It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad River Glen

April 9th, 2007 by Doug Schnitzspahn

I have a confession. I have never skied at Mad River Glen, yet I feel as if the place is at the root of the way I ski, the way I see a mountain. That’s because I have spent 10 years headed full speed through the tightest tree lines in Colorado and Washington with my ski-brutha Isaac Stokes. Mr. Stokes grew up at Mad River and the spirit of the place is written in his genetic code. I have never met another human being who enjoys lines that rip your fancy Gore SoftShell and poke your eyeballs out like Isaac—um, except I have become just as masochistic. And I think if I ever go to that hallowed place that some home-grown swine-eating, biodiesel-brewing, blue-ice-loving freaks believe is the center of the universe, I will feel at home.
mad river
Anyway, Mad River is going to replace its famed single chair (with a brand new built-to-spec single chair mind you) and proposed an essay contest to give away a few of the old chairs. Isaac suggested I enter and write some type of postmodern anti-essay about skiing Mad River although I have never even seen the single chair. Maybe some day. But now I think Isaac deserves the chair… and I wanted to post his essay here.

I’m one of the faithful.

I’ve evangelized Mad River from under a hood in screaming Cascadian winds on a lift at Alpental Ski Area. Yammered on to total strangers at Vail who were trying to type with numb fingers on their Blackberries. Swapped bug eyed tales with expatriate East Coasters at Taos who know the glory of Mad River firsthand. And cornered Euros, who spoke broken English at best, in huts on the Haute Route to spin soliloquies about “The River”.

My favorite part is when I tell them that Mad River, when the snow is right, is in my estimation the finest place to ski on the planet. That kills them. And it’s true. That’s “ne plus ultra” to you Frenchy.

Veins bulge, eyes bug, and some froth at the mouth ever so slightly. Bring on the polygraph and the bibles to swear on, I’m steely serious.

I grew up skiing at Mad River, and I didn’t have clue how good I had it. My family has skied there since the origins of the “resort”, enduring 5+ hour drives from Albany before the road was paved, my Grandfather at the wheel of a massive Detroit iron station wagon with 7 kids, a 120 lbs Newfoundland, and a steaming pot of stew aboard. Their original house right behind the Basebox was so lively with friends and guests, that a total stranger once poked his head in and sincerely asked “Is this a restaurant?” In good MRG style, I believe he was seated and served. The family actually had a hand in creating the trail system, cutting “The Rat” with a couple of chainsaws and highball glasses in hand back in the carefree Sinatra era.

But back to the skiing, always back to the skiing. I’m not just saying Mad River produces the best skiers – that goes without saying… Dylan Crossman’s 40 foot front flips on pins anyone? I’m boasting about the actual skiing, not the politically correct “snowsliding”, because skiing is all that goes on at Mad River.

Here’s the provenance: the shot between the trees on Lower Antelope, the nasty off camber 201 cm wide “ditch” between Lower Lift Line and Upper Glade, the fact that every molecule of snow had been skied up to an inch of the lift towers, Paradise – all of it, the observation that quote/unquote “Practice Slope” has enough pitch to make you pucker, the Grateful Dead warbling through the Green Mountains from the giant speaker that looks lifted from a WWII battleship. Schussing Eden is my book.

Yikes, 500 words and I’m only on Chapter 1, Verse 1 of my love letter to Mad River. I’d like go on at length about the summer I worked trail crew at Mad River (scything the trails by hand, only at MRG!) and how we came face to face with 2 fawns lying still in the tall wet grass – they blinked and we blinked – and we just left an island of pasture around them. I also discovered how all of the prominent rocks on the hill have been rounded smooth as river stones from a half century of p-tex polishing. I’d like to recount the day my college ski amigo Charlie blew out his only upper buckle on his rear entry 1980s vintage boots on Lynx, and casually used his forehead bandana to tourniquet his Langes, and then gracefully ripped the remaining moguls. I’d also like to chuckle with you about how an acquaintance in Seattle who had a MRG bumper sticker on his truck, thought he was being carjacked on the interstate by a maniac driving behind him flashing his lights and honking his horn. Only after the “stalker” passed by grinning and screaming “Ski It If You Can!” did he relax his grip on the wheel. That’s in Washington State folks – 3000 miles from Fayston.

I’m going on too long. I always do. I’ve been joking with my dearest and most loyal ski partner Doug, who has never skied Mad River, that he could enter this essay contest on the strength of what he has learned by osmosis over the years about MRG from my rants. The look in his eye told me he thought he could do a fine job.

I suppose this essay ought to have been more about the single itself? Well, to me the single is Mad River. Every truly great holy site has an icon, and the single chair is easily that. That sensation of sliding into the single, the gentle rocking that marks the opening of your “solo”, the aged soft spring resistance and distinct cluck of the safety bar? That’s poetry, and my 860 words or any verse won’t likely capture it soon.

If a chair becomes mine, or rather if I become the caretaker of one, I’d like to mount it on my sunny front porch and rock my 5 month old son in it. I’ll inevitably launch into some MRG tales that he won’t comprehend, but he’ll see me smiling, and he’ll understand that. I’m itching to introduce him to Mad River, but I can wait, most places the world over change – Mad River doesn’t.

Isaac Stokes
Boulder, Colorado

One Response to “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad River Glen”

  1. Megan wrote on 04/10/07 at 11:25 pm :

    Doug- you have to keep us posted and let us know if he wins a chair. What a great essay!