|Mad River Glen Ski Area, Vermont|
|Mad River Glen is a ski area frozen in time, preserved as a place for ardent, purist skiers who want to experience the sport the way it was before the developers moved in.|
Mad River Glen, near Waitsfield VT (map), is for ardent, purist skiers, and is proud of it.
Big-time development changed most other ski resorts, but Mad River sees its role in life as being to maintain a 1950s ski resort spirit and challenge well into the 21st century.
Mad River Glen is owned by a skiers' cooperative of nearly 2000 members dedicated to preserving the ski area's uniqueness, and the natural beauty of the mountain.
"Ski it if you can" is the slogan here, and the challenge is accentuated by the annual Mad River Glen Triple Crown: an Unconventional Terrain competition (rocks, small jumps, steep slopes, even cliffs), the Vertical Challenge (only on the steepest, straightest trails), and the knee-punishing Mogul Challenge.
Telemark is big at Mad River Glen, and the annual North American Telemark Festival is held here each March.
You get a special feeling of accomplishment after a day on the slopes here, but it's not just for hard-bitten skiers: there are good kids' programs and lessons as well.
Where else can you find a single-chair ski lift? Mad River Glen had one of the first ski lifts in the USA (1947), and it's still in operation—the only single chair lift in the Lower 48 states.
Formerly driven by a diesel engine, the 1.25-mile (2-km), 147-seat single-chair lift underwent a $1.8 million restoration and renovation in 2007. An environmentally-friendly electric motor replaced the noisy, smelly diesel, the towers were re-footed, and new chairs replaced the old ones—but it remains a single chair lift, which is the way Mad River skiers like it.
They like the contemplative 10-minute ride to the top of the mountain, and the fact that a single chair lift keeps the volume of skiers lower—more like the old days.
There are several other lifts (including two double chairs), and some snowmaking capability (50%), but the point is this: General Stark Mountain (3662 feet/1116 meters) is a challenging mountain (good mostly for experienced intermediate and expert skiers, but with some slopes for the less experienced), and it's kept that way for the joy of those who love the challenge.
Services such as trail grooming and patrols are minimal, the base lodge facilities are "primitive" by the current standards of the more highly-developed Vermont ski resorts, but all this only adds to the old-time atmosphere.
Though Mad River Glen has a terrain park, it's for skiers only. The facilities are not well adapted to snowboarding, and to keep the ski spirit intact, snowboarding is not allowed. If you want that, they suggest nearby Sugarbush. In fact, dedicated skiers can purchase ski packages that include lift tickets for both Sugarbush and Mad River Glen.
The vertical drop is 2,075 feet (632 meters), with 45 ski trails (8 green, 16 blue, 21 black), and four ski lifts (three double chairs and the famous old single-chair).
The preponderance of trails (4/5 of them) are for moderately well-trained or expert skiers, although the Birdland area is for novice and beginning-intermediate skiers.
Not up for skiing? Try snowshoeing on the miles of marked trails around General Stark Mountain.
Mad River Glen is west of VT Route 100, an easy drive along Route 17 from Waitsfield VT (map):
Bolton Valley Ski Resort: 45 miles (72 km) N, 1 hour
Boston MA: 180 miles (290 km) SE, 3.5 hours
Hartford CT: 196 miles (315 km) S, 3.75 hours
Montpelier VT: 32 miles (52 km) E, 50 minutes
New York City: 295 miles (475 km) S, 6 hours
Sugarbush Ski Resort: 10 miles (16 km) S, 20 minutes
Stowe Mountain Ski Resort: 40 miles (64 km) N, 1 hour
Mad River Glen has a ski shop, rental shop, a ski school, and a nursery.
—by Tom Brosnahan