Skiers and riders visiting Killington Peak can now experience the immense pleasures of the backcountry, with its technical challenges, stashes of untracked powder, and the luxury of carving fresh turns through quiet wilderness, without ever leaving resort boundaries.
Killington recently opened 745 acres of Natural Woods Areas in the resort’s outer boundary. After a big dump, skiers and riders can sink into luscious natural snow inside these pockets of raw, unmapped wilderness. The Natural Woods are not serviced by Killington Mountain Patrol. By dropping in, you are accepting the inherent dangers of the backcountry and skiing completely at your own risk. Of course, for those explorers who crave the grit of unchartered terrain and the quiet splendor of the forest, such a warning is music to the ears.
The wide swath of steep trees just above Bear Mountain is particularly tempting to off-piste enthusiasts. While it contains no official glades, the territory is contained within the Juggernaut, Bear Cub, and Sassaffrass trails. Expert skiers and riders who are well-versed in rocks, wells, ice, and other wilderness hazards can escape the crowds and turn through trees without fear of wandering out of bounds.
The past few years has seen a nationwide increase in the popularity of backcountry and uphill travel. For those visitors who are seeking the purity and satisfaction of earning their turns, Killington and nearby Pico now offer the Uphill Travel Pass. Free for season pass holders or available for only twenty dollars, the pass grants snowshoers and alpine tourers access to the trails at any time of the day or night. Uphillers should be in full compliance of the resort's travel policy, and keep a wide berth from groomers and snowmakers.
With mapped glades scattered throughout the mountain, it's easy to drop into the trees and enjoy a little side-country exploration, even if you prefer the convenience of riding lifts. Like the trails, Killington's gladed runs each have their own personality and style. Some have been thinned and trimmed for intermediate skiers, while others are heavily forested and stunningly steep.
New skiers can get their first taste of the trees on Treezy, a sparsely wooded green circle, then step it up to Squeeze Play, a spacious blue glade that begins at the Ramshead Summit and continues for the whole length of the mountain. Snowdon features four short but punchy gladed runs directly off its summit, all of them black diamond and tight.
For serious side-country exploration, Killington Peak offers a deep swath of steep hardwoods, just begging for expert skiers and riders to drop in. Anarchy, Juanita, and Julio are side to side double diamonds inside one large tract of wilderness, where stashes of freshies are discovered only by the most daring.
The glades on Bear Mountain are predictably wild. Centerpiece, Devil’s Den, and Growler, double diamonds on the Bear's steep flanks, are a paradise for rippers to escape the crowds and find big stashes of pristine powder.
While it's easy to be consumed by the non-stop action of the Beast, there is more than one mode of winter travel by which to explore the backcountry. Snowshoeing has recently surpassed snowboarding as the fastest growing winter sport in the country. These lightweight aluminum frames allow you to skim the surface of snow, so you can float through the forest instead of sinking deep with every step.
Bear Trax Adventures, in partnership with Killington Resort, offers gear rental and guided tours that range from fun family treks to heart pumping mountain ascents. If you'd like to give it a try but you simply can't bear to take a day off the slopes, check out the Moonlight in Vermont Tour. This peaceful nighttime trek through dark forest and across starlit meadows makes an excellent addition to a day on the steeps. A well-deserved nightcap of hot apple cider is provided at the end.
The best snowshoe option for anyone craving a big dose of backcountry adventure is the Bear in the Woods Trek. You will blaze trail through fluffy natural snow as you explore the mixed age hardwood forest of Gifford Woods State Park. If you’re up for the challenge, Bear Trax's most advanced tour is a quad burning trek from Ramshead to the summit of Pico via the Killington/Pico interconnect trail, a journey that entails 2,500 feet of climbing.
Nordic skiing is another way to float over snow and disappear into the backcountry without sound or disturbance. Mountain Meadows Nordic Center in Killington is the place to leave the lifts behind and discover the power and purity of cross country skiing. The groomed, packed trails wind through frosted hemlock and hardwood forests, across idyllic Vermont pastures, and skirt the banks of Kent Pond, silent and still. Don’t forget to drop by the warming cabin for a hot cup of coffee.