Words and photos by Tim Fater/SkiTheEast.net
It was 5:05 a.m. when my cell phone alarm went off, but I was already awake. My wife rolled over to me and said "you're crazy", then went back to sleep. Maybe I am, but with the possibility of the season's first day of skiing being in mid-October, I wasn't going to let the opportunity pass.
I had spent the previous day following a strong October Nor'Easter work its way through New England. While most of the northeast was drenched in heavy rain from the storm, there was just enough cold air for it to snow in the higher elevations. By mid-day Friday, reports were starting to leak about heavy snow and big accumulations in central Vermont.
We had heard that the storm's sweet spot passed over Killington Resort. A solid foot had been confirmed at the peak as of Friday afternoon, with less reliable reports coming in from other New England locales. Knowing the area was expecting more snow overnight into Saturday morning, we decided that Killington was our best bet.
It was a damp and chilly autumn morning, yet with the dark storm clouds dispersing above us, there was a sense of promise for the day ahead. My friend Jeff and I loaded into my car. My brothers Greg and Jamie were right behind us. The roads were quiet. We watched the sun rise in my rearview mirror, dressed in shades of blue and orange. As we inched further north and the morning developed, we began to see dustings of white in the hills above the highways.
We came to our last turn on VT Route 4 and saw Killington's access road in the distance. A sense of worry secretly snuck into each of our minds as we had yet to see snow start piling up on the roadsides. What were we thinking, anyhow? Snow? It was October 16. Not a single ski resort in the country had opened yet. In fact, most of the big mountains out west had hardly seen any snow at all. And we had hopes of skiing deep snow at Killington? Maybe I was crazy after all.
We wound our way up the side of the mountain and eventually began to see some slushy accumulation around us. The snow began to pile up quickly as we reached higher into the mountain. Then it happened. We rounded a turn and saw the mountain blanketed in white, outlined in orange, and shrouded in passing clouds mixing with the bright blue morning sky. Jeff yelled with excitement and jumped in the passenger's seat. In doing so, he knocked my full cup of coffee all over the center console. We lapped up the coffee as best we could, but we had our eyes on bigger things.
There was six inches of snow in the lot at the K-1 gondola where we parked. Within a few minutes, we were stomping through the plowed snow at the edge of the parking lot. We made our way to the boot pack which rose up the side of one of the trails. A skier raced by us as we started our hike and when we shouted at him to ask how the skiing was, he responded enthusiastically, "tittyballs." Now, we weren't familiar with that adjective, but judging by the smile on his face, it meant pretty darn good.
We followed the boot pack up the mountain. As we gained elevation, the snow deepened. Before long, we were engulfed in a winter wonderland. When we neared the summit, we were surprised to stumble into a handful of Killington Resort staffers, including some snowmobilers and groomers, all hard at work. Within an hour and half, we were standing at Killington's 4,000 foot summit. There had to be 20 inches or more blanketing the mountain.
We changed our gear from hiking to skiing, refueled, and scouted our first run on the oversized trail map. We hooted and hollered our way down a short connector trail, reacquainting ourselves with our skis, and stopped above one of the mountain's steeper trails. The snow we were standing in covered the cuffs of our ski boots.
The trail below was covered from edge to edge. We all dropped in at the same time and weaved down different aspects of the steep slope. The snow was surprisingly light, most noticeably at the top of the trail. I'd be lying if I said we didn't bottom out once or twice, but we were shocked by the coverage and quality of the snow. Every few hundred feet we would stop and watch each other make their turns and scope our next line. Each one of us had a comedic encounter with a partially covered water bar, the day's most notorious obstacle.
When we neared the bottom of the run, we saw an exposed cliff on the right side of the trail that had a good landing. We hiked up to the cliff and tried our hand at our first hucks of the year, sessioning the drop for an hour. For the rest of the morning, people hiked and skied the trails surrounding us, built jumps over water bars, and caught up with other friends on the mountain. There was a tremendous feeling of comradery among everyone we came across who were out earning their turns.
As mid-day approached, the clouds cleared and the temperature rose. The snow became heavy and we decided to rally the troupes and ski back to our cars. A group of ten of us followed each other single file toward the slushy base of the mountain, dodging loose rocks and zig-zagging to stay on the path with the most snow. The white we enjoyed all morning gave way to the yellow, orange and brown of October.
We knew all too well that most of this early season snow would likely not make it through the weeks to come before we settled into winter. It would be unrealistic to think otherwise. But just like most pursuits in the east, we got there while the getting was good.