Gone are the days when an ambitious young man with a passion for skiing could scope out a snowy mountainside, scrape together some money, and start a successful ski area.
Gone, too, are the days when a state like Vermont would do almost anything it could to facilitate ski-area developments, as it did for Preston Smith, the founder of Killington and 2014 recipient of the New England Ski Museum’s Spirit of Skiing award. Smith was honored for his lifetime of achievements at a dinner at Killington earlier this month.
It was at the urging of the famous Perry Merrill, the state’s Parks and Rec Commissioner, that Smith settled on Killington as the site of his new ski area.
From the New England Ski Museum website: “For some reason he (Merrill) liked me, probably because I studied ag and forestry,” Smith told the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum in 2011. “He said, ‘You have to look at Killington, and if you like it the state will build a road into here and lease the land to you.’”
Smith wasn’t yet 30 years old when Killington opened for business in time for the 1958-59 season. A Quonset hut at the bottom of Snowdon Mountain served as its only base facility. The state, at Merrill’s urging, had indeed chipped in by building the now famous Killington access road.
A tireless visionary, Smith presided over explosive growth at Killington, which would, one day, report more than a million skier visits at its peak. His S-K-I Corp. would become one of the first ski area conglomerates—for better or worse. And it was to a restless former Killington lieutenant, Les Otten, that Smith would one day sell Killington and its sister resorts—the birth of American Skiing Co.
There’s more fascinating reading on Smith at the New England Skiing Museum website.