Why I Live and Ski in Vermont
Two days at Mad River Glen: all it takes to understand the Green Mountains' unique draw.
January 30th, 2018.
It was Mad River Glen’s 69th anniversary, and I sat quietly in the parking lot—skeptically gazing uphill with my engine running. Rock, grass, and ice consumed a good portion of mountain, with strips of snow wedged in between. Temperatures hovered barely over 10 degrees. Thick gusts of wind pounded against my car windows, almost as if they were telling me to just go home.
“‘Loud Powder’ is about as generous a euphemism that we can use in describing our current state of affairs,” read the ski area’s almost-too-honest snow report. “A wee bit of rain on Saturday night fell on what was already pretty, ummm ‘stiff’ skiing, resulting in a glaze, especially on the bottom half of the mountain… A few good turns can be found between the ice flows, and generally ‘scrapey’ surfaces.”
No one could deny it: these conditions were brutal. But I turned my engine off anyways, booted up, then walked into the ticket office. And I did this for a couple of reasons: I’m a stubborn Vermonter who will ski among any weather or snow conditions out of pride; and, Mad River Glen was selling day tickets for $3.50, honoring their original 1949 pricing. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, no matter how “loud” or “stiff” or “scrapey” the snow was.
Upon reaching the base lodge, I was greeted by a string of local vendors on the front deck who dished out Vermont specialty food samples: cheese, maple syrup, ice cream, salsa, you name it. These small, homegrown companies shared my stubbornness and optimism; they too battled the elements to spend a winter’s day at Mad River Glen, and to celebrate the iconic ski area’s anniversary. I sampled everything, pocketed a few extra cheddar squares, and hopped on the single-chair lift.
During the ascent, with each passing lift tower, my mood continued to improve. The skies had cleared just enough to see the Mad River Valley, below—with its various hues of blue and purple and gray. And, when I reached the summit, the rugged conditions I was once weary of provided a surprisingly fun adventure I won’t soon forget. Each run went a lot like this: scrape down a patch of ice for 10 feet, hop over a shrub of sorts, blurt out a crazy sound (like “woah!” or “yew!”), straight-line into any locatable snow, then repeat. It was awesome. It was East Coast grit at its finest. And Mad River Glen’s famous motto, “Ski It If You Can,” made more sense than ever.
Photo courtesy of Connor W. Davis
March 15th, 2018.
I returned to Mad River Glen and winter’s tables had turned. A Nor’easter recently deposited several feet of light powder that blanketed nearly everything in sight—leaving only the trunks of trees and underbellies of cliffs exposed. The parking lot was nearly full before first chair, and a man wearing a neon-green snowmobile jacket directed cars and trucks towards the few remaining spots like an aircraft marshal—excitedly pointing and bending his bright arms every which way.
As the single-chair whisked me upwards, I observed my surroundings in slow motion. Snowflakes circled throughout the air, not landing on the ground but, instead, almost blowing upwards, as if Mother Nature was saving them for another day. Skiers weaved between the trees below, making joyous animal calls to one another every few seconds. Kids tumbled into the powder and laughed hysterically as they searched for their tiny skis. A young mother made small and cautious turns with her daughter strapped to her chest—no more than six months old, and fast asleep.
The single-chair zen was soon interrupted by fast, fun powder skiing—some of the best I’ve ever had. My local tour guide, Alex Kaufman, led me every which way—into rabbit-hole-like woods entrances, through glorious trees lines, and down narrow chutes that spit us out with ear-to-ear grins.
“So good,” we kept saying to one another. “So good.”
These two days at Mad River Glen were different for obvious reasons; skiing ice versus powder, of course, created the largest disparity of all. But, looking back, I find that these experiences were really quite similar because there was a constant positivity through it all—making conditions an irrelevant factor in the end. That’s why I love skiing in Vermont. That’s why I live here. That’s why I’m getting married here this summer, and why I’ll raise a family here, too. We make due with what we have, which helps us realize over and over that what we have is really great.
Like Warren always said, “The best place in the world to ski is where you’re skiing that day.”
Photo courtesy of Connor W. Davis. Skier Alex Kaufman.