Mad River Glen - Why so Mad?
This week the GTNS went hard, hitting three mountains in three days,and sleeping in the car in true ski-bum fashion. The first stop in the trip, Mad River Glen.
I have been looking forward to visiting Mad River Glen probably more than almost any other mountain on my list. It is one of those mountains that has achieved 'legendary' status among ski circles for its extreme overall difficulty. It also has a reputation because it is one of three mountains left in the country that has an outright ban on snowboarding. It was odd going an entire day without seeing a snowboarder, especially considering most of my friends are snowboarders. Anyway, I got to Mad River bright and early, more eager than I ever have been to start skiing. I grabbed the fat skis, not knowing what kind of conditions I would find, but I figured that they would be more appropriate than my beat-to-hell park skis.
I jumped on the summit lift and headed up. Mad River Glen has the last remaining single chair lift in the country. I have to say, as I stood on the load marker watching the chair approach, I got kind of nervous about it. Would I miss the chair? Suddenly forget how to sit down? Its such a narrow target. After successfully sitting down, I proceeded to get even more antsy. Those chairs are really, REALLY narrow feeling once you are on them. I can't remember the last time I felt nervous on a chair lift for any reason. About half-way up I had relaxed enough to take some photos and check out my first view of the trails at Mad River. 'Liftline' and 'Chute' run underneath the chair, and offer some truly gnarly terrain. All of it open for riding. What was not covered in moguls was made of cliff and rock drops with a bit of glare ice here and there for good measure.
Once at the top, I began to understand the 'No Snowboarders' rule. To get anywhere from the summit lift, you have to go up. Its not a lot of elevation gain, but I can definitely see how having a herd of snowboarders around the summit could start to clog things up a little bit. Would it be bad enough to ban them from the mountain? I don't know. Anyway I took my summit picture, and figured I would start with the 'Antelope' trail.
Conditions were decent, firm but workable in most groomed places.Light patches of ice were present here and there but nothing too bad. The un-groomed trails however were a totally different story. Pretty much everywhere at Mad River that they do not groom turns into a bump run. That means that probably over 70% of the mountain turns into a bump run. Moguls varied from perfect and easy to grip to ice cubes with little warning. You could describe conditions as extremely variable.
The 'Antelope' trail was one hell of a ride. It rode like a roller-coaster in some places, and in others like a...well a roller-coaster covered in moguls. The end of it required a fairly lengthy up-hill hike to make it back to the base area, so be warned if you stray down the lower half. I continued to lap the single lift a few more times, trying some of the groomed trails to warm my legs up before straying into the real hard territory. Once I reached the summit after the second or third run,I made my way off the lift.From behind me I heard "Hey man, do you know how to get to Chad's gap?". I turned around to two guys who were very clearly Newschoolers. Mad River is the last place I would have expected to run into any fellow newschoolers, especially on a Tuesday. With essentially no park the chances were low. Turns out it was two members of the UVM freeskiing team, NS members McFellon and TheWeaz.
Having found some people to ride with, I was super excited. Little did I know these guys are fucking nuts. We headed down 'Chute' and on to 'Liftline' They rode this stuff like it was not even there, throwing huge airs over everything available and absolutely hammering their way through the bumps. I cannot even begin to understand how they were landing without issues considering what the snow was like. At some point during one of our runs I fell trying to keep up and absolutely nailed my thumb into the ground. A great way to start a 3 day ski trip. I took a few pictures of them when I managed to get ahead of them.
At one point while I followed them, they ducked into a forest without hesitation. I figured they must just be heading into a glade that had not been tracked up yet. It was not a glade, but a cliff drop. Having already come too far to back out, and having backed myself up against it in a very poorly planned way, I jumped off switch and rotated 90 to land, resulting in a hell of a smooth ride. Skiing with these guys is one hell of an experience.
This is NOT a glade, just a cliff.
After several runs of trying to keep up, I decided it was an unsustainable pace for me. There was simply no way I could keep that up all day and still be good for the next day. As we waited for some of their friends at the base, I asked if they could give me a little tour of 'Paridise'. By my research 'Paradise' is generally considered the hardest trail on the east coast. By my experience, it IS the hardest trail on the east coast. The UVM boys were more than happy to show me it (and keep an eye on me to make sure I didn't end up dead in there on my own). We ducked into the woods a good ways above the official trail entry and made our way down. Just below the official entry, you find this.
That is one hell of an ominous trail sign. I was already a little nervous going in, and that certainly did not help. Just past there, the fun really begins. According to the web, 'Paradise' features a sustained 40 degree grade through out almost the entire run, and also includes an almost mandatory drop over an 8 foot frozen waterfall. Luckily it seems the snow had been blown up against the drop, so I could get down without too much of an issue. The UVM crew bobbed and weaved their way down with relative ease, waiting for me to pick and choose the least suicidal route (especially considering the lack of deep snow). Once past the drop, things did not get any better. The trail consists of pretty much every kind of terrain imaginable, and after a short time really dives off into the forest. There is something seriously exhilarating about standing on a slope that steep with the knowledge that a fall will result in a very, very long tumble. No mistakes can be made here.
After having navigated 'The Long Trail' as they referred to it, I could see the trail at the bottom. Part of me was a little sad that I was already through. All I had to do though was navigate another 50 yards and I would have made it through unscathed. Unfortunately I picked a bad line out and popped a ski, resulting in a somersault into some deep powder, alarmingly close to a tree. I was fine, but still, falling in front of the locals and ruining my clean run through the hardest trail on the east coast was not what I wanted. After managing to get my skis back on and finishing out the run, we headed down. At the base I took a lunch break, and decided it would probably be better for my health if I did not continue riding with them. They hooked me up with a load of stickers (including one of the Wu-Tang logo, with 'for the children' written through it, my favorite) and headed off to I assume throw themselves off the biggest cliffs on the mountain with a reckless disregard for safety.
I spent the rest of the day cruising around the mountain. I made sure to take another run into the lower half of 'Paradise' just to ski through where I fell so I knew I could do it. I went in with some Tele skiers and had a great time watching them struggle their way through the extreme terrain. It must have been hell on them.
Mad River Glen definitely lived up to its reputation for me. It is also the only mountain I will ever say should not get rid of their old, slow lift. The single is extremely unique and very interesting. Not to mention you will be glad of the forced break it makes you take, because hot-laps here would be absolutely brutal on the legs. I would say, however that Mad River Glen is not a 'family-resort'. Their blue trails are like most other mountains black-diamonds, snowboarders are not allowed and you can't even sit together on the way up. Mad River is for one type of skier and one type of skier only. The expert skier, the hardcore, the crazy. The kids who learned to ski here will be some of the best skiers of tomorrow, guaranteed. The only thing I would do to Mad River is move it closer to my house. It is now one of my favorite mountains.
With the lifts spun down, I headed to Burlington, having never been. I checked out downtown before deciding to have dinner at the Vermont Pub and Brewery. They make a damn fine burger, and some good beer there. With nothing left to do for the night, I headed to Bolton, who said they did not care if I slept in my car there. I settled in and rested up for the next stop on my trip.
Keep an eye out for part 2 of my trip, coming soon to a Newschoolers.com near you!
If you missed my Jay Peak write up, check it out HERE!