Mad River Cult
At nine o'clock I caught a ride back to the area for its official opening, then rode the single all day, rarely waiting in line for more than a minute. The lift began operating the same day Mad River did December 11, 1948 and still runs primarily on original parts. The single chair creates an interesting skiing dynamic: Nobody has partners at Mad River Glen. Instead, you sort of slide from one group to another, with a solo run or two between, never remaining with the same people for more than an hour. Everyone seems to know one another at Mad River the area sells about 700 season passes annually, and these people make up the vast majority of the daily skiers so locals easily group and regroup, square-dance style. Even with the small handful people I knew from the Barn party, I didn't have to wait longer than a few minutes for a temporary partner. And each time I grouped up, I'd meet a few more locals.
My first mission was to ski Chute, the nasty bump run beneath the single. From the chair, Chute looks like a plaster cast of gale-force seas. It is home turf to Mad River's bump rippers, who show off for the audience above. And the seats are front row: The chair is so low to the ground it seems as though you could hook a skier's pompom with a dip of your ski tip. I skied Chute terribly, daunted by the locals' prowess and psyched out by the lift riders. So I immediately went back and tackled it again. I felt clumsy Chute's intimidating steepness and vertebrae-straining bumps keep you perpetually off balance but I did hear a"Sweet turns!" from a chair rider and so considered it a victory.
I skied every on-the-map single-chair run: Fall Line, as steep and bumped as Chute but with creatively whimsical gladed patches; Catamount, one-skier-at-a-time-narrow and enthrallingly turny; Grand Canyon, wide-open wall-to-wall bumps; Glades, kamikaze shots through tight trees; and Lynx, my favorite, a grove of neatly spaced white birches. All had remarkably distinct personalitiesa concept that seems to have been left out of the equation in new computer-designed ski areas. And all were impossible to ski well the first time.
By the end of the day I was ragged. It was clear why everyone goes to sleep at nine. But I boarded the single a final time, just as snow started spilling down again and the thermometer headed south of zero. Tomorrow was going to be another powder day. I was shivering by the time I was greeted at the summit by George, the top operator, who was wrapped head-to-toe in a brown Carhartt one-piece. George presented me with a gap-toothed grin and said, "It's supposed to get much warmer," then paused, rubbing his midriff before adding the punchline: "In Florida."
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication