This ski mountain in Waitsfield, Vermont offers all the traditional amenities of a winter resort, plus a lot of eco-friendly activities.
Hate the whoosh of snowboards and the heavy metal beat as you glide down the slopes? Curious to see wildlife only the dawn Ski Patrol ever encounters? Then the unique Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, Vermont, winner of the 2000 National Ski Areas Association Silver Eagle for Environmental Education, should be your next destination.
Under its Naturalist Program Director, Sean Lawson (who holds an M.A. in Forest Ecology), the eco-education schedule has evolved into a four season exploration of this mountain resort. Their Kent Thomas Nature Center is open on the mountain for year-round displays and hands-on activities.
Mad River Glen is America’s only ski cooperative, a resort owned and maintained by 1900 of its frequent skiers since 1995. It is one of only three slopes (the others are Alta and Deer Valley in Utah) to ban snowboarding.
Its 2,037 feet of vertical drops cover 115 acres and are considered the most challenging expert terrain in the East. Its 45 trails are serviced only by a single chairlift, a ca.1948 diesel-powered classic, plus three renovated doubles and a new Handle Tow for novices. In 2005, the Mad River Glen Cooperative began its campaign to preserve the single chairlift, hoping to make it safer and longer lasting without imposing a multiple carrier like more modern chairlifts. By the summer of 2008, they had raised the required $1.65 million and the restoration project is scheduled to be completed by the season of 2010.
To protect its mountain ecosystem, Mad River Glen’s skier-owners have committed to maintaining the forest, managing the wildlife habitat, monitoring the watershed (no artificial snow-making), and minimizing the environmental impact of the ski operations by limiting construction on the mountain.
During the 2008-2009 campaign to offset the carbon footprint of its skiers, Mad River Glen charged an additional $1 per day. Their philosophy is, “If you don’t build it in the first place you won’t have to offset its long-term environmental effects,” notes a spokesperson, and with the help of local foundations, the funds raised are used to buy carbon offsets from Native Energy which are passed on to Vermont farmers.
There are excellent guided Junior Naturalist and Ecology programs over the holidays and winter weekends, or by special arrangement for groups.
Various group ski lessons are available for ages 4-14, including weekend series to train budding racers. Private lessons for ages 3-6 cost only $50 per hour. Children 5-years and under ski free any day when accompanied by an adult and seniors 70+ ski free midweek for 5 days per season and enjoy a Senior Rate the rest of the season.
Intrigued? Coop owners enjoy even more discounts and you can tell your neighbors you “own” a ski resort!
Mad River Glen offers customized family adventures, snowshoe treks, and ecology hikes among other activities during the warmer seasons.
Mad River Glen also gets a ‘Thumbs Up’ for its other family-friendly services and amenities: a pristine network of trails for telemarking and snowshoeing; free kids’ season passes available to those 12 and under with every adult season pass purchase; the Cricket Club, where director Callie McAllister has cared for and trained junior skiers from 6-weeks to 6-years for over 30 years; and its obviously successful commitment to preserving its natural environment for future generations.
The nearest accommodations, found through Mad River (802/496-3551) are in nearby Waitsfield, Warren and Waterbury. Long-stay guests who might seek variety should know that Mad River and neighboring Sugarbush often team up to create inter-changeable lift tickets, so call ahead.
Snow enthusiasts probably remember the mountain’s famous bumper sticker: “Mad River Glen: Ski It If You Can.” It’s one of the few aspects of this place that has kept up with the times, and now reads, “Mad River Glen: Ski Green If You Can.”
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