Superstar Trail Remains Killington’s Big Star

  • Skiers rip down the Superstar Trail at Vermont's Killington Mountain. The trail has a fanatical following of skiers and riders.

  • Killington’s Superstar Trail, in background, has a life span from fall to spring as shown in in this photograph from last June 1. It's the first trail to open and the last to close during the Vermont ski resort’s season.

Special to the Valley News
Saturday, April 14, 2018

Killington’s Superstar trail is the lifeline for the East’s longest ski season.

Front and center at Skye Peak, the wide black diamond run is born in autumn and eventually dies months later during a late spring swan song — often into June. 

“Superstar is alive,” said snowmaking supervisor Greg “Hiltzy” Hiltz in the mountain’s snow planning room recently. “It changes on a regular basis.”

The iconic Vermont trail, which has its fanatical skiers and snowboarders, has achieved international prominence by holding two November women’s alpine World Cup races in 2016 and 2017, with former Lyme resident Mikaela Shiffrin winning the slalom both years. 

Superstar’s a king of spring, a showcase of fine skiing and insanity with swimsuited skiers and riders showing off while their friends and others watch from umbrella bars.

Superstar used to be one of the first trails to open at the Big K, after trails like Skyelark and Bittersweet. But now with Killington hosting another November World Cup next season, there’s been a paradigm shift. The trail is now the first to come and the last to leave. 

Snowmaking’s critical in keeping Superstar breathing. Hiltz’s crew goes 24/7 to get the trail open for the World Cup, with 10 to 13 employees working 12-hour shifts. That could take five days or longer, all temperature dependent. 

They produce the “Superstar glacier,” tons of snow blowing from 120 guns. For the World Cup, the snow could have buried a field seven to eight stories high. As the season progresses, Hiltz sees the glacier grow, sometimes five to seven feet high on a prime windless snowmaking night with temps in the teens. Pesky, snow-compressing rain and snow-eating fog, however, can shrink it.

Keeping it open has its challenges. Hiltz has been working at Killington since 1977 and helped install snowmaking on Superstar. He described this season’s weather as “a bear.”

Brutal subzero freezes and warm thaws had him wondering if Superstar might die a premature death. But four feet of snow in March has him guessing the trail can last into mid-May, certainly for the April 21 Dazed and Defrosted event and the May Day Slalom on May 1.

Superstar’s got three sections: headwall, middle and lower. Mogul fields line the sides, with grooming constantly changing.

“Headwall is a beast,” says Hiltz. “It’s steep and quick. The middle is the mellowest section, not an expert level. Lower I’d say is the toughest part of the trail, with a double fall line.”

Hiltz recommends keeping an eye out for other skiers. 

“It becomes more challenging with other skiers,” he says. “You have to watch out for them as well as yourself.”

Locals rave about doing laps with a quick Superstar Express Quad ride up and then down. 

Superstar is 4,600 to 4,800 feet long, has a 1,200-foot vertical drop and 30- to 50-degree pitch. It also changes character during its course: cruiser, moguls, then racing. 

“Everyone loves the diversity,” Hiltz says. “That’s what draws people to it. It can be bumps one day, a cruiser the next or 50-50 top to bottom or groomed wall to wall with bump lines on the edges.”

But that soon changes.

“In the springtime, into May, we won’t groom it all,” he says. “Then it’s just a mogul monster. A lot of people love it, and a lot of people hate it. It depends on what you like.”

Pittsfield, Vt., resident Barb Marshall starts and ends her ski day on Superstar.

A 100-plus-day skier and member of the mountain’s 100 Day Club, she relishes the moguls.

“May is fun when it’s just bumps,” she said.

Plus, the trail’s entertaining with those showing skill and others in survival mode.

“You have a show going up, being entertained up on the chair, and then it’s really fun to ski down,” she said. “A great setup.”

Another 100 Day Club skier, Rutland’s Walt Fillmore, routinely has his poles strapped around his wrists when getting off the lift, ready to plunge down Superstar.

“The trail has wonderful variations: Steep, flat, offsetting turns and different fall lines just makes it really interesting,” Hiltz says. “You really see some pretty proficient skiers and snowboarders.”

He skis it well into the end of the season, particularly on tasty powder days.

“Now that Killington has the World Cup, there’s a stigma attached to it,” he said. “Some people like to ski where World Cup skiers have skied. Sometimes I do it for that reason.”

Another way to keep the thrills alive on the pulsing Superstar.

Marty Basch can be reached at marty.basch@gmail.com.