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  • Mad River Glen: A Skier's Classic

    By Mitch Kaplan

    Photo courtesy Mad River Glen Robert Frost came to mind. "Two roads diverged in a wood." Laina, age eight, assessed with me a fork in the trail. Which way? Both looked equally intriguing. This was, after all, Paradise. The infamous Mad River Glen tosses everything at you but the kitchen sink - moguls, trees, drop-offs, twists and rude surprises. Quite an adventure for an eight year old. And her dad.

    "Let's go left," I finally declared. "The snow looks better."

    Big mistake.

    The trail soon withered among trees and tangles. The kid hesitated. "Not to worry," I said with false bravado. "Just follow me." I hopped a few turns, she wedged and wiggled behind. We scrummed through low branches till - uh-oh - a rock-face covered in a frozen mini-waterfall. A good six-foot drop. Big drop when you're eight.

    "Daaad!"

    "You can do it."

    "Daaad!"

    "You can do it."

    "Daaad!"

    "C'mon, there's the crossover trail right down there." I pointed. "When you get out of here, you can tell John you're a bonafide extreme skier."

    She shot a dubious stare, then side-slipped the icy precipice. No sweat.

    Outside the woods, our friend was waiting.

    "John, John!" Laina heralded. "I skied a waterfall! I'm an extreme skier now!"

    "Ah," responded our imperturbable pal, "You guys went left, too, eh?"

    ***

    Photo courtesy Mad River Glen Although Mad River Glen has a reputation as an experts-only place, it's just not true. It challenges every ability level. But, it rewards you so joyfully that you'll come back time and again. And, you'll get better at the sport.

    Why? Because Mad River is, has always been, and remains, about skiing. You don't come here to snowtube, ice skate or slam through manmade terrain parks. You may not snowboard here. You come here to ski.

    It's also about experiencing the mountain. Think about this: Roland Palmedo left Stowe to create Mad River because Stowe, he judged, had become too commercial. That was in 1946.

    Skiing here is like time travel. A single-passenger chairlift takes you to classic New England ski trails. They were envisioned by guys who hiked the hill to find the best routes, and were cut so that just a few inches of snow makes them skiable. They've never been broadened to accommodate snowmaking. They exude character, texture and challenge and are just plain fun to ski.

    Green-rated? Head up to mid-mountain Birdland, and you not only find a beginners' enclave, but you can skirt stands of trees on trails that follow the mountain's natural contours.

    I know, I know. It sounds too roughshod to be family-friendly. But, quite the opposite is true. This is more than family-friendly. It is family. It's operated as a cooperative; the people who ski it, and treat it like their child.

    Child care? Mad River had it before other resorts recognized the need. The kids' center is homey. It's Callie McAllister's place. She's run it for more than twenty years, and hanging there is like visiting a favorite aunt.

    The Basebox base lodge, of wood construction, is small, funky and also homey. It features genuine home cooking. When the Kaplan kids were young, the rule was: you may buy one thing to eat with your picnic lunch. Everywhere else they ate french fries. At Mad River they had soup. It's incredibly good.

    Photo courtesy Mad River Glen Family? A bond forms among the people who ski here. They appreciate how special it is.

    ***

    "Dad," the Kaplan kids chorus ensemble, "we've gotta ski The Rat! We've gotta show Bryan and Lauren The Rat!"

    The Rat - a single-track, winding through the trees adjacent to some homes - is not on the trail map. You first find it usually by accident. The way to ski The Rat is this: make something of a wedge; now ride it wherever it goes. Who needs terrain parks with woodsy whirl-a-gigs like this?

    No, you don't have to be an expert to ski here. But, you'll always gain an expert's sense of achievement and delight. And, while classics never age, kids do. They'll take Mad River skiing skills and joy with them wherever they go.

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