The eyes of the ski world were on Killington Resort in central Vermont’s Green Mountains last month when it hosted one of the preeminent events on the 2019-20 World Cup calendar. The Audi FIS Ski World Cup took place November 30 and December 1, and featured some of the top female skiers from around the globe competing in slalom and giant slalom races.
This year marked the fourth straight year Killington was chosen to host the prestigious event. It is one of the most-watched events of the international ski season and is broadcast to more than 60 nations along with national coverage across the U.S. It also attracts nearly 40,000 spectators to the ski area and generates millions of dollars in economic activity in Vermont. It’s the only World Cup event to be hosted in the Eastern U.S. since 1991, and the first in Vermont since 1978.
Needless to say, there was considerable pressure on event organizers, including Killington’s grooming team, to ensure the event went off without a hitch.
“The pressure’s definitely on,” said Killington’s grooming manager Dave Wright, who has worked in the resort’s grooming department for the past 15 years.
“It’s important to make sure we put on the best show possible. From a grooming point of view, we want to make sure we have the best surface conditions for the athletes to train on and race on,” he said, adding that preparations for this year’s World Cup began almost a year ago. “We’re known as the ‘Beast of the East.’ We set the bar high with everything we do at Killington. If we’re going to do a World Cup event, it has to be the best it can be.”
As if that didn’t pose enough of a challenge, consider that Wright and the rest of Killington’s grooming team also had to contend with fickle Mother Nature. Since the World Cup happened so early in the season, temperatures were mild and next to no snow had fallen in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. That meant Killington’s state-of-the-art snowmaking system was working overtime to get the course and training runs ready.
“We have the ability to make a lot of snow, fast,” Wright said. “Any East Coast resort wouldn’t survive without snowmaking.” Thankfully, Wright and the Killington grooming team had a bit of help when it came to moving that snow around.
Groomer manufacturer PRINOTH was a major sponsor of this year’s World Cup. The company, with headquarters in Sterzing, Italy, and Granby, Que., provided three state-of-the-art snow groomers for the event and had a demo operator on-hand to provide technical advice to the grooming staff at Killington in the weeks leading up to the event and throughout the two days of racing.
“Obviously the exposure we get is great. But our main concern is always to take care of our customers and Killington is a great customer. We value that relationship and we want to be there to help them.”Walter Piekarz, PRINOTH
PRINOTH, which was founded by Italian race car driver Ernst Prinoth in 1951 and is now part of the HTI Group, has been involved in the World Cup circuit for some time. It’s worked closely with the U.S. ski team since 2014, as the official grooming supplier to the team. It supplied groomers for each of the past four World Cup events at Killington.
“We try to support any event that we can, within reason, where any U.S. ski team involvement is there,” said Walter Piekarz, PRINOTH’s vice-president of sales for snow grooming in North America. The company’s support for this year’s World Cup included supplying three top-of-the-line grooming machines: the LEITWOLF X Winch, BISON X Winch and HUSKY X with passenger cabin.
The LEITWOLF X, which features an automatic winch system, is a big, strong, high-horsepower machine that can move mountains of snow and is one of PRINOTH’s most popular machines. A six-cylinder diesel engine provides 530 horsepower (hp) and 2,460 Nm of torque and its track width of 4.5 meters ensures the machine is sure-footed in challenging terrain. The park version of the LEITWOLF X also offers a larger range of motion for both blade and tiller.
The BISON X is similar to the LEITWOLF X, but on a slightly smaller scale. Its versatility makes it ideal for use on everything from funslopes and snowparks to ski-cross courses and the slopes. Measuring 166 inches wide and 348 inches long, its manoeuvrability has made it one of the most popular park vehicles on the market. It still packs quite a punch under the hood thanks to a Caterpillar C9.3 engine that produces 406 hp and 1,726 Nm of torque.
“It’s unique because it’s essentially a snow park version of the BISON standard winch,” Piekarz said, adding that a winch comes standard on the BISON X model; a unique feature. “It’s actually the only park winch in production. It’s exclusive to PRINOTH and very, very versatile.”
The HUSKY X is proof that big things come in small packages. Its compact design (201 inches by 96 inches by 105 inches) provides extreme manoeuvrability that makes it ideal for use at smaller ski resorts and parks. It’s also the first machine of its size to feature a flex tiller rather than a traditional straight bar tiller to grind snow and move it out.
