by Mitch Kaplan, Ski Editor

Somehow when you're talking about Vermont skiing, it's easy to overlook Pico Peak, which perches in the state's central hills just on the west side of Rutland and a tad east of eastern skiing's king - Killington.

Pico doesn't offer scores upon scores of trails but, for those skiing with kids, especially smaller ones, Pico's 42 trails on three peaks present plenty of skiing and their family-friendly atmosphere offers fun with peace of mind.

Family ski pleasures.


We rediscovered Pico a few seasons back when I got wind of their Sunday morning lift ticket. This half-day concept fills perfectly a delicate niche for weekend skiers who must make the five-hour (or more) Sunday night drive home to New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania. Giving it a try one weekend, we began realizing things we'd forgotten about the place. Like the fact that it's small; that the base lodge is simply laid out (a picnic table room for bag lunches downstairs, cafeteria a mid-level, friendly little bar/restaurant upstairs) and generally uncrowded; that their children's center is beautifully equipped and staffed; that the atmosphere is so family, we were far more relaxed and therefore had more fun skiing.

Pricing, too, evidences Pico's commitment to families. They've held the line on all basic prices for a while now and, two seasons back, actually lowered the prices on junior packages of two days and more. "Junior" is defined as 14 and under, instead of the usual 12, and kids' lift ticket prices aren't jacked up during peak season. The ski area has teamed up with M&M/Mars for a Salute to the Winter Olympic Games, nine days of special family events that coincide with the President's Week school vacation period. Staging specials during peak season really is something special.

But is it real Vermont skiing? Is there enough vertical and challenge? Truth: at first it didn't seem like it; the trails you first encounter off the new Golden Express high-speed quad are easy cruisers. But, a series of classic, "Hey Dad, let's go this way," impulses changed my mind. (Follow the kids and you'll always find the niftiest nooks and crannies.) The place has its more than its share of moments.

Pico does offer at the base all the necessary amenities for a full vacation - hotel, condos, fitness center, restaurants, etc., but it makes the offer on an approachable scale. There are a plethora of nearby motels and inns, cross country skiing centers, and even snowmobiling (and a super Vermont Sunday Brunch) at the nearby Cortina Inn. Pico shines for groups made up of skiers of very different ages and abilities. Everybody can let 'em rip - because there's only one base area and everything comes right back to it. Telling my kids to "Go for it, we'll meet you at the bottom," unleashed a new sense of freedom for me. No wonder so many local families ski Pico.

FOR INFORMATION: 1-800-898-PICO (7426)