Wanna go skiing right now in the Northeast? Well right now you have just one opportunity to do that outside of skiing in a mall for about another week and the pickings will remain slim until at least the week before Thanksgiving. Killington's early season offering is unique and if you aren't familiar with it, we have prepared this unofficial guide to help you understand what to expect. We cover some basics and then three phases of terrain buildouts from what is open now on the North Ridge until they open terrain from top to bottom on Snowdon.
Note, we have no inside knowledge of Killington's specific plans for this season and our guide is based on past seasons and they can certainly change plans should they wish. There may also be some small differences with the order of trails or the exact trails we identify, and weather can at times dictate their snowmaking focus. This is not a guide for the 'best skiers on the mountain' or those who have skied Killington for 20+ years.
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Who Should and Shouldn't Go?
Killington makes it clear on their website that their early season terrain on the North Ridge is only for intermediate and advanced skiers and riders. That's accurate for the terrain, however the trail congestion and aggressive skiing on the weekends really does make us recommend that only experienced adults should try during those busier days. More appropriate environments for families with children on weekends will likely be available at Bretton Woods and Sunday River by the following weekend.
There are presently only 7 acres of terrain on 1 1/3 short trails serviced by a fixed grip quad, and that's about as many skiers per acre that you can find. Beginners absolutely should not go based on terrain alone, and we don't recommend children go on early season weekends regardless of skill because the North Ridge at this time of year offers little room for error. You don't have to be more than a blue square skier or rider to make it down, but you really need to have expert awareness and ski defensively. Don't stop anywhere but the very edge of the trail or behind a fence, and don't carve wide in heavy traffic. Many will not respect your right of way and have much tighter tolerances for passing than your average skier or rider. Our opinion is based only on our desire for people to be safe.
Even many advanced skiers and riders choose to stay away from early season weekends at Killington in the interest of self-preservation. The nickname "White Ribbon of Death" certainly applies. Weekdays are fine, though people will ski aggressively in less traffic and the terrain isn't appropriate for beginners until Ramshead opens nearer Thanksgiving.
What About Superstar and Skye Peak?
Killington is presently busy making snow when they can on Skye Peak for the women's World Cup races Thanksgiving weekend. This terrain will not be open to the public until about the following weekend in early December. This is a top priority and they rent extra compressors and have approximately tripled up their hydrants along Superstar in order to make absolutely sure that they meet their commitments. Those commitments include laying down 4 feet of snow top to bottom of Superstar, several feet on Skyelark for training and warmups, and surface preparation where they inject the slope with water for a perfect fast racing surface.
Killington devotes the majority of their capacity to Skye Peak while still trying to be the first to open in the East. While they don't always win the race to be first to open, they are generally no more than a hair behind. Their buildout of terrain for the general public though will lag the competition a bit until they are done making snow on Skye Peak. They then use some of that extra capacity through the month of December to catch up on their buildouts. Natural snow is a wildcard, but it typically only opens limited terrain for periods of time in November. Keep in mind that the amount of snow made for the Word Cup race could open approximately 4 standard trails top to bottom with solid coverage so they are making a ton of snow despite the acreage that is available for skiing and riding.
Phase 1: Hike Both Ways, Very Limited Terrain
You are going to upload on the K-1 Gondola, hike down to the Peak Lodge, then comes the Peak Walkway, an approximately 700' long wooden walkway with rubber mats that can be slick at times when below freezing. You exit the walkway just above the North Ridge where you then ski or ride down to the bottom of the lift and lap that terrain. Getting from the main base to the North Ridge will take about 20 minutes unless there is a line on the walkway. The walk back is harder because you are walking more uphill and generally with tired legs. Most people ski or ride for 4 or less hours due to weak legs and a lack of variety.
If you need to go back to the base, then you have to take the same path back in reverse. We strongly recommend that you bring pocket snacks and something to drink with you. People often leave bags, lunch boxes, or plastic bottles near the top or bottom of the lift, but don't leave anything valuable unattended. There may be some porta potties near the base of the North Ridge lift.
Rime is the main trail that runs along the lift line for about 1/2 mile. Reason is about 1,000' long and has a terrain park set up for the first three phases detailed in this article.
Based on the weather outlook we expect Killington to mostly stay in Phase 1 until about the following Friday or Saturday. Phase 1 is defined by the need to walk both ways to and from the North Ridge.
Phase 2: Ski Down, Hike Back, Still Very Limited
The next step in their buildout is to complete East Fall below Reason which should add about another 4 acres of terrain, and to open Great Northern from the top of the K-1 Gondola down to the North Ridge. When Great Northern is complete it eliminates the need to use the Peak Walkway to get to the North Ridge, but you will still need to walk back along the walkway to the K-1 Gondola to download.
Based on the current weather outlook it seems likely that they will start snowmaking on East Fall and Great Northern this Sunday night, though there might be enough of an inversion to delay further. The next probable snowmaking window will be on Tuesday night with deepening cold after for at least a couple more days. We expect the Phase 2 buildout to be complete around Friday, November 9th.
Phase 3: Top to Bottom Skiing and Riding
The key to Phase 3 is that there is no longer a need to use the Peak Walkway in either direction as you can go top to bottom from both the K-1 Gondola and the Snowdon Triple (or possibly the Snowdon Six Express).
Generally by the time the Phase 3 buildout starts they are finishing up on Skye Peak and have more capacity to light up more guns simultaneously on Snowdon so this Phase can happen fairly quickly despite having more significant terrain to cover. Generally they start with extending Great Northern and then they work on the Snowdon trails of Killink, Upper Conclusion, a small piece of Racers Edge, and then a path back to the main base on lower Bunny Buster.
We can't predict snowmaking windows with much reliability more than 7 days in the future so we won't have a projection for when this will happen, but a minimum of 3 strong days of snowmaking and grooming are required to get this done. It is likely though that this will not happen before the 15th of November.
Despite having significantly more terrain in Phase 3 as they have in Phase 1, the trails are still often congested on weekends with aggressive skiing and riding, but more families and intermediate skiers will show up in this phase as well as other skiers and riders who skip the walkway phases. We still suggest that only experienced skiers and riders with strong awareness of the surroundings consider weekends until more terrain is added to help space people out more, and beginners should not go until Ramshead opens as that will be the first green circle terrain to become available.
What Opens When the Natural Snow Stacks Up?
Generally just the trails above open sections of Great Northern will open with natural snow, namely Ridge Run and Power Line which are the most accommodating to lapping. They will open these on thin cover without any grooming so they can be quite tricky, especially as the snow cycles and freezes up. Don't expect anything short of 2 feet of natural snowpack to open many if any trails below Great Northern.
Beyond Phase 3: Expanding Snowdon, then Canyon and Ramshead
While we haven't mapped this phase of the buildout, they generally focus on Upper Bunny Buster and Mouse Run from the top of Snowdon, and the lower section of Great Northern to reach the Snowdon Six Express. Lower East Fall going into the Canyon area is another target as that allows them to open yet another lift. A new terrain park is typically set up on Mouse Run and then the park is removed from Reason.
When this phase is completed they generally change their focus to the Canyon and Ramshead areas of the mountain with a goal of opening both by Thanksgiving weekend. Congestion does start to ease up around this time with better separation based on skill/aggression.