Peter Hines

by Peter Hines
Webmaster and contributor

Photos by the Author

Mad River Glen: Ski It When You Can

In over 30 years of skiing in the Northeast I had never skied Mad River Glen. I've seen the bumper sticker for years "MAD RIVER GLEN SKI IT IF YOU CAN! Frankly, I found it ominous.

Mad River Glen Bumper Sticker

The opportunity to ski Mad River Glen presented itself in early February.

In a word Mad River Glen is unique. It is not a full service area like Killington, Mount Snow or Sugarbush. It has a special flavor of skiing that can only be found in a few places.

Mad River Glen is not huge. It has 115 acres of skiable terrain on 45 marked trails plus another 800 acres of off-piste skiing, small by big mountain standards. But what it lacks in size it makes up in character.

While the slogan challenges one to "SKI IT IF YOU CAN" I found that any advanced beginner can find trails all over the mountain. However, there is tough terrain including some off-piste sections that are very challenging.

We skied on a Tuesday. It had snowed the day before and continued to snow the entire day. There was powder and bumps everywhere. Little or no grooming had occurred. It was truly an East coast powder day; a day for the hardy and the kind of day that people spend going skiing rather than going to work.

Only two of the four chair lifts were operating the day we were there. The Birdland double and the "Historic Single Chair". These two lifts provided access to the entire area and there were no lift lines. We found green and blue trails all the way to the bottom from both.

MRG Single Chair
The Historic Single Chair

The Single Chair is an experience. Single does not imply old. While it first started operation in 1948, it was rehabbed in 2007. Each chair bears a plaque that has the name of the person(s) who donated $5,000 towards the lift's modernization.

I generally enjoy a lift ride as a time to chat with friends or make new acquaintances. The Single Chair did not seem as lonely as I thought it would. I find riding a multi-person chair by myself a lonely experience but this was not true on the Single Chair. The Single Chair allows one to enjoy the solitude and reflect on the day and the surroundings.

The single chair has a mid-station which is often operated by Brian Aust. There is always music playing and Aust takes requests via his FaceBook Page.

According to MRG's Marketing Director Eric Freidman, Aust was going through too many batteries for his boom box. One of the Mad River shareholders built a solar array to run his sound system and charge the batteries. The array faces south around the mid-station and now skiers and Aust have an uninterrupted supply of music. This would happen only at Mad River.

MRG Mid Station Solar panels
The solar array at the Single Chair Mid Station

Mad River Glen boasts some of the most challenging terrain in the East. Much of it is off the Single Chair. Even with good snow to cover the bumps, trees and cliffs the terrain was daunting. Paradise is a combination of thickly treed glades and open headwalls. From Paradise the best skiers can move over to Octopus Gardens and then on to Three Cliffs.

Paradise Trail
Heading Down Paradise

Nine of us started down Paridise and we were always cognizant of where the rest of the group was. It is easy to get separated in the trees. After about 35 minutes we arrived at the bottom exhausted, but exhilarated.

The Lodge at Mad River Glen is a throwback to a bygone era. It is cozy, not expansive. Its knotty pine walls add to its rustic character. It has a stone fireplace that is continually full of logs and provides warmth to those who are cold and wet.

Mad River Glen Lodge
The Mad River Glen Lodge

Unlike most ski areas, Mad River Glen is a skier owned cooperative of shareholders. Shares can be purchased for $2,000. This arrangement has allowed Mad River to focus on skiing as a sport rather than an industry. MRG's mission is to preserve a low density skiing experience. The cooperative has operated in the black for the past 10 years. Not every ski resort can make that statement.

Snowboards are noticably missing at Mad River Glen. They simply are not allowed and according to Friedman, it's probably going to stay that way. Friedman recalled a recent shareholder meeting where someone suggested that allowing riders should be discussed. The room went silent and after what seemed like an extended period of time someone yelled "get the rope".

Mad River Glen offers mountain experiences that are difficult to find anywhere else. Its uniqueness reminds me of skiing in the 50's and 60's, when trails were narrow, steep and left ungroomed.

SKI IT IF YOU CAN!

Mad River Glen Cooperative
PO Box 1089
Waitsfield, VT 05673
(802) 496-3551
http://www.madriverglen.com/
ski@madriverglen.com

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