KILLINGTON — While this was the third year the World Cup has drawn upwards of 30,000 people to Killington Ski Resort, it’s the first time the resort’s founder has been on the slopes to witness it in person.
“I really want to see it because this is my dream come true,” said Preston Leete Smith, whose height, dark blond hair, and jovial manner belie the fact that he’ll be 89 years old in two months. Smith was on the mountain Saturday at the base of the Superstar trail, where the Audi FIS Ski World Cup was being held.
The event’s opening ceremonies began Friday, with ski competitions Saturday and Sunday. Resort spokespeople said they expected at least 35,000 people to show up but hoped to beat last year’s record and hit 40,000.
This year will be the mountain’s 60th year in operation. According to a 2012 New York Times report, Smith, Joseph Sargent and Wally Morrison were partners in the Sherburne Corporation, the company that bought the mountain.
“I began looking at the mountain in 1955, and in 1956 my financial partner and I formed a company that April. We opened for business in December of 1958,” said Smith, who is called “Pres” by the many, many people who shout greetings to him as they pass by.
“This is all your doing,” said Lori Budney, a World Cup volunteer and owner of a local ski shop, as she passed by Smith while carrying a big pot of coffee. “I’m so glad they always do stuff the way you would do it.”
Smith said the company he and the others founded was always a publicly traded company, and in 1996 they sold it.
“When you’re a public company and somebody makes an offer that’s reasonable, it’s something that should be entertained for the benefit of the stockholders,” he said. “So somebody came along and made an offer we had to give to the stockholders, and (we) sold the company in 1996.”
Poor circulation in his hands has kept him from skiing for many years, he said.
“These fingers will turn blue in a few minutes,” he said. “But now I’ve got electrically heated gloves, I might be able to go back at it again. It’s a great sport.”
A Florida resident for many years, Smith said he enjoys rollerblading, having been a skater in his younger years. He also walks four miles a day.
Smith said he wasn’t able to attend the past two World Cup events as he was busy changing homes down in Florida. He does come to Vermont in the summer, however, to see his daughter, Leslie Smith, an accomplished skier who competed in the 1976 Winter Olympics. She now lives in the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont and was with her father Saturday.
Both were eager to meet crowd favorite Mikaela Shiffrin, having met with her family members earlier in the day.
“She did such an awesome job,” said Preston Smith. “She’s good on the mic.”
“She’s a great role model,” said Leslie.
Smith said he’s impressed with how far Killington Resort has come in the six decades since it was founded. It’s been used to train Olympic skiers and has helped boost the town of Killington’s reputation.
“They have done a magnificent job,” he said. “I don’t know any way they can improve on it. It’s exciting all the way around, in between (runs) and the bands, and great skiing. You can see the cars lined up on the road.”
Indeed, vehicles were parked all along the side of Killington Road and most parking lots were filled by early morning. Buses from several companies were constantly moving skiers and spectators between hotel parking lots and the resort.
Smith said Killington Mountain is well designed, allowing people to find good skiing in all manner of weather.
“(The World Cup) is putting Killington on the map around the world,” Smith said.