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  • John Giuffo

The Beast Comes Alive In Spring

Updated: Oct 18, 2018

There are spring weekends in Killington that feel magical, like a page torn from ski mythology, where the soft snow, the weather, and the party all align.

You never know who's gonna pop in during a Killington spring tailgate. Photo: John Giuffo

Mornings are a blur of fun.

They start chilly but warm quickly as the sun burns off the clouds and bounces off the snowpack. Fast groomers shift to chop then slop as things get busy, and by lunchtime the mountain is bumpy fun and I’ve somehow done more than a dozen runs. We get after the fast snow while we can, knowing that with each run the mountain softens a little more, the moguls grow, and the snow slows down.

Three hours like this, chasing the colder snow, run after run. Laughter and play-racing.

With an appetite built on slush moguls, I head down early to start cooking lunch out of the back of my Jeep. Tailgates are popping off left and right in the K-1 lot, some anchored by gas camp stoves, others by full-on charcoal barbecues. Families seek shade beneath ten-foot-square folding canopies, trading tales of close calls and best runs. A percussion of loosened boots clomps by. Music interflows from a dozen different sources: some Creedence here, a bit of Matisyahu there, and is that Duran Duran somewhere in the distance?

“That smells fire!” yells one passing snowboarder as the skillet of sausage and peppers we’ve been tending for the past half hour works fragrant magic. I ante up on the cacophony with a playlist mixing The Skatalites with the Misfits. Adam makes friends with our K-1 lot neighbors and we trade our Legacy IPA Saranacs for their Alchemist Heady Toppers, which is a ridiculous swap in our favor but somehow works on this sunny Saturday in April.

Sawzeege and peppers in the Killington lot is peak NYer-in-Vermont. Photo: John Giuffo

I lean back in my camp chair, feet on the bumper, sun on my face, and sip my beer, feeling deeply content.

After lunch, we walk across the lot to meet Adam’s work friends – a couple who had loaded up their RV, dog and friends included, to take part in Killington’s annual spring weekend slopeside bacchanalia. Women in bikini tops dance on the roof to cover tunes wafting over from the umbrella bar at the base of Superstar. Dogs play-wrestle on the roadside gravel. A crusty old local dressed in a black cowboy hat and a white suit that looks paintball-spattered climbs the RV’s rear ladder and takes up residence in a chaise lounge on the roof. No one knows who he is or who he’s with, and no one much cares because everyone agrees Psychedelic Colonel Sanders belongs there. More beers are passed around, the air is sweet with herb, and a cheer ripples through the crowd as a skier wipes out on Superstar above and bounces his way down the slope before coming to a wet stop.

This is the ski culture I’d been promised by Ski Patrol and Better Off Dead. A place where everyone there is gathered to get silly on sloppy snow and to have fun back down at the base in the afternoon.

Spring is a big part of the reason Killington is my favorite Northeast ski area. Sure, there are bigger mountains with more challenging terrain, more awe-inspiring views, and more reliable natural snow, but they aren’t within easy driving distance, they don’t open as early in the season or close as late, and they don’t have quite the same culture that Killington has cultivated over the years.

The Beast of the East earns its reputation in terms of trail count, total operating days, and snowmaking capacity, but it’s the laid-back vibe of the devoted locals, the laissez-faire attitude that management has toward tailgating culture, and the popularity of the place that adds to its appeal. Yes, more of the resort is skiable during January and February, but it’s the warming spring days of late March and April, and usually deep into May, where the joys of skiing, partying, and barbecuing with friends combine to create an experience that is hard to replicate elsewhere.

Some mountains have parking lots that are unsuited to lunchtime or aprés shenanigans, others have managers who frown on coolers of beer and open fires perhaps for liability reasons, and some just don’t stay open late enough into the season to be a viable home base for a healthy spring skiing culture.

Both the K-1 Lot and the Bear Mountain lot are lined with tailgates on sunny spring afternoons. Photo: John Giuffo

(A close East Coast second to Killington’s spring culture would be Sunday River, which is a reliable location for tailgating fun, especially in April, when the Barker base lot turns into a series of parties, each trying to outdo the next according to that year’s theme.)

Long after other mountains have closed up for the year or are switching operations into summer downhill mountain biking mode, Killington remains skiable thanks to its elevation, location, and the heroic efforts of the resorts mountain ops crew. During good years, the K-1 Gondola can remain operational into late April or May if the snowpack allows, and the so-called “Superstar Glacier” keeps die-hards sliding late into the month, and sometimes into June.

And even when the season nears the end, when the Superstar Express remains the only lift in operation, and the trail count drops to single digits, there are steeps, bumps, and sometimes even glades to be had in the paths that drop down from Killington’s signature peak. Most evenings get crispy enough to reliably groom for zippy morning runs, but the trails always bump up by midday.

Sure, there are only a few trails left open late into the spring, but each goes through endless transformations throughout the day as the soft snow reacts to the crowds, and no trail skis the same twice.

Race zones deepen into snow snakes thanks to the repetition of turns, kickers form off the sides of slope edges, and bumps shift and migrate.

We take some more playful runs after lunch as music blares from the base, shifting from Motley Crue to Groove Is In The Heart by Dee-Lite, and every face has a smile glued on it. Someone wipes out somewhere below me on Superstar, prompting laughter and cheers from the lift, and the air blows sweet again.

From the peak, you'd hardly know winter is waning. Photo: John Giuffo

Winter draws to a close and few want it to end, but on warm spring days like this it seems okay and makes us, the snow-addicted, look forward to summer and its own appeals. The slopeside creeks run loud with snowmelt.

“Let’s do one more run and reassess,” I say to Adam, our superstitious code for calling Last Run without calling Last Run. Soon, we’ll give our skis a protective summer wax and store them away until November, but for the moment we are happy and grateful. It’s been a long and bountiful ski season, and there’s nothing left to do but enjoy ourselves and discuss our hopes for next winter’s adventures.

© 2018 by ICE COAST MAGAZINE.

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