The Way Skiing Used To Be

No 45

The only remaining single-chair ski lift in the United States is in central Vermont, at a no-frills mountain called Mad River Glen. The place is unique in America, if not the world—a throwback to a time before the corporatization of the ski industry, one whose sense of history and distaste for frippery are pure New England. Mad River does very little snowmaking. It does not allow snowboards. It offers nothing in the way of slope-side accommodation, and an after-ski (don't call it après) scene that consists of a single, modest bar.

It's not so much complacency as stony resilience that has kept Mad River from changing with the times. When, in 2007, the mountain restored its original single chair—which had been in operation since it opened, in 1948—it spent $300,000 more than it would have cost to install a new and more efficient double chair. The skiers wanted it that way. And at Mad River, the only skier-owned mountain in the States, the skiers call the shots.

Call it an artisanal ski resort if you like. Just don't call it easy. Mad River's slogan, “Ski It If You Can," reflects both the gung-ho spirit of mountain regulars and the difficulty of the terrain. The classic run is Paradise, with its 38-degree pitch, the steepest in New England. The trails, hand-cut by farmers nearly 70 years ago, follow natural contours. The overall feel is wild, not groomed, and the rock ledges are a defining feature.

The ski area's founder was a New York investment banker named Roland Palmedo. An outdoorsman, Palmedo loved his adopted mountain town so much that he took one-gallon jugs of Mad River Valley water with him when he traveled. He made his kids and grandkids pay to ski. He put sport first and profits second, and expected his fellow investors to do the same. “Gentlemen," he once told his board of directors early on, when the venture was struggling, “if you expected this Corporation to make money, you've invested in the wrong business."

Purist that he was, Palmedo ignored ski trends and pretty much anything else that came along claiming to enhance the experience. “He really was never interested in hula hoops and superfluous jazz," long-time general manager and president Ken Quackenbush recalls in A Mountain Love Affair, Mary K. Kerr's history of Mad River Glen. Subsequent owners, including the cooperative that took over in 1995, have, owing in large part to their longstanding connection to the mountain, stayed true to Palmedo's vision. Nearly as old as Mad River Glen itself is the awareness, among locals and loyalists alike, that the place is special. It was billing itself as “the last of the truly New England ski resorts" as long ago as 1970.

Credits

  • Director & Cinematographer - Michael Clarke
  • Producer(S) - Darrell & Oliver Hartman
  • Associate Producer - Biz Lindsay
  • Sound Recording - Oliver Hartman
  • Color - Ashley Ayarza
  • Audio Mix - Josh Wilson
  • Text - Darrell Hartman

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