The Soul Gallery: Betsy Pratt

The steward of Mad River Glen

Betsy Pratt, irascible ski area maverick, born 1928. PHOTO: Scott Markewitz

Betsy Pratt, irascible ski area maverick, born 1928. PHOTO: Scott Markewitz

The Soul Gallery, a tribute to iconic figures who defined skiing, originally ran in the January 2014 issue (42.5). As pure as snowflakes drifting through the sky, each winter represents a clean slate—an opportunity to meet new people, accomplish new goals, learn lessons about yourself and nature, and be reborn as you fly through deep powder snow. What happens when you can experience this every season throughout a lifetime? What lessons do you learn? What can you accomplish when you ski not just for years, but decades?

For a handful of old timers, the annual return of winter gives them the means to influence everyone around them. Season after season, storm after storm, they see things differently than everyone else, and they keep at it long after others slow down or simply give up. They are the pioneers, visionaries, innovators, artists, and warriors who are fully committed. Eventually, their accomplishments help define an entire sport.

Today, these skiers remind us where we came from and what lessons we can learn in order to follow in their tracks.

There’s a legend that people like to tell about Betsy Pratt. She claims it never happened, but this is how it goes: In 1995, Les Otten, who’d just started building his resort empire with the American Skiing Company, made an offer to buyout Mad River Glen, which Pratt had presided over during the previous 20 years.

Pratt is responsible for starting the cooperative that owns Mad River Glen. PHOTO: Scott Markewitz

Pratt is responsible for starting the cooperative that owns Mad River Glen. PHOTO: Scott Markewitz

“When he approached her at the bar, she took a drag off her big corncob pipe, blew the smoke in his face, and told him where he could stick the check,” says Eric Freidman, marketing director at Mad River Glen. “Then she sold it to skiers for half the price, and financed it interest free until she sold enough shares.”

And so the cooperative ski area was born. Whether that’s how it happened or not, the cooperative has nevertheless managed to sustain Mad River Glen as a skier’s mountain, where the natural terrain itself is the sole draw—not real estate. “It was her idea to create this vehicle to run the mountain because the only people she trusted were the skiers themselves,” says Friedman.

In typical hard-nose fashion, Pratt is reluctant to take credit for the success of the cooperative. She says she merely followed the vision set forth by Mad River Glen’s founder, Roland Palmedo, who believed that mountains were there not to be destroyed for profit, but enjoyed for recreation.

“You just don’t improve on nature, in my opinion,” says Pratt, who now spends most of her time on the golf courses between Vermont and North Carolina. “If someone is going to be here in hundreds of years, it doesn’t seem fair for us to rip everything up.”

Also in The Soul Gallery: Hugh Evans

Add a comment

  • David Deioma

    Nice article Matt. Let me know when you are back on the west coast.

  • ephman86

    Not exactly how the deal went down according to the sources close to the early co-op. Most early proposals Betsy floated had the skiers putting in all the money but she maintaining control.

  • MisterMRG

    Totally not a true story – Eric has a romantic memory of what happened. ephman86 is completely right – the profit motive was very strong and co-op owners have little control over operations.

  • Kathleen Burns Kingsbury

    No matter what the story is the place is magical! Thanks Betsy.

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