AlpineZone Challenge 2007 – Eric Friedman of Mad River Glen

The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Eric Friedman, Marketing Director of Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, Vermont, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 7/3/2007:

kcyanks1: Have you considered having early/late season skiing on the upper mountain with loading at the mid-station and downloading to the base? And on that note, will the new single have a mid-station?

Eric Friedman: Thanks so much for the opportunity to connect with the AlpineZone community and for another interesting bunch of questions. I will also do my best to answer any follow-up questions that may come up. Anyone can also feel free to contact me individually if you like. My email address is Here are the answers to this years Alpine Zone Challenge questions.

Yes the historically refurbished Single Chair will include the mid-station in the same exact spot and it will be nearly identical to the old one minus the rust. In terms of early and late season downloading, it is problematic because to download we have to run it MUCH slower than normal (those of you who have ridden the Single for foliage rides know how slow that is). This would make the lift lines at the mid-station VERY long.

millerm277: This is a broad question, but are there any changes/improvements planned for next year (besides the single)? Any plans to change anything in the future? Any new terrain?

Eric Friedman: Nope, not really except for the further development of our legendary gladed terrain. Besides you can’t make a diamond more perfect than it already is.

Greg: I think this was mentioned somewhere before, but what was the fate of all the old single chairs? Was the $7,850.00 winning bid on the eBay auction more or less than you expected? Did that dude ever pay? Finally, where’s my chair?

Eric Friedman: Yup, he paid every “single” dollar and so everyone is aware every “single” chair was sold. Sorry Greg but you had to “show us the money” to get one of those relics.

The sale of the old Single Chairs exceeded all expectations. Initially it was hoped that the chairs would raise about $150,000, but they ended up realizing over $270,000 in much needed revenues. Chair sales are considered separate from the Capital Campaign’s goal of $1.54 million in tax-deductible donations. The funds raised in the chair sales effort will go towards unexpected expenses, add-ons and maintenance.

Of the 158 chairs on the line, 140 were offered in an auction limited to Co-op Shareholders with a minimum bid of $1,000. Interestingly, exactly 140 bids came in from the shareholder community ranging from $1,000 to $7,500. The high bidders had their choice of chairs. This auction raised a cool $240,000.

Another five chairs were offered up in a raffle with $5 tickets. The raffle raised an astounding $25,000. The last chair available was held back and auctioned off on Ebay in April. Not only did this auction raise significant money it also helped to garner tremendous national press attention to the Single Chair Capital Campaign. The bidding took place over 10 days and it was a fast and furious affair. The winning bid of $7,850 was made at the auctions “eleventh hour”.

Three chairs were given away in an essay contest and one was allocated for a separate raffle of Shareholders who were responsible for new share sale referrals. The Co-op also donated chairs to the Fayston Historical Society, the Vermont Ski Museum and the New England Ski Museum. Five chairs remain in possession of the mountain. There are plans to incorporate one into the sign, for use in the Basebox and the rest will be used for promotional use or put on display at the mountain.

thetrailboss: I listen to WDEV and hear a lot of your ads (particularly Eric talking a lot! ). I am wondering if you are focusing a lot on the local skiers and riders vs. a national or regional audience. What is the break down if you can share? Do you think that price keeps the locals coming? Is it the spirit of the place? Overall, do you find that locals are more loyal skiers when the weather tanks?

Eric Friedman: Sounds like you think I talk too much! As you can imagine I have heard that before! My incredibly bloated marketing budget (yeah right!) does not allow me to advertise significantly outside of Vermont. Mad River Glen relies on “Word of Mouth” marketing to lure folks here (VT’ers and out of staters alike). I do almost nothing to “market” outside of Vermont. We are members of the VT Ski Areas Assn, advertise in their magazine, distribute brochures down country, but that’s really about it. The internet is our most important marketing tool and we rely on it tremendously. That being said Vermonters make up about 40% of our ticket and pass sales. The out of staters from Mass, NY, NJ, CT, PA, and the rest of New England, make up the rest along with a healthy does from all over the world. I am always surprised how many folks from out west and Europe take the time to make the pilgrimage to Gen. Stark Mountain. It is definitely a place on the “must ski” list for many skiers from all over.

