Killington ski resort has begun construction on a new $29 million base lodge. It's the latest in a series of big investments the ski area has made in recent years and one of many upgrades happening at ski areas statewide.
If you try to drive up to Killington’s central K-1 base lodge and gondola, you can only go so far before you get rerouted.
The area in front of the base lodge is closed because of the construction. The parking lot in front of the nearby gondola, which is usually packed with cars during the ski season, is now filled with large machinery.
Jeff Temple, director of mountain operations at Killington, said the resort was finally able to break ground this month on the new lodge – a project that's been the works for years.
"So right up in front of the K-1 lodge there, you can see an excavator sitting there, and that's where you used to get your tickets and everything," Temple said, pointing across mounds of dirt. "The whole new lodge sits right in front of that."
Parts of the old lodge were built in the 1950s, he said, with additions over the years. The new structure will be three stories high and 58,000 square feet (that's 21,000 square feet larger than the current base lodge). According to Temple, the space will be more user friendly.
"A lot of your services will be a lot more modern-day, easier to navigate," Temple said. "Much better flow through the building."
He said he's particularly excited by the number of windows that'll be in the new base lodge.
"Really no matter where you sit in the building, a lot of attention was paid to you can see the mountain," Temple said, "which was very important to us."
Outside the lodge, Temple explained that traffic flow was being redesigned so that buses and cars would have better access. He said ADA-compliant ramps and heated sidewalks are all part of the plans.
"The other interesting thing," said Temple, “is this building is designed so that every drop of water that comes off it, and the sidewalks around it, will be contained in circles that the buses go around and trapped to meet stormwater runoff requirements."
Permit delays set construction back several months, and Temple admitted the building schedule is tight. But, if all goes according to plan, he said they expect to finish the new lodge by November 2020 in time for the Women's World Cup races.
Hosting this year's World Cup and the September Spartan, two events that bring thousands of spectators to Killington, will be tricky amid the construction. The current base lodge will stay in use for much of this year's ski season, Temple said, with construction of the new building just a few feet away.
According to Temple, they've created detailed work plans — including the dismantling and removal of the old lodge in April.
Over the past two years, Killington resort has spent more than $60 million on improvements – everything from snowmaking infrastructure and ski tunnels to a new six-person covered lift and updated gondola cars.
Adam White, a spokesperson for the trade association Ski Vermont, said costly improvements are, and have been, going on statewide.
"The reality is that skiing and snowboarding are very capital-intensive industries," he said.
According to White, many resorts are investing in both skiing and mountain biking infrastructure this summer to ensure four-season revenues.
"And I don't know that it's necessarily a case of keeping up with the Joneses," White said. "It's just more about as the industry changes and as the needs of the customers change, it requires improvements in order to deliver the most consistent product."
At Magic Mountain, in Londonderry, White said the resort is installing its first four-person lift which he said will double the ski area's uphill capacity. In addition, White said, the resort obtained an Act 250 permit to put in a new dam on their snowmaking pond in order to increase how much water can be used to make snow.
And he said Mount Snow — which Vail just recently announced its plan to acquire — has added 17 more acres to their snowmaking operations so that they are able to cover 83% of the mountain.
At Suicide Six, in Woodstock, White said the ski area recently automated and computerized its snowmaking; and at Sugarbush, he said the resort has installed new electric vehicle chargers and a solar array.
"They put a new roof on the Sugarbush Inn this summer, and they're rebuilding the Lincoln Peak courtyard,” White said. "And these are things that the casual visitor may not even notice, but that's just part of what goes into maintaining a property of that size and magnitude."
Dave Belin, a ski industry analyst with the Colorado-based RRC Associates, said competing for customers — whether weekend ticketbuyers or season passholders — is a strong motivating factor in making capital investments.
Belin said snowmaking improvements, like the $30 million Mount Snow has invested over the last three years, are vital as the regional weather becomes more fickle. Plus, he said, base lodges and other amenities can be used year round.
Mount Snow's Jamie Storrs agrees and said their new, much larger $22 million base lodge is a good example.
"For us, it's really nice to have, because it's a four-season building," Storrs said. "So this summer we're having weddings in it, we're hosting conferences in it. It just really expands our guest amenities here at Mount Snow."
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As to the sheer dollar amount of recent upgrades, Belin said resorts like Killington, Mount Snow, Stratton and Stowe are owned by larger parent corporations, which means they have more investment capital available.
And White, with Ski Vermont, said he believes the upgrades in Vermont are paying off.
"Last season, statewide, we reached the 4,000,000 skier visits number once again for the first time since the 2014 to 2015 season," White said. "And I think that's really the most tangible measure of the success of these investments."