We started out twice on the morning we planned to meet up with our host at Mad River Glen. German Flats Road is slippery and winding. One of those mountain roads that you only find in ski states like Vermont, where there are signs dotting the roadway that say Moose Crossing. Clearly, we’re not in London anymore.
All along the highway on the way into Vermont I marvelled at the strange winding single lane mountain roads. Our GPS threaded us through the APP Gap, and eventually we made it through to Sugarbush Resort where we stayed. For two days we skied, did lessons and explored the local restaurants and shops. American Flatbread and Mint are well worth a visit. The chance to visit Mad River Glen came up and we were thrilled to try the legendary expert terrain.
Piling ski gear into the back of our van, we pause and check the weather app again. Minus 11. Perfect for skiing. We head straight down German Flats road without much difficulty and then we turn left up a narrower road that promises to lead us to Mad River Glen. The girls are both excited about trying a new mountain today. Another big family adventure. But, the van’s tires have other plans.
Last night it snowed a fair bit and the roads are covered. Again, this often makes for fantastic ski conditions, but this portion of the narrow single lane road starts to climb and weave around another corner and suddenly we are stuck. We can’t get any higher. The signs for Mad River Glen are in sight. We could almost abandon the van in a stranger’s driveway and walk with our skis. Inching back down the hill slowly, we reverse into a driveway and coast back down the hill. “We’ll give it one more try,” he says.
One more time Jim revs the engine and we climb the hill. This time we don’t even make it three quarters of the way up the road. I text Eric Friedman at Mad River Glen and let him know we can’t make it after all. Stuck van. Can’t climb the hill. So sorry.
Yesterday, during lessons at Sugarbush Resort, someone asked what our plans were for today. I told her we were heading to Mad River Glen to ski for the day. She paused, weighed her words and advised me: “There are a lot of narrow trails there. Not many greens. You won’t find much for you.” Still, I was willing to give it a try. Looking forward to it even, but the road, the van, and the weather have other ideas.
We turn back and drive to the Sugarbush Inn. I check my phone for emails and texts. Eric emails back. I’ll meet you. Then because I advise that we are already back at Sugarbush. I can come and get you and drive you. My Jeep will make it up the hill, no question, he says. Ten minutes later we load four sets of skis and gear into his Jeep and sure enough his Jeep, his tires with the metal studs, legal in only a very few states, gets us there.
Inside the quaint Basebox Lodge, we suit up for a cold ride up the mountain.
There’s no denying the surroundings here at Mad River Glen are unique and gorgeous. Everything is skiable. Everything is authentic. From the heavens, not the hoses. That’s the slogan. I make Eric repeat that. From the heavens not the hoses, as in the snow here is real snow. And it’s really heavy today as we jump off the chairlift and pause to read the map at the top. Deep snow banks flank both sides of the trails. The kind of snow that pulls you off course if you aren’t in control.
Of all the places we have skied this one sticks with us the most this year. Weeks after we return home my husband is still checking their Facebook feed for conditions. We both are mentally filing this one at the top of the list and crossing our fingers we can return to ski it again. Next time we will be so much better at this.
What is so Unique About Mad River Glen?
Eric skis with us for much of the afternoon. We tour the historic coop ski destination that is only for skiers. There’s so much that is appealing about that. Sorry snowboarders, but skiers hate the giant divots you often leave on the trails. And I am not a fan of looking over my shoulder hoping a boarder won’t cut me off. Here there is none of that. Their motto is Mad River Glen, Ski it if you can. And we did.
The views from the top are more than worth the effort to get there. The chairlift is brutally cold, so be warned. Dress for the weather. And don’t even think about not bringing a helmet. Helmets are not optional here. This is skiing as it should be. Peaceful, beautiful, trees boughs all heavy with layer upon layer of all the different types of snow imaginable.
Mad River Glen is the only cooperatively owned ski area in North America. It originally opened in January 1949 with a unique single chair lift that is one of those things that makes this spot so authentic and quirky. The single chair lift was replaced a few years ago with a newer version of a single chair lift, which operates today and is a bit of a curiosity. Solitude on a chair lift is not a bad thing, especially when you’ve jumped on multiple chair lifts elsewhere with 4 and 5 strangers.
I can’t promise that you will be picked up in person as we were… but I can assure you the views and the trails are more than worth it. The tree skiing is madness. Even on this quiet February day after a brief snowstorm there are people weaving in and out of the trees, skiing downhill with passion. Jumping waterfalls and doing backflips, is something I can’t even wrap my head around. But this is the spot to challenge yourself.
After our first run down hill and my first excellent wipe out near Chipmunk Bowl, I am paired with one of the East Coast’s top ski instructors, Leigh Clark. Leigh is one of Ski Magazines Top 100 Ski Instructors. Yes, I lucked out there.
Leigh Clark helps me adjust my stance and my hips and reminds me to lean down the mountain. We began skiing two years ago when we all were flown to Tremblant and given lessons for the first time ever. My kids will often say when we are leaving for a big trip like this – “But why are we doing lessons again?” Because every ski hill is different. Every resort is different and every single year you can learn something new to build on the basics.
Leigh helps me to finally see that leaning down the hill makes sense physically. Other instructors have said this, but I wasn’t able to do it. Intuitively, the part of my brain that kept telling me I’ll fall if I lean down the hill, finally feels that this actually works. For the rest of the season I am able to build on that. Highly recommend doing one of the women only clinics here at Mad River Glen, or taking a lesson or two with Leigh. She also teaches me to turn with poles. Pole turns and leaning down the hill are two things I gained from a one hour lesson with her. Can’t even imagine how much better I could be if I stayed for a week or two.
A Few More Facts For Skiers and Visitors:
- Visitors stay at one of the inns and lodges in the area. Highlights include the Hyde Away, Waitsfield Inn, The Mill Brook Inn, Weathertop Lodges and the Yellow Farm House Inn. Sugarbush Inn and Resort is not far away either and not competition to Mad River Glen. You can stay at any of the above accommodations and ski either area. Check them out at: http://www.madriverglen.com/?site=full
- Mad River Glen has 1,800 plus shareholders owning 2,300 shares. They make almost all of their revenue from tickets and passes. Remember it’s a ski area and not a resort. The cooperative is dedicated to maintaining the classic experience and the natural terrain of the mountain.
- All of the trails are named for animals. Lark, Loon and Chipmunk for instance.
- Don’t ski the woods after 3 p.m.
- The woods are not patrolled.
- Single Chair Lift – Length 5,610 feet, Vertical is 2,037 feet
- Double Chair Lift (Sunnyside) – Length 4,300 and Vertical is 1,405
- There’s also a Ski School, ski shop and a nursery called The Cricket Club for kids ages 6 months to 6 years old.
When our hands and feet are excruciatingly cold, balaclavas coated with ice and crusty, and two of our sets of goggles completely frozen on the inside, we stop for late lunch. One of the nicest features of this authentic ski experience is that all trails lead to the base near General Stark’s Pub. So your entire family could ski different runs if they wanted and you would still wind up here together at the base.
General Stark’s Pub at Mad River Glen:
The French onion soup, hot chocolate and cider hit the spot. Somebody ordered deep fried breaded green beans and I snuck several, which were fantastic. Ainsley had a massive burger that I’d never be able to finish in this lifetime. And the grilled cheese is rumoured to be bigger than your head. There’s a Free Cabot Cheese fondue every Thursday.
Go ski your ❤️ out at Mad River Glen! I promise it will be memorable.
We were guests of Sugarbush Resort and Mad River Glen when we visited this winter. My opinion is all my own and it is always truthful.