Passing Through: Mad River Valley

Mad River Glen and Sugarbush: be there if you can

The solitude of the legendary Single Chair at Mad River Glen, Vermont, doesn’t last long. “Holy shit dude!” my buddy turns to yell at me. The forecast called for ten inches, and we rallied early to have our way with the bounty. The weatherman grossly underestimated the storm and with sleepy eyes we saw around two feet blanking the perfectly spaced wooded runs of Mad River on a deep March base.

Mad River Glen is a throwback resort. Cooperatively owned, it’s the only ski area in the country that is on the National Register of Historic places, having restored their original Single Chair in 2007. Founded by Roland Palmedo, an original investor at Stowe and a renaissance man when it came to building trails and glades, the idea of MRG was that a “a ski area is not just a place of business, a mountain amusement park, as it were. Instead it is a winter community whose members, both skiers and area personnel, are dedicated to the enjoyment of the sport.” The notion still rings true when skiing the all natural (MRG has minimal snowmaking) timeless terrain. The trails are classic New England: gladed stashes are on the map, and the ones which aren’t, are even better. Located in the Waitsfield Valley of Vermont and next door to Sugarbush Ski Resort. The Valley, as it’s called by locals, boasts a more down-to-earth attitude in Northern Vermont compared to the likes of Stowe.

Heading south on Route 100 from Waterbury, you quickly discover the laid back and agricultural heritage of The Valley. Dairy farm silos and dirt roads immediately peel off the main highway as you pull into Waitsfield. Passing through town you can either head toward Mad River Glen or continue south to the town of Warren and Sugarbush.

Stashes
Mad River Glen: Riding the single chair, exit right to Chute or Paradise. These famous two trails spill off the ridge upon reaching the top of the single, and when they are properly filled-in they may have the best skiing in New England. They are littered with side stashes and small cliffs scattered throughout the descent. You can also choose Fall-line, the trail directly underneath the chair. From there, follow the likely sounds of The Grateful Dead, blasting at the mid-station, and be prepped to Hollywood style some zipper-line bumps if it’s not a powder day. Once those zones are tracked, either head to the double chair and find stashes off Partridge or grab a local and traverse beyond Paradise and into the Octopus Garden, which hold gnarly steep trees and ice drops. Bring your A-game as these aren’t mellow trees for the casual skier.

Sugarbush:
Just down the road is Sugarbush North, also known as Mount Ellen. Sugarbush consists of two base areas, and while more of a ski resort than Mad River Glen, Mount Ellen boasts some classic New England trails that bend and curve down the fall line. Mount Ellen also features some easy access tree skiing via the Long Trail, which crosses the summit ridge. From Mount Ellen, skiers can take the Slide Brook Chair connecting to the Lincoln Peak area or Sugarbush South. Sugarbush runs Slide Brook Basin tours into the 2,000 acre backcountry zone, or you can grab a local to show you around. Slide Brook Basin spills onto German Flats Road where a bus regularly carts skiers back to the resort. Once at Lincoln Peak, take a spin toward Paradise off the Heaven’s Gate chair. If the wooded trail is bumped out, traverse left for more tree stashes. But don’t finish the day without a few laps on the Castle Rock double, where tight east-coast trails, replete with ledge drop-offs and moguls, will humble any Western skier.

Après, Lodging, Meals

Staying in town is easy with several bed and breakfasts throughout Waitsfield and nearby Warren. The Lareau Farm Inn, Yellow Farmhouse, and White Horse Inn are all great and slopeside lodging also received a recent facelift at Sugarbush, called The Clay Brook Lodge.

If you’re skiing Mad River Glen, it would be a sin to leave without grabbing a beer at General Stark’s Pub. If you’re lucky, Sean Lawson’s—of Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Founder/Program Director of MRG’s Naturalist Programs—beer will be on-tap.

The Mad River Barn in Waitsfield is also a popular new watering hole and features an inn as well. For dinner, either hit The Mad Taco for heady local brews and Mexican fare or visit American Flatbread for quite possibly the best localvore farm-to-table pizza you’ll ever taste. Be sure to get there early to place your name on the list, then hang out by the campfire over a beer, chatting about the days’ shredding.