Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Pico Mountain

Pico Mountain is a small, family-style ski resort that sits just north of Killington, Vermont.  Regular readers may already know that I have a soft spot for the smaller, family-owned mountains, and it put Pico on my list of must-visit locations early last year.  Saying that Pico is family-owned is kind of a misnomer, though, since Killington itself bought Pico way back in the mid-1990s and has since been bought by KSL Capital -- the group behind the IKON Pass.  But somehow Pico remains a small, friendly, relatively affordable spot offering a distinct value proposition alongside big brother Killington and the rest of Vermont’s corporate resorts.  That’s actually amazing.  We got a set of VIP tickets to Pico through the Sterling Ski Club back in October, and we finally used them just this past weekend.
Overlooking the lower part of the mountain from the top of the Little Pico Triple Chair.
Pico opened in 1937.  That makes it one of the oldest ski areas in the State of Vermont.  It also explains the mountain’s lift and trail organization.  The first lift was actually a tow rope where the Little Pico Triple Chair is now, hence the two black diamond trails coming directly off what looks like it ought to be the bunny slope lift.  Other lifts came later, until eventually, they got the Summit Express Quad going all the way up to 3,967 feet.  With that, Pico has fully 2,000 feet of vertical drop, though most runs won’t take you all the way from the top to the bottom.  It also means that you’ll have to do some work to explore the whole mountain and find all the hard trails.
Sally, the girls, and I got to Pico about 8:30 in the morning.  We weren’t expecting a huge crowd on a small mountain on Super Bowl Sunday, but plenty of people turned up.  Not less than usual for a Sunday, at any rate.  Luckily, Pico just has the one parking lot, and once it’s full, the only way to get there is to park at Killington and take a shuttle.  No one does that, so really, the mountain’s capacity is capped by its available parking.  That works super-well in the sense that the mountain itself never gets crowded, but it’s also a necessity since Pico is not a big place.
We parked, dressed, and were up on the Golden Express Quad by just after 9:00 am.  That was not too bad considering that we’d driven up from the Sterling Ski Club’s Southern Lodge just that morning.  There was no lift line.  We walked right on.  We then skied a green, Gold Rush, to warm up, took the lift back up, and hit Fool’s Gold to the Summit Express.  Heading to the top put at least 75% of Pico’s skiers behind and below us.  We then skied laps off the summit for most of the day and never waited more than a minute to catch a chair back up.  
That was really, really cool.
Most of the trails at Pico’s base involve maybe 500 feet of vertical drop.  Some are hard, and some are easy, but they’re all the kind of thing you might expect to find at the local mountains in Connecticut.  By contrast, the trails drop something like 1,500 feet up at the top, and they are mostly steep as all Hell.  There’s really only one blue trail up there, 49er, and even then, it’s not so much a separate trail as it is a marked way through what is basically a wide, intermittent glade that happens to be somewhat less steep than the mountain’s typical pitch.  No matter which way you go, you’re going to wind up weaving around and between various cops of trees.  It’s beautiful and very, very cool, but you’ll want to pay close attention, or you might wind up in some legitimately hairy stuff.
Casa Cabeza at the summit -- all smiles.
Hannah & Emma getting off the Little Pico Triple Chair.

We did a couple of runs on 49er, and then I talked my kids into trying Upper KA.  That turned out to be a mistake.  KA was a bobsled track -- maybe eight feet wide, bumpy, and icy as Hell.  Hannah and I both bit it pretty hard, while Emma and Sally balied off onto Easy Street maybe midway down.  We then followed Easy Street on purpose on our next run before cutting across to Lower Giant Killer. Sally and I both loved it, but our kids did not.  Unlike Upper Giant KillerLower Giant Killer isn’t steep.  It is way bumpy, however, and you had to jump a little water bar about three quarters of the way down.  First time I’d ever seen that on a blue trail.  Needless to say, I bit it there -- again.
Honestly, I really need to work on my jumping.
I felt froggy after Lower Giant Killer, and the kids wanted to do a black that they could handle.  We hit Pike.  Alas, the upper section was a bad combination of foggy and icy, and Hannah bit it really hard on the steep section just off the top.  Probably the hardest fall I’ve ever seen her take.  The conditions weren’t bad, exactly, but there were plenty of icy spots, and they weren’t easy to see in the flat light of the fog.  I actually really liked Pike, so Sally and I skied it a bunch more times, but the kids took a break after Hannah’s fall.  They didn’t complain -- not a lot, anyway -- but I could tell they were feeling a bit beat up.
We headed down in the afternoon and skied some of the easier stuff off a few of the lower lifts.  That was a lot of fun, but those runs are all really short.  I felt like I’d seen pretty much everything by 2 o’clock, and since it was Super Bowl Sunday, we hit the road around 2:30.  We somehow never made it over to the Outpost Triple Chair, though, which sucks because I would have liked to try a few of those short blacks.  Had they had better snow, we might’ve stayed over there half the afternoon.
The Summit Express Quad at Pico.
Me & Sally just off the Summit Express.
Anyway, I liked Pico a lot, but it’s not a big place, and the top is so steep that I don’t think I would ski there again unless it’s on a powder day.  Many of the mountain’s runs are legitimately challenging, and several had thin cover, and that’s without our even attempting Upper Giant Killer, the 36° double-black that’s reputed to be one of the hardest trails in all of Vermont.  I would definitely recommend Pico to good skiers, but you’ll want to get there early to ensure that you can get a parking spot, and you’ll definitely want to know what you’re getting into up at the top.

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