Never Bored at Mad River
A ski trip to Mad River Glen should make almost every skier’s list of must-do trips. It’s amazing that this rural Vermont ski area often gets included as a “must-visit” destination with the famous resorts of Europe, Japan, and the American West. As a local New England skier, Mad River Glen should be a mandatory mountain to visit, and as a New England telemark skier, visiting mad River Glen equates to more of a pilgrimage than a trip. Somehow, despite my passion for skiing and telemark skiing and my relative proximity to Mad River Glen (under three hours), I had never visited the fabled ski area. Fortunately, on a friend’s suggestion, I finally made the journey to the iconic Vermont mountain last weekend.
What makes Mad River Glen so special? It’s hard to say, but what attracted me is that they appear to truly embody the soul of skiing by remaining focused on what really matters…skiing. While so many other resorts seem to focus on lodging, restaurants, and creature comforts, the draw of Mad River Glen is the terrain. With very little grooming and minimal snow making, Mad River Glen intends for you to visit a ski area, not a ski resort. Also, it has not sanitized the experience of skiing by rolling out a smooth, perfectly maintained blanket of fresh corduroy every day; the mountain is left in a more natural state and demands you demonstrate some actual skill on skis.
Go to most ski resorts these days and they brag about their high-speed quads, gondolas, and trams that whisk you to the top of the perfectly groomed trails in rapid time. Eschewing modern convention Mad River Glen’s single chair lift is perhaps the most iconic feature of the mountain. It can be a long, slow, lonely ride up the single chair, but the runs are worth it. The mountain’s motto “ski it if you can” truly applies to the chutes, steeps, bumps, and cliffs you find off the top of the mountain.
Even the modest local ski hills I have frequented the last few years have base operations that make Mad River Glen’s base lodge seem antiquated (a nice way of putting it) at best, but who cares? The base lodge at Mad River Glen feels more like you are walking into someone’s ski house than an actual place of business. As skiers prepare for a day on the slopes, the smell of the grill wafts through the cafeteria—and if you didn’t want a bacon, egg, and cheese before, you will want one the second you walk in. A sense of community is present throughout the base as it seems everyone there knows everyone else. Truly rounding out the base operation is the bar, which, in true Vermont fashion, has a handful of delicious locally brewed beers on tap.
Perhaps what separates Mad River Glen from other ski resorts more than anything is that it’s skiers only—no snowboards allowed. Since I came to skiing from snowboarding, I have no ill will toward snowboarders, unlike many of my raised-in-a-skiing-family friends. In fact, I believe much of the skiers vs. snowboarders feud is silly, and people get upset at opposing groups for no real reason. In truth, people acting like jerks happens regardless of their chosen mode of sliding down a hill. In my experience, acting like an asshole is pretty evenly distributed among the two groups. I think the true testament to how little this actually matters is that it wasn’t until the ride home that I thought back on the day and realized there were no snowboarders there. The lack of snowboarders had zero impact on my day, and when I think of all the other things that make Mad River Glen great, part of me is sad that a part of the population misses out on it.
I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally visit Mad River Glen. The place is incredible and embodies everything I love about the sport. The sense of community is incredible and I love how people can bond over something as simple as a place and an activity. In fact, it reminds me of the group I finally visited Mad River Glen with: four friends who, over the years, have kept in touch but haven’t seen each other much. All of us are in different places in our lives—married and unmarried, kids and no kids, home owners and renters, career focused and never really wanting a career—yet we are able to bond, meet up, get together, and stay in touch through something as silly as sliding on top of snow.