Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mad about Mad River Glen

Tree. Mad River Glen.
Mad River Glen was the main target of my weekend tour in northwestern United States. This is a rare community owned ski area and run in an old-fashioned way: most of the area is ungroomed, they run ancient ski lifts, the trails are narrow and retain their natural form and obstacles.

I had heard the stories about Mad River Glen, but seeing is believing. Their slogan is "Ski it if you can", and it is generally thought to have most challenging skiing in the east. I did not believe any of it. Until I arrived and in my usual style picked up the a difficult black run to start the day with. First off, the lift for that run was a single chair and getting on it was already challenging by itself, particularly with a backpack. But the 700 meters of vertical on the icy bumps of the "Chute" crushed my belief in my skiing abilities and sent me skiing blue runs -- a rare occurrence. (To add insult to the injury, Telemark skiers seemed to be quite happy skiing the Chute.)

"Cliff", "not a trail", "cliff", "not a trail", "trail". You figure it out!
But in the afternoon I returned to the black runs. And what runs they are. Quoting Wikipedia: "The infamous 38 degree pitch of Paradise is still only rated at a black diamond, when it would earn two or three of those diamonds at other ski areas. ... Mad River's most difficult marked trail is a steep, rocky, thin, and usually icy path down from the top of the mountain called Paradise. ... The entrance to the trail is not marked, although in 2004 it was added to the official trail map. The first pitch features mandatory air over a four foot (1.3 m) high frozen waterfall that spans the full width of the trail."

I have now found my favorite ski run. Paradise is not as difficult to ski as it sounds, the bumps actually help on a steep run like this. It is a fun run to ski! But it is definitely one of the most extreme marked ski runs that I know of. Not as extreme as Corbet's, but still challenging, probably the most challenging trail in eastern United States. (The video above gives a glimpse of the run but only lower down where it is no longer so steep.)

The single chair
All the terrain reachable from the single chair lift is similar: icy bumps, narrow chutes, twisting runs, gladed runs. There's another peak which also has some easier terrain, and even (gasp!) groomed trails. Boring, but useful when I got hit by the bump anxiety earlier in the morning.

The ski area is owned by a community of shareholders. They value traditional skiing, traditional ski runs, historical lift equipment, and preserving the wooded areas of the ski area. (But it is a bit odd that they also prohibit snowboarding. Maybe that's one of the actions that has lead to the clientèle being relatively old. A striking number of the skiers are greybeards.)

Mad River Glen is an affordable ski area. Lift ticket prices are similar to other places ($65 for day ticket) but other costs are very modest. Soup was 4.50$ at the Basebox and the most expensive lunch option was only $7.

Not my first association
My recommended ski runs are the Chute & "Lift Line" that follow the single chair lift line. These runs have a consistent steepness all the way through to the bottom, and are generally wider than runs that go through the woods. They are also more exposed to sunshine and more likely to have patches of dirt visible. The "Beaver", "Upper Glades", and "Lower Glades" are alternate routes through the woods. "Lower Antelope" is an very narrow, twisting bump run through the woods, but requires a small hike back to the ski area at the end. "Fall Line" offers a steep run that is wider and more accessible than the Paradise. But if I had an opportunity to go to Mad River Glen again, I would spend the entire time skiing the Paradise.


  1. A picture is worth a thousand words - a 30 fps video is worth 30K words a second. We want more! :-)

    How did you hold/attach the (video)camera?

  2. Youtube doesn't show highest resolution, still working on that. Anyway, I'm kicking myself for not recording the whole descent, including the steep parts. It would have been fun, but I only came up with this way of holding the camera on the middle of the last run :-(

    The camera is hanging from the neck strap on my neck and then attached to the backpack belts. In other words, pointing forward and pretty firmly attached to my chest. The only drawback is that to access the camera controls I need to undo the attachments. In any case, far better arrangement than holding the camera in hand while skiing...

  3. Maybe a separate helmet cam? At least you would have use for it.. :-)

  4. Do those skis have any sidecut?

  5. Geordie: they do have a normal sidecut, but my 10mm lens is distorting the view a bit, making the tips of the skis look smaller than they really are.