Aerial view of Mad River Glen with single chair on left and double chair center-right (Photo Credit: Mad River Glen)
Mad River Glen has 5 lifts - the Single chair and the Sunnyside Double chair from the base area, the Birdland Double, the Practice Slope Double and Callie's Corner Handle Tow.
The single chair is longer and has a higher vertical drop and is the more popular choice. Given it's limited uphill capacity, lines can and do form. However, fewer skiers being brought uphill prevents the fragile snow conditions from being skied out.
The single chair has a midstation for unloading and beginners and weaker intermediates should get off here. Everything above the midstation is decidedly best left to advanced skiers, with the exception of one blue run - Upper Antelope.
The Mad River Glen single chair has taken on almost mythic proportions. From the summit terminus atop General Stark Mountain, it's exactly 2037' feet to the bottom and Mother Nature will dictate just what that descent will be like. Don't expect any wide, groomed avenues at Mad River Glen. Most of the trails are left just exactly as skiers and the weather have left them.
Standing on the summit looking back at the single chair depositing skiers creates almost an out of body experience the first few runs. If not for the equipment, it's as if the skier had been transported back in time to a black and white movie. Sun Valley is the only other ski resort in the United States with a similar charm, but Mad River Glen has always been for the more under-the-radar crowd. Were it not for the trail named after the family, few would know that the Rockefeller family owned a house at Mad River Glen. Fewer still would know that the house is reached to this day by its own private lift.
Although there are maybe a dozen or so marked trails from the summit, most Mad River Glen skiers seem to regard the signposts more as suggestions. Some trails are more defined than other and many would not be wide enough to be considered trails at other resorts - many would be marked as gladed terrain. In particular, Paradise will give many "expert" skiers a run for their money. Good luck.
Many skiers actually prefer the double chair. The line moves faster and no one ever got a date riding the single chair...
The other reason many skiers prefer the double chair is that the terrain is a little bit gentler. Despite its reputation as a place for experts, Mad River Glen actually attracts a fairly normal cross-section of skiers. The skew in the resort's customer base has less to do with technique and more to do with passion. Yes, a typical Mad River Glen skier is more likely to be a better skier, but is almost assuredly a more passionate one.
From the top of the double chair Fox and Quacky are the two easiest ways down. For a more adventurous route down, try Panther or Gazelle Glades.
Birdland is Mad River Glen's easiest terrain. Serviced by an eponymous double chair, the trails in Birdland are all named after avian species - Lark, Loon, Robin, Wren, Duck. If you see a trail named after a bird, you're in Birdland. Many a new Mad River Glen skier has rejoiced upon seeing a sign for bird-named run after struggling on the more difficult trails above.
The practice slope chair services a handful of intermediates runs. Notably, this portion of Mad River Glen has snowmaking, so in lean snow years the practice slope runs (Race Hill Cricket Eaton's Run, Grasshopper) can be amongst the only runs open.
The handle tow services the Callie's Corner run for first time skiers and children.
A sunny day on a green trail at Mad River Glen (Photo Credit: Mad River Glen)
Despite its reputation for being a place for hardcore, expert skiers, Mad River Glen has a wonderful beginner area. To reach the Birdland area, beginner skiers should take the Sunnyside Double to the top. From there, the gentle Fox trail leads to Birdland.
As the name suggest, Birdland is home to avian-themed ski runs like Quail, Quacky, Wren and Duck. As a rule of thumb, the easiest trails at Mad River Glen are all in the Birdland area, so if a skier sees a trail named for a bird he's likely headed down one of the resort's easier runs.
The runs in the Birdland area are excellent. They are long and interesting. Much like Mad River Glen's more difficult terrain, the trails were cleared by hand, not by dynamite. The Birdland trails hug the contours of the mountain, making for lots of gentle dips and rolls. These natural trails make for a far more interesting proposition than simply sliding down a flat slope that has been graded smooth by a bulldozer.
Birdland also have a few intermediate trails. Unsurprisingly, these few blue runs are amongst the easiest intermediate trails at Mad River Glen and make a great jumping off point for beginners looking to test their mettle. The green runs in Birdland are groomed almost nightly (unlike the rest of Mad River Glen). Birdland is serviced by its own double chair and liftlines are rarely an issue even at peak periods.
Many beginners taking their first visit to Mad River Glen are also excited to learn that they have an opportunity to take a ride on the Single Chair. Just be sure to unload at the midstation...From the midstation, the green Broadway trail brings beginners back to Birdland.
Mad River Glen's learn to ski area for children is located at Callie's Corner near the base of the ski area. A single handle tow serves a small learning slope.
A sunny spring day filled with moguls (Photo Credit: Mad River Glen)
Once again, it's worth noting that the skiing at Mad River Glen is a full half notch harder than most other New England ski resorts because of the snow conditions. The blue runs at Mad River Glen can be more difficult that black runs at other resort. Lower level intermediate skiers will probably enjoy the resort's beginner trails more than its blue ones. The green and easier blue trails in the Birdland area are a great place to begin the day for this ability group.
An often-overlooked pod of intermediate terrain is directly at the base area off the Practice Chair. Runs like Cricket and Practice are usually groomed and have snowmaking. They provide an experience similar to other more conventional New England resorts. Though, if visiting Mad River Glen it's probably to do experience something a little different.
