“We’re not even offering the same product,” Ry Young, marketing manager and director of the freeski program at Mad River Glen, said of the famed Co-op’s relationship with its Alterra- and Vail-owned Vermont neighbours. We grabbed lunch in the tightly packed cafeteria in the middle of a quintessentially New England weekday storm—the weather shifted from rain to perfect powder to something in between throughout the day. The parking lot was a steady stream—of locals sneaking away from work and school for a few fresh laps and melting slush from spinning tires. “Over there, they’ve got real estate, condos, indoor activities, dining—all this ancillary stuff. But if this place,” he said with a gesture to the cafeteria,
“Burned to the ground and the chairlifts were still running, we’d be fine with that because that’s just what this place is about: the skiing. It’s not about any frills; it’s about what the mountain has to offer.”
By most standards, Mad River Glen Cooperative was the first ski area to embrace and even market its identity as a local, no-frills ski destination. It pioneered a cooperative structure in the Nineties at the start of resort conglomeration and has rejected large-scale commercial input ever since. In 2007, the Waitsfield, VT, based Co-op voted to preserve its renowned single chair in lieu of installing a modern double.
“Bar down, only rule at M-R-G!” yells a ski patrol member as he arcs a turn under the single chair, artfully dropping a series of small cliffs into bigger bumps down the lift line. Crackly speakers on a local radio frequency chime in a reminder of February’s “National Work Naked Day,” not that it necessarily matters here—Vermont’s loose legislation already allows you to exit your home au naturel any day of the year. In this more cowboy part of the state, they’re unlikely to enforce much of anything.
With intentionally minimal grooming and snowmaking, gargantuan bumps, unmarked cliffs, and secret rogue glades, Mad River Glen is a free-wheeling Wild West—and yet, it is so distinctively old-school New England, emblematic of the Green Mountain State, and unlike anything you’d find left of the Mississippi at its mega-resort peers.
Known rather notoriously for its “Ski It If You Can” mantra (a slogan that was initially coined to describe highly variable conditions, not ability), MRG is a down-home breeding ground for young rural rippers to learn on the rowdiest terrain in the state, a place that forges the East’s hardest charging freeriders. The progression is Vermont’s core skiing ethos, boiled down like the millions of gallons of sap turned to maple syrup each spring: rural folks charging down backyard lines, regardless of the conditions, for the pure unadulterated love of the sport.
The local clientele is age diverse. Take a few laps on a midweek powder day, and you’ll meet folks who’ve skied MRG for decades or whose parents introduced them to skiing there. You’ll meet college shredders who bypass a half dozen other resorts to make the drive from UVM. And you’ll see skiers in their prime who’ve seen the west, who’ve skied the Alps, and who are more content than ever with their hundred-meter secret stash or lapping that one cliff tucked above the glades.
It’s commonplace for ski areas of MRG’s scale to serve as steppingstones—young skiers often venture west for more extensive terrain and more reliable snow. But the skiing on General Stark Mountain has an uncanny ability to cultivate itself in the minds and hearts of skiers as not just a springboard but a place to return to—a place to call home.
→ Only single chair in the Lower 48 of the United States! Savor skiing’s nostalgic soul.
→ Cliffs and bumps galore. If you’re feeling bold, rip the lift line below the single chair. Expect cheers or jeers, depending on your performance.
→ Lawson’s Finest Liquid, down the road in Waitsfield, is widely regarded as one of the best craft breweries in Vermont. Sip of Sunshine is a Green Mountain classic.
→ No snowboarders allowed
→ Minimal snowmaking infrastructure means you rely on Vermont’s notoriously fickle weather for good snow coverage.
→ Don’t expect a Euro après scene. Head down the road to town for a chill taproom.
→ No snowboarders allowed