“The flex tiller is two cutter bars that flex and conform to the snow better and leave a better surface,” Piekarz said.
This HUSKY X is also unique in that it features a well-appointed passenger cabin with climate control and leather seats that can comfortably seat up to nine passengers and offers a panoramic mountain view. At the Killington World Cup, during the bib ceremony, athletes were comfortably sitting in the passenger cabin waiting for their names to be called out.
Piekarz acknowledges that being involved in an event that is viewed by tens of thousands of ski enthusiasts from around the world is great exposure for his company and its products. “It’s quite the event. It’s a pretty awesome scene to be standing at the finish line area and watching the skiers as they come down,” he said.
“Obviously the exposure we get is great. But our main concern is always to take care of our customers and Killington is a great customer. We value that relationship and we want to be there to help them. Having the machines onsite and the exposure that comes along with that is pretty much the icing on the cake.”
That relationship dates several decades. Killington purchased a number of Bombardier groomers over the years before the company was purchased by PRINOTH and the HTI Group. It has added a growing number of PRINOTH products to its grooming fleet in more recent times.
“It’s kind of a big deal to make sure we put on the best show we could. From a grooming point of view, we want to make sure we have the best surface conditions for the athletes to train on and race on.”Dave Wright, Killington Resort
“We’ve had a great relationship with them for a long time, but it’s been strengthened the past four years or more,” Piekarz said. “I think a lot of that has been because we’ve been helpful in supplying machines for the World Cup and just being there with service and to support our products.”
That was especially true when it came time to prepare for the World Cup. PRINOTH’s demo team was at Killington a couple of weeks before the event to show Wright and the grooming team how the three new machines function and address any questions or concerns they had before the competition began.
“We’ve pushed really hard with our demo program because we’ve found that it’s really essential with the new machines and how much more technologically-advanced they are, that we have to show the customer all the features so they can really get the most out of it,” Piekarz said. “Service after the sale is extremely important to us. We invest a lot of time into making sure the customer is taken care of, they feel like their needs are met and they’re happy with the product.”
Wright agrees. In fact, he says it wasn’t uncommon for him to FaceTime Piekarz in the days leading up to the World Cup to discuss a question regarding one of the company’s machines and quickly resolve whatever the concern was.
While Wright has used a multitude of different grooming machines over the years, he says PRINOTH deserves top marks for making groomers that are very user-friendly.
“If I had to pick one thing, it would be the ease of use with their machines,” he said. “Even though their machines have evolved over the years, they’re still very similar to what I learned on 15 years ago. Because they’re so similar to what we’ve had in the past, it’s very easy to train someone to run their new models. It’s a quick learning curve, so to speak.”
With another World Cup now in the books, Killington can get back to the business of being one of the biggest and most popular ski areas in the Eastern U.S. That said, the World Cup will remain very much in the forefront of everyone’s minds at the resort as Killington is scheduled to host the Audi FIS Ski World Cup again in 2020.
The World Cup will also be part of PRINOTH’s focus in the immediate future. However, the company is also concentrating on the longer term. A major focus for the company moving forward is on sustainability and the environment. It’s moving ahead with plans to introduce Stage 5 engines in all of the machines it produces in the near future. It will also continue its work with Protect Our Winters (POW), a non-profit organization that brings together community leaders, athletes and businesspeople to help bring about systemic solutions to climate change.
One project the company is particularly excited about is its involvement in Big SNOW America’s indoor skiing facility located in East Rutherford, N.J. The 16-storey, 180,000-square-foot ski center opened in 2019, and features an 800-foot slope, chairlift, terrain park and ski school.
PRINOTH supplied the park’s owners with its HUSKY X groomer. The machine had to be lifted into the facility using a crane that hoisted it more than 100 feet in the air. Piekarz says the facility, which has been dubbed the “American Dream,” is the perfect showcase for the HUSKY X, which features an eco-friendly engine and the capacity to work in tight areas such as the ones found in an indoor ski center.
“Some people have claimed the air going out of the machine is cleaner than the air going in,” he laughed. “I’ve seen these machines running inside a garage with the doors closed and you can’t even tell it’s running from the sound.”