More confident intermediates have a large portion of the mountain at their disposal. The best run for this skillset is Upper Antelope - a long two mile trail from the top of the Single Chair. From the Sunnyside Double we like the starting on Quacky before turning off onto Bunny or Porcupine.
Photo Credit: Mad River Glen
Every corner of the world has its ski resorts that attract expert skiers like a magnet: places like Chamonix, St. Anton, Jackson Hole, Taos, Squaw Valley, and Kirkwood just to name a few. Great skiers are drawn to great terrain. In New England that place is Mad River Glen.
At Mad River Glen where the expert and advanced slopes have no snowmaking, the experience is entirely dependent on the weather. When the snow is good, the conditions at Mad River Glen are much better than its competitors. When Mother Nature doesn't cooperate, the ski resort can quite literally be closed even in mid-winter.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for East Coast skiers to understand the difference between natural snow and manmade snow as more and more resorts expand their snowmaking coverage. Natural snow-only areas are a novelty whereas 20 years ago it was quite the opposite. The result has been more consistent conditions throughout the winter (hardly a bad thing!). However, the downside to all that snowmaking is that when great natural snow does fall, it falls on a layer of hardpack that is unreceptive to bonding to it. In a sense, powder days have been spoiled by better snowmaking. As a result, now more than ever, skiing Mad River Glen on a good day is a real treat for skiers able to handle it.
If beginner and intermediate skiers find that the trails at Mad River Glen are a half step up in difficulty, then experts will find Mad River Glen's black diamond terrain a full step up. There are no double black diamond runs at Mad River Glen, but compared to other New England Resorts, all of Mad River Glen's runs are double black diamonds. This is particularly true when conditions are marginal.
Skiers should expect to encounter p-tex chomping rocks, cliffs, ledges, waterfalls (some frozen, some unfrozen), trees, stumps and ungroomed terrain. It is as if the waiver on the back of every resort's lift tickets were written with Mad River Glen in mind. Mad River Glen skiers take the mountain as they find it. Sometimes that's good and sometimes it's not. When it's really not good, the five minute drive to Sugarbush is an option worth considering.
The best expert terrain at Mad River Glen is found off the Single Chair. The vaunted Paradise run (the steepest in New England) is the most challenging marked run. Lower Antelope is another black diamond run that should top the list of must-ski runs. Another great run off the Single Chair is Chute/Liftline. Directly below the Single Chair these two runs combine for an excellent top-to-bottom 2,037' mogul examination under the watchful eye of Mad River Glen's vocal community of excellent skiers. Don't fall.
The Sunnyside Double attracts fewer good skiers because of it has a shorter vertical drop and fewer black trails. However, the lift line is usually far shorter and there are some good expert runs off the top, most notably Gazelle Glades.
Got trees? (Photo Credit: Mad River Glen)
At Mad River Glen, it can sometimes be difficult to tell where the marked runs end and the locals' wooded runs begin. Although the trail map lists only 45 trails, there are at least as many unofficial trails. Some are even marked with small signs, others are not.
Most of the tree area at Mad River Glen are skiable in good conditions. Many of these areas comprise the "unmarked" runs referred to above. Knowing their names isn't important, but understanding the steepness and tightness of the trees before jumping in is a good idea. Venturing into the woods alone is a poor idea anywhere, but particularly at Mad River Glen where many of the areas between the runs look tempting. Some are certainly harder than other, but the entrances can be deceiving. Hiring a ski instructor for the day (or befriending a local in General Stark's pub) is the best way to tour the other half of Mad River Glen that doesn't appear on the trail map.
For what it's worth, our favorite unmarked run is 19th Hole on the extreme skier's right of the mountain.
As far as challenging off-piste marked runs, Paradise is undoubtedly the most challenging. A short traverse to the skier's left off the Single Chair leads to the top of this wooded, steep trail. Paradise is said to be the steepest continuous pitch in New England. Gazelle Glades off the Sunnyside Chair is also an excellent marked tree skiing run.
Mugs hung over the bar at General Stark's Pub (Photo Credit: Mad River Glen)
The Basebox's cafeteria food is outstanding. The Basebox serves standard ski cafeteria fare, but utilizes local ingredients and regional flair. Nothing beats the cheeseburger with local Vermont cheddar and a heaping pile of french fries.
General Stark's Pub is one of the great on-mountain bars in ski country. This cozy wooden bar with windows overlooking the single chair is almost as much a part of Mad River Glen as the Single Chair. Table service is available at lunch and for apres-ski. Patrons enjoy throwing back a pint of Long Trail Ale (brewed in Vermont and named for the state's most famous hiking trail) or a Single Chair Ale (specially-brewed for the resort by Vermont's Magic Hat Brewery). Regulars lucky enough to have a mug get to hang them from above the bar.
Mad River Glen's small base village (Photo Credit: Mad River Glen)
You won't be staying overnight slopside at Mad River Glen unless you rent a private home or are member of one of the handful of ski clubs with lodges at the base of the hill. The nearest major town to Mad River Glen is Warren, Vermont. Warren is approximately a 5-10 minute drive from the ski area and has shops, restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations. The Mad River Valley is home to numerous shops, restaurants and hotels as well as Sugarbush ski resort.
Mad River Glen's other activities are limited to watching skiing from the Basebox or having a beer in General Stark's Pub. Nearby Sugarbush resort does, however, offer non-skiing activities such as snowshoeing.