Mad River Cult

I Skied Chute Terribly
Gorp.com

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 personalities—a 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."


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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