Does the price keep people coming back? Perhaps to an extent it does, but I think skiers keep coming back because of the experience we deliver. Why do people keep talking about Mad River Glen? Why is Mad River Glen on the MUST ski list for any skier worth their salt? There are plenty of areas that are bigger, steeper, fancier or grander. There are certainly plenty of places that get more reliable snow. So what is it that makes Mad River Glen an icon and a mountain that people love so much? Frankly, it’s a combination of many things and for every skier the answer is a little different. Mad River Glen offers the most challenging and diverse terrain in New England with an uphill capacity that guarantees low skier density on the trails even on the busiest days. It is one of the last bastions of natural snow skiing in New England and is one of only four areas in North America that prohibits the use of snowboards. Mad River’s mountain layout with a single base area makes it an ideal family mountain. The trails were cut to follow the mountain’s natural contours. The area’s character, the result of a long and proud history, reflects the terrain and natural beauty. There is a special camaraderie among the skiing community, with its co-op ownership, non-commercial, family-friendly atmosphere, dedicated staff, and- of course- the Single Chair, America’s favorite ski lift.

Combined, these qualities create a unique ski experience that stands in stark contrast to the mainstream world of skiing. The various facets of the Mad River ski experience appeal to different skiers in different ways but together they create a feeling and sense of place that is truly unique. The mission of the Mad River Glen Cooperative is to protect and preserve these special qualities.

In terms of the loyalty I would not say that the locals are any more loyal than the “flatlanders”. We have hard core MRG skiers from all over. In the early stages of this past season we learned who our most loyal skiers were. They came from everywhere and did what they could to support us when we were down. Folks came to ski the Practice Slope over and over again, others came just to drink in the bar and give us some bar revenues, many volunteered their time to help us in our darkest hours. Co-op shareholders came to us offering to hire our laid off staff and we even had one of our out-of-state shareholders pay for their favorite band in the bar (we would have been forced to cancel) so we could have some entertainment. These are examples of the kind of thing that give us the “spirit” you mention. It was gratifying to see our community pull together, it truly is what separates this place from other ski areas.

millerm277: Are you still on schedule for having the single ready for next year? How is construction going? Any new pictures?

Eric Friedman: Construction is going very well and you bet we are on schedule. Photos of the construction progress are on the website. The Mad River Glen faithful will have their first chance to ride the new Single Chair over Green & Gold Weekend. Due to the tight construction schedule we will only be offering foliage rides on Green & Gold, October 6-8, which also happens to correspond with the Columbus Day holiday weekend. Normally foliage rides are also offered the week before Green & Gold. The festivities will kick off on Saturday morning at 9 AM when the folks who donated to the naming rights for the new chairs will be invited to ride “their chairs”. Former Co-op Trustee, Leigh Michl won the first four rides at the Single Chair Fundraising Gala this past winner. The general public can ride the lift from 10 AM to 2:30 PM on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

There will be an official Grand Opening for the new Single Chair on December 15. While currently in the planning stages this event will recreate the original opening day ceremonies of the old Single Chair held in December of 1948. Stay tuned for further details of this momentous occasion.

Mike_451: My question regarding snowmaking is that due to possible climate change from either natural trends and or global warming, does MRG have a contingency to increase snowmaking capacity if needed?

Eric Friedman: No we do not have any plans to increase snowmaking potential. The bottom line is that there is very little water supply here. The cost of any potential increase would never provide us with a return on investment. The reason Mad River Glen has never increased its snowmaking is for this reason. That makes all other rationale moot. Philosophically the Co-op is also opposed to it because it would alter the ski experience tremendously and we would become just like every other ski area. In fact this issue is integral in the Co-op mission which is;

“… to forever protect the classic Mad River Glen skiing experience