blue trails, including Fool’s Gold, Prospector and Gold Rush. Riders and skiers working on their freestyle skills will enjoy the Triple Slope Terrain Park.
New this year is Planet Kids Park, which helps introduce younger kids to skiing and snowboarding. Geared for ages 8 and under, it offers two stationary carpets for skiing, snowboarding and tubing areas; 20’carousel ride for skiing, snowboarding and tubing; Snow volcano for kid’s exploration adventures; Planet Kids tree fort and access to Bonanza area lifts. The area is open 10:30 am.-3:30 pm. weekends and peak periods (weather permitting); the cost is $20 weekends, $25 during peak periods. Rentals are included in the price of admission (and must remain in the Planet Kids Park area, unless used on the Bonanza area lifts).
Parents will also feel comfortable letting their more advanced kids explore the mountain – the trails are well marked and maintained and all flow back to the base area.
We have always been impressed with the quality of the snow – Pico gets about 250 inches a season, and there is snowmaking on 75 percent of the terrain. Pico even offers a Snow Guarantee, so that if you aren’t satisfied with the coverage by 10 am., you can get a voucher for a return visit.
The rental shop has excellent equipment, plus the option to upgrade to high-performance (my boots were the most comfortable I’ve ever had), giving excellent personal service. (If you arrive before 4:30 pm., you can pick up your equipment for the next day.)
Powdrcorp Makes Improvements
The grand plan when Pico was acquired with Killington by the American Skiing company was to connect the mountains with a lift or a connector trail. That plan to provide a connection between Killington and Pico is still in the works and all the approvals (notably, from environmentalists) are already in place.
Also in the works, says public relations manager Tom Horrocks, possibly even next year is that Pico is planning to offer night skiing and tubing.
The new owners Powdrcorp of Park City, Utah, which purchased of Pico and Killington three years ago, are pros when it comes to ski resorts. In addition to owning Park City Mountain Resort, the company owns Copper Mountain, Colorado, Mt. Bachelor, Oregon; Ski Las Vegas (Mount Charleston), Boreal Silver Springs (Killington and Pico season pass holders get discounts when they ski at the other Powdrcorp resorts).
Whereas the prior owner, American Skiing Company, was all about quantity, Powdrcorp has returned the focus to quality. The improvements to Pico are notable – Pico Lodge has been refurbished – there is a new sound system, flat screen TVs, live entertainment on Friday and Saturdays and all Christmas week. The Last Run Lounge on the third floor is a pleasant restaurant with a big stone fireplace, open until 9 pm. There is also a food court at the base lodge and you can dine al fresco at the Waffle Cabin, located slopeside next to the Pico Lodge, which serves fresh Belgian waffles with a variety of toppings and hot and cold drinks (weekends and peak periods).
Here at the Last Run Lounge, you appreciate Pico’s history and its place in America’s skiing tradition. The lodge is turning 75 years old and decorating the walls around the pool table in the lounge there are posters of an old newspaper from Dec. 6 1940, heralding how Pico had the first alpine ski lift in North America: “The world’s longest alpine lift serves slopes above 2000 feet. where there’s more skiing, less waiting than any other ski area.” Pico also has the second oldest ski patrol in the country.
In an intriguing innovation, Pico is open for skiing Thursday to Monday, as well as all Christmas week, Presidents Week, and a Canadian vacation week in March (Canadians, who appreciate value, love Pico).
A Destination Resort
Pico is such a different destination than Killington – in a good way.
Killington is the Vail of New England – big, splashy, hip, and now with its first slopeside luxury hotel and spa, the Killington Grand Hotel (it has an outdoor pool, as well).
But where everything at Killington is spread out – a skiing metropolis with multiple bases, six mountains spanning some six miles – Pico is compact, self-contained, low-key, and the access that guests have to the Sports Center is a huge benefit. The atmosphere is calm, cozy and comfortable.
Lodgings are a small series of condominium units, which the owners put into a rental pool when they are not using them. The units are comfortable and spacious – let you have room spread out, lounge around, prepare your own meals and snacks, put wet clothes into the laundry.
But when you want to get out, there is so much around the Killington area – the Inn at Long Trail, McGrath’s Irish Pub (serving traditional Irish beer), and our family’s perpetual favorite, Casey’s Caboose, featuring a real historic caboose (you climb up a step ladder and sit in the cabin), and a toy train that runs around the restaurant. the Outback features live music nightly, and famous Wobbly Barn is a nightclub open Thursday-Saturday, holidays and for special concerts. (A free shuttle goes to five restaurants nightly from 5 p.m. and other places for a small fee, 802-422-free.)
Nearby there is also the Mountain Top Inn which offers dog sledding and sleigh rides plus cross-country skiing; Woodstock, a quintessential New England town, is about 30-minutes away, where families will enjoy visiting the Billings Farm (a living history museum offering sleigh rides, too); also snowmobile tours. You can even visit the Long Trail Brewing Co., where there are free tastings (open 10-7 pm; lunch served 11-6, 5520 Route 4, Bridgewater Corners, 802-672-5011, www.longtrail.com).
Snowshoeing and Nordic skiing are offered at Mountain Meadows (Route 4, Killington, 802-775-7077); Mountain Top Inn (Mt. Top Rd, Chittenden, 802-483-2311); and Moonlight Snowshoe Tours (Riverside Farm, Pittsfield, 802-746-8822)
Guided snowmobile tours through the Calvin Coolidge State Forest and Park System offer some of the most breathtaking Green Mountain views in the entire state. Miles of groomed and maintained trails twist and wind through forest land (802-422-2121)
Rutland’s historic Paramount Theatre is open year-round and has attracted the likes of bluegrass favorites Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas, plays by Neil Simon, family favorites like Pinocchio and Peter Pan, and just about everything in between (802-775-0570).
Through a partnership with the American Cancer Society, Pico has become the first nonsmoking resort in Vermont, and only the third in the US, and also is hosting three fundraisers.
For all the right reasons, Pico is a great venue for family reunions and functions – in fact, because the resort is closed for skiing Tuesdays and Wednesdays, groups can rent out the facilities. Indeed, Pico’s place as an accessible, affordable, family ski resort is elevated with the closing of Ascutney.
Everything about Pico is about value and family. Whereas Killington’s weekend rate is $86, Pico’s peak rate is $62 and is as low as $49, with multi-day tickets reducing the prices further. Pico also offers young-adult (13-18) and senior pricing, and a junior and senior-plus (70+) tickets.
You can purchase a Pico Express Card for $39, and ski for $29 on weekdays and $39 on weekends and holidays. A direct-to-lift card, it is tied to the credit card so you don’t even stand on line to purchase a lift ticket, you are automatically charged at the lift line. The card pays for itself with 4 to 6 days of skiing a season.
Another way to save is to purchase lift tickets on line.
Pico offers a variety of Ski and Stay packages- a five-day ski package lets you ski free Sunday afternoons at Killington or Pico, and the mid-week packages let you ski at Killington on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (when Pico is closed).
Midweek Ski & Stay Packages are available starting at $59pp/dbl (one night’s lodging and a 1-day lift ticket, non-peak; a one-night/two-day package starts at $85pp/dbl (lodging Thursday night and a 2-day lift ticket Thursday and Friday, non-peak).
Weekend Ski & Stay Packages are priced from $98pp/based on four people (package includes lodging Friday and Saturday nights and a 2-day lift ticket for skiing or riding Saturday and Sunday)
President’s Bash Ski & Stay Package, priced from $102, includes 4-nights lodging arriving Monday, Feb. 21 and a 4-day lift ticket beginning Tuesday, Feb. 22.
Canadian Week packages are priced from $69 and includes 5-nights lodging arriving Sunday, Mar 13 and a 5-day lift ticket beginning Monday, Mar 14. Kids Ski Free is valid this week – for every adult 5-day Pico Mountain lift ticket pre-purchased prior to arrival, kids 12 and under receive a free 5-day lift ticket.
Pico is a four-season resort – in summer, it offers an alpine slide, guided horseback trail rides. mini golf and a climbing wall at the Pico Adventure Center. Next year, it will also offer an 18-hole “disk golf” course – the first hole is at the top of the lift and the 18th hole is at the base. Killington also offers lift-served mountain biking on 45 miles of trails, plus a golf course and the town has the Green Mountain National, one of the top public courses in New England.
Getting to Pico, in Central Vermont, is also relatively easy – you can come up 91 to Exit 6 (250 miles, about 5 hours), or come up through Rutland . an Amtrak train from Penn Station goes to Rutland, leaving at 3:15 and arriving at 9 pm. (Fridays it leaves at 5 pm. and arrives at 11), and take a shuttle to Pico or Killington.
Pico’s website is great – you can even see the action with a live webcam beamed at the bottom of the Golden Express from the Lodge.
73 Alpine Drive,
Killington VT 05751,
Friday, 28 January, 2011
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