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Ski Resort Life

Coping With Killington: Taming the Beast

John "Grizz" Puchalski shares his tips for coping with Killington.

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Published: November 2004

Maybe you’ve seen him: a bearded bear of a man, wearing a fur hat and a Killington Ambassadors parka. That’s Grizz, a.k.a. John Puchalski, Killington’s chief ambassador. He’s a 40-year veteran of these slopes, so he knows Killington can be intimidating in its size-not to mention crowded on busy days. Grizz is also as nice a guy as you’ll ever meet, and he’s more than happy to share these tips for coping with Killington:

Watch Grizz on TV If it’s a weekend, you’ll find him on Channel 14 at 7:50 and again at 8:50 a.m. Reporting from the mountain, he runs down the grooming, weather and crowd expectations. On busy days, he’ll have tips on how to ski the mountain.

Get to the slopes early Obvious, but key. Don’t dawdle over breakfast. Grizz likes Sunup Bakery on the access road for a quick bite to go. And if he’s really hungry, Peppers.

Park smart (1) Any lot works if you get there early enough, but it’s best to avoid Snowshed and Rams Head. Your best bets, Grizz says, are over at the north edge of the resort. Either Bear Mountain or the especially convenient Skyeship lot will get you close to the lifts and away from the mob.

Take a tour (2) Nothing beats local knowledge, and Grizz’s resort ambassadors, who lead twice-daily tours, have plenty of it. Monday through Saturday, groups depart from the red Meet the Mountains Tour sign at the base of the Snowshed lifts at 9:45 and 10:45. If you’re in town for the week, it’s a smart way to start.

Steer clear of K1 (3) It’s a great lift, zipping from Killington Base to Vermont’s second-highest peak in about seven minutes. Problem is, everyone loves it. On a busy day, you’re better off finding alternatives.

South Ridge Triple (4) Not only is it one of the nation’s quirkiest chairlifts (with a startling left turn partway up), it’s a great Killington crowd-beater. “It can be cold on a windy day, but otherwise, it’s a beautiful lift, serving excellent intermediate and advanced terrain,” Grizz says.

Traverse up high (5) Find these two trails-High Traverse and Home Run-and use them. They’re the most efficient routes for switching from one area of the mountain to another without losing much elevation or dealing with the base-area mob.

Pico Peak (6) When Killington gets crazy or skied off, hop in the car and head for nearby Pico Peak (your lift ticket works here too). It’s one of Vermont’s most historic areas, and it remains underutilized. “It’s got great expert terrain up high, and the snow stays good all day long,” Grizz says. And families love its intimacy and charisma.

Late lunch (7) Grizz suggests a quick break around 11, then skiing through the lunch hour, when trails are less crowded.He likes to stop around 1:30 at the Killington Peak lodge: less crowded, unbeatable views.

Avoid Rams Head (8) Killington’s designated family area is mobbed with little kiddies-and is no place for skiing fast. Let them have it.

Ski the trees (9) Much to their consternation, locals are seeing once-secret tree shots thinned out and marked on the trail map. Grizz doesn’t mind: It clears the trails for people who need them.

Powder day (10) When it dumps, Grizz bears down on his favorite trails. Try North Star, Great Bear, Devil’s Fiddle or Vagabond. And remember Pico for afternoon untracked.

Ask an Ambassador Killington is huge, and sometimes disorienting. Need directions or a tip? Ask an ambassador. They wear red parkas bearing the international i for information. At day’s end they’re posted at major intersections, helping skiers find their way home. (If you do end up at the wrong base area after lifts close, check in at the lodge: There are shuttles for lost souls.)

Get thee to the access road (11) No day at Killington is complete without après snacks and drinks, and lots of access road bars have free munchies. Try the classics: Pickle Barrel, Wobbly Barn, Casey’s,, Charity’s…. And if you run into a big bearded dude named Grizz, for heaven’s sake, buy him a beer.