KILLINGTON – Michael Solimano had just shown video highlights of women’s World Cup ski racing last year at Killington Ski Resort when he posed a question.
“Want to do it again?” the Killington president asked a large crowd assembled late Monday afternoon to hear the resort’s plans for upcoming events and facility improvements.
A loud cheer went up in the room at the Killington Grand Hotel.
“Let’s have a toast to next year’s World Cup,” Solimano said as he grabbed a bottle of beer and held it high above his head.
Two large screens behind the Killington president then displayed countdown clocks, each reading 235 days, as well as the hours and minutes left before the start of the women’s World Cup event at the resort set for later this year.
“Mark your calendars,” Solimano told the crowd. “We signed a deal for two years.”
The events each year, according to the pact, will take place over the four-day Thanksgiving Day weekend.
The two-year agreement with FIS, or the Federation Internationale de Ski, was signed Monday, the Killington president said.
Herwig Demschar, Powdr Corp. senior vice president of international business development, said Killington showed the world last year that there’s a huge interest in ski racing in the eastern part of the United States.
Powdr Corp is a the parent company of Killington Ski Resort.
Mikaela Shiffrin, who honed her skills at Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy, put an exclamation point on “last year’s event” on the final day, with her final run of the World Cup event in Killington. She had cowbells clanging and flags waving as she raced to first place in the slalom, pumping her fist as she sped past the finish line.
Many of the international skiers, as well as coaches, who took part in last year’s event, Demschar said, sent him emails over the past months asking if it could be brought back to the resort again.
“The athletes like to perform in front of a crowd, they don’t want to go to a place where they only have 400 or 500 people,” Demschar added. “They like an event, so that’s what we try to do.”
At the end of next month, the Federation Internationale de Ski will host a meeting where they are expected to ratify the two-year deal with Killington.
“We’re engaged, and they’ll marry us at the end of the May,” Demschar said of the budding relationship between Killington and the FIS.
The resort hosted women’s World Cup ski racing in late November over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, with roughly 15,000 people attending each day of the two-day event. The roughly 30,000 people in attendance over the two days set attendance records for women’s World Cup ski racing.
Demschar said Monday that was also a “conservative estimate,” based on a calculation of 1.5 people per parked vehicle.
It marked the return of World Cup ski racing to New England after a 25-year absence. It was the first such competition in Vermont in 38 years, with the last World Cup event in the Green Mountain State taking place in 1978 in Stratton.
A spot on the schedule opened up for Killington last year when Aspen, which in the past has been the home to Thanksgiving weekend World Cup races, moved to hosting a finals event in March, which took place last month.
At that event, news began to trickle out that Killington was the front-runner to get World Cup racing back this year.
That’s because FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis told the Aspen Daily News that Aspen was not on the World Cup women’s racing November 2017 calendar, due to needed infrastructure improvements at the resort.
“I think as far as I’m aware, Killington is shaping up to be the destination,” Lewis, head of World Cup racing’s governing body, told the news outlet.
Solimano said Monday he believed it was important to formally break the news of the two-year deal in Killington, with local business leaders, officials and residents in attendance.
“We wanted to announce it to the community first and we’ll begin to get the word out to everybody soon,” he said. “A lot more details to come, we’re looking to make it bigger and better than it ever has been.”
A formal press release was set to be sent out later Tuesday.
Solimano and Demschar said what they learned last year would help in putting on this year’s event.
That includes efforts to beef up public transportation to and from the site as well as better placement of portable toilets. In addition, work will take place to improve handicap accessibility to the grounds, which was hampered a bit last year by wet and muddy conditions
However, some things will stay the same, including the free admission to the event.
“The first priority is to get the surface, to have enough snow,” Demschar added, “because without that, you can’t do the race.”
Killington Ski Resort has been working to bring back women’s World Cup racing this year since the event ended last year. A big part of the effort has been trying to make it work financially.
An Solimano told town officials, the cost to the resort for last year’s event was more than $2.5 million. That figure was offset by $1.3 million in revenue, most of which came from sponsors. The net cost to the resort, he added, was $1.2 million.
On Town Meeting Day, Killington passed approved a town budget that included $100,000 to help the resort cover expenses associated with holding a World Cup event at the resort.
“Thank you for your support on that,” Solimano told the crowd Monday.
A look ahead
The event Monday also served as a briefing on what Killington resort has planned for the upcoming spring and summer months, as well as look at some of the numbers so far for the current ski season.
Among the highlights:
-Announcing skier visits this year are expected to top 700,000, according to Solimano, the second most since the Powdr Corp. took over the resort from American Ski Company about 10 years ago. Last year, which featured very little snow, saw only about 500,000 skier visits at the resort.
– Preparing a $110 million “revitalization” of the Bear Mountain area, including lodge improvements as well as building multi-family housing and duplexes and a South Ridge Quad. Work is expected to start in the summer 2018.
-Pushing forward on investing more than $5 million in solar projects to help power the resort.
-Working on $2 million in upgrades to the Killington Grand Hotel, including lobby and health club upgrades. Construction is currently underway.
-Providing summer season passes to the Killington’s Adventure Park for Rutland County residents for $59, excluding Saturdays. A day pass cost $69.
-Exploring the possibility of including a criterium portion to the Killington Stage Race that would take place in downtown Rutland. Years ago, a criterium was held in downtown Rutland as part of the event, and drew large crowds. It hasn’t taking place downtown for several years now.
-Adding three Tesla universal electric vehicle charging stations at the resort.
-Buiding a mountain bike skills park to help newcomers to the sport.
-Installing a camping area, complete with firepits, at the resort for overnight stays.
-Hosting hot air balloon rides during events.
-Offering “flyboarding,” or “aqua propulsion with jets for your feet” that will send users as high as high as 40 feet in the air. It will take place on the pond outside Snowshed Lodge.
“Are you going to heat it,” someone in the crowd asked of the pond.
No, a Killington official replied, “There’ll be wetsuits.”