Podcast #1: Killington and Pico President and GM Mike Solimano
Who: Mike Solimano, President and General Manager, Killington Resort and Pico Mountain
Why I interviewed him: Because The Beast. Because October to June. Because sheer sprawl and size and moxie. Because we all need this place more than most of us will ever admit. Because if you’re going to start something like a podcast about Northeast skiing, you really ought to lead off with the most punch-you-in-your-face prominent part of Northeast skiing. Because have you ever stood at the K1 base on a mid-winter weekend Saturday and watched the hordes tumbling down from every direction and zigzagging and poling away toward Superstar and Snowdon and the lifts shooting off all over the place and the sheer forests and deadbolt double-blacks rising menacingly before you and wondered my God how do they hold this all together? This is the guy who holds it all together.
What we talked about: The many many many recent mountain improvements at Killington, including snowmaking upgrades, the Snowdon bubble, South Ridge lift access, RFID gates, all those new tunnels; why you should be glad Powdr and not Vail owns Killington; that Vail offered to buy Killington; why the North Ridge lift is so baller even though it’s just a short fixed-grip lift stuck way at the top of the mountain; fat Americans; how cow poo powers your chairlift ride; the long-talked-about village cause man they need this; the Ikon Pass; adding Pico to the Ikon Pass; Vail of course because that will likely be mandatory in any skiing-related interview for the foreseeable future; how Powdr finally understood that Killington was not Park City; why you can call Killington “The Beast” to its face now; why beginners and intermediates needn’t fear said Beast; Woodward; the long season and why they do it even though they make more money during one day of Christmas week than in all of October and November (really!); why the Pico interconnect is probably a long way off still; the Beast 365 pass.
Things that may be slightly outdated because we recorded this a while ago: We recorded this interview on Sept. 4, just after Labor Day. Mike says in the interview that he’s hoping to get snowmaking going “in 45 days,” but don’t panic because that’s 45 days from then and so that’s like any day now if we’re lucky (they actually already did an overnight test). He also announced a pretty significant snowmaking project that will allow Killington to pipe water over the interconnect to Pico for snowmaking, which should be a really big deal as far as coverage at the sister mountain this winter. That has since been announced and elaborated upon Vermont Biz and probably elsewhere. My hope in the future is to speed up the record-produce-publish timeline, but I spent all summer just bringing this thing online and that required a long lead time just to make sure I could actually find people who would talk to me.
Question I wish I’d asked: Any chance of expanding the Ikon deal to include five/seven days at Killington and five/seven days at Pico, rather than a combined five/seven? Maybe something about the World Cup but I don’t really care about ski racing so maybe next time.
What I got wrong: Referring to Powdr Corp’s Oregon ski area as “Mt. Hood” (which it isn’t), instead of “Mt. Bachelor,” which it is. I think this is because I was recently reading an article about the abundance of ski areas on Mt. Hood (six), and since I’d forgotten to make note of all of Powdr’s mountains pre-interview but wanted to bring it up I just thought “well, uh, that must be one of them,” which of course it isn’t, because those are most definitely two distinct volcanoes. But Mike was cool as ice and corrected me without correcting me, and now we all know the difference. I also insinuated in the intro that Killington would be open until June, but given that that’s only happened a handful of times in the past 20 years, I likely spoke too soon. What I should have said is that they will very likely try to stay open until June, and hopefully they can.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview: If you haven’t been back to Killington in, say, the past five years, you need to go back as soon as possible (which is hopefully any day now). The momentum there is incredible. New lifts. New trail configurations. New lodges (coming). New focus on actually listening to all the people (the skiers) who make Killington The Beast in practice rather than in name only. The undercurrent here is an engaged management team (led by Mike), and a parent company that’s backing up the Brinks truck to help make it all happen. I read some interviews with Mike on New York Ski Blog and elsewhere and a profile of him in Vermont Business and I’m like man that guy sounds sharp as hell and he is. Listen to this guy talk for an hour and this whole wow-Killington-is-actually-really-fun-again thing will start to make a whole lot more sense.
Why you should go there: Because The Beast is not just a marketing tag. Well, it is a marketing tag but it’s an earned one, and it wasn’t a TM marketing tag before it was a TM marketing tag (all explained in the interview), so… But yeah stepping out of your car there you know something’s different about Killington. The attitude and energy of the place, the speed and aggressiveness and raw skill of the skiers, the sheer unending mass and secret pockets and sense of adventure, the swarming flailing crowds and the way you can still find yourself all alone in the woods. If you had to pick one place to represent Northeast skiing in some kind of hypothetical United Nations of ski regions, you would probably pick Killington to do it. It is the id of Northeast skiing, big and brash and unforgiving and loud and relentless, and it says East Coast like no other place in the region. And let’s face it once May hits you really don’t have any other choice but to ski here unless you want to get on a plane.
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