There is laughter in the parking lot. Car doors slam and scores of men, women, and children pour into the puddle of the Superstar lift at the K-1 base of Killington, Vermont. Hues and attitudes reflect that of leaked oil on water—multi-colored, strangely stunning and dirty. Toothy grins shoot out in every direction. Something big is happening in the cracks of this as-advertised, pristine ski culture. These people have come from across the Northeast to ski a bump-riddled, dirt-stained white ribbon.
It's late March and no natural snow exists in Vermont—not a single corner snowbank in the parking lot. If winter was here, it came as a sick dog that offered a few barks of happiness before being euthanized. Six and a half months earlier, Tropical Storm Irene decimated Vermont with so much wind and rain that roads and entire homes washed away. At the base of Killington, the Superstar Pub collapsed after water dislodged the main support of the structure. President Barack Obama declared a State of Emergency for Vermont. Add to that a bleak snow year—152 total inches, 100 inches below the annual average—due to an unseasonably warm winter, which rendered Killington's impressive snowmaking efforts useless, and one could argue there wasn't much hope for K-Town. But that assumption would be completely wrong.
Randy "The Hammer" Grasso negotiates the neon—albeit a little sooner than most years— saying hello to friends as they stagger by in ski boots. A mulleted landscaper by summer and skier's skier by winter, Grasso's New Hampshire-accented speech sounds disappointed when I ask him who the elderly, fuchsia-jacketed man walking toward us is.
"Duuude. You don't know Fast Frank?" he asks.
At Killington, one isn't known by their given name. Instead, a simple adjective denotes the man. Along with The Hammer and Fast Frank, there is Big Frank, Porpoise, Rooster, Little Bobby, Red Head Ted, and Birdman—a guy that wears the hides of animals he's killed. When I ask Hammer about Birdman, he shrugs his shoulders. "No one wants to ride the gondola with him," says Hammer. "The fur gets wet and it stinks."
Holiday Valley's Radio Ron, a mainstay with The Hammer in Meathead Films movies, gives high fives to locals and mercy to the moguls. Today he is nursing a groin injury. An Ohio-born Mickey Mouse of a man, Radio is always on the verge of the next best winter of his life. "I train my whole year for this," says the 50-year-old without a hint of irony. "It's time to ground and pound."
I borrow a pair of 195cm Dynamic VR17s from Rooster. He found them in a garbage after a drunken Dumpster dive in downtown Burlington. They are springy, light, and in excellent condition. One man's trash is another man's mogul skis. We slide up to the high-speed quad and head to the top.
For 31 years, Killington's Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge attracted the best bump skiers in the East. In 2012, Killington cancelled the event, opting to go in a newer and bigger direction. "We went to do the Nor'Beaster—a 10-day event with a music festival, rail jam, big air, and mogul competition," says Sarah Thorsen, Killington's communications manager. "Unfortunately, we didn't have the snow."
Locals were upset at the cancellation of the B.M.M.C. They banded together, as Vermonters do, and devised a plan to hold their own, underground contest—The Denial Cup. Over 60 skiers competed for prizes and trophies donated by local businesses. I'm told on the lift that ski patrol wanted to shut it down, but resort management said to let the bumpers be, perhaps out of fear of a middle-aged uprising. In the end, Little Bobby took the win.
Skiers travel from across the Northeast for these weekends in K-Town. This is not your resort's closing day. It's a month-long phenomenon featuring a cast of nine-to-fivers. During the week, they run delis and work on airplanes. On the weekends, they are rock stars. They're skiers with hobbies, like 4x4ing and fishing, though mogul skiing remains at the top of their interests. "I quit windsurfing because it's hard to smoke dope in the wind," says one bump skier. "Yo, don't put my name in your story," he adds.
From the comfort of Superstar, skiers dip, dip, dip, and "Oh yeah!" through the bumps below. At 26, my only memory of mogul skiing was Jonny Moseley's 360 mute at the '98 Nagano Games. Park skiing arrived and people started skiing backwards. Mogul skis were left to collect dust in the corner of the garage, or be turned into one of the hundreds of ski chairs (or shot skis, see page 56) seen at après bars across the country.
We exit the lift and take off for the bump field. Hammer tells me to keep a strong upper body, to ski as if I have a glass of water on my head. Sugarloaf's Dan Marion tells me to "be like water." I'm not sure what it means but assume it's good advice. Like all great skiers, these people make it look so easy. I drop in and search for rhythm, bouncing off bumps.
At the bottom, I join photographer Alexa Miller. Someone pulls two PBRs out of a fanny pack and hands them over. Then we watch un-orchestrated, yet organized chaos comb the mountain.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, skis down together. They ski with the predictability of corn kernels, popping in every direction. A woman airs over a slow sign, spread-eagling to the other side and into her husband's heart. Although I've never met the man, I'm certain this moment would get Greg Stump off.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
Dipping and diving and daffying. It all looks so fun because it is. Be silly. Be stylish. Pull a beer out of a fanny pack. Wear a visor. Remember to keep a strong upper body. And be like water.
We retire back to the parking lot. It's a bit calmer than years' past. Hammer tells me of a time when a group of skiers called Team Toxic rolled their Ram Charger and a guy we'll call Jimmy danced naked on an old Bronco for the whistling ladies below. The police, or the resort, never had a problem with it or perhaps turned a blind eye.
"I call it, 'The Land of the Misfit Toys,'" says Hammer. "Anytime someone shows up, they get a nickname and they're a part of the group."
On this overcast afternoon, hot dogs roast on a tailgate grill, and gas-powered, throttle-driven blenders make piña coladas and daiquiris. Little Bobby shows off his cat-like balance on a slack line, beer in hand, for two admiring locals. A black Lab runs around our boots, hoping for a bit of burger to hit pavement. We take turns ripping a mini-bike around. Like migratory birds, these people return year after year to ski bumps and enjoy one more day in the sun.
Mogul season at Killington is not a closing-day party. It lasts as long as conditions permit and the resort remains open. Skiers are friendly and a "local's only" vibe does not exist. As the saying goes, the more the merrier. For ski area information, click-in to Killington.com.
How to Get There: From Burlington International Airport, drive south on I-89 and take exit 3 for VT-107 toward VT-100/VT-14/Bethel/Rutland. Continue on the historic VT-100 S and turn left on US-4. Park along the access road or at the K-1 base lodge. If you hear the laughter, you're in the right place.
Place To Stay: The Summit Lodge, located at 200 Summit Road, is a throwback ski lodge. Rooms start at $99 a night, and The Saint's Pub is dripped in Killington history and culture. Say hello to the numerous St. Bernards roaming the premises. They're friendly. SummitLodgeVermont.com.
Place to Eat and Drink: Sushi Yoshi offers great specials on rolls and drinks all winter long. VermontSushiYoshi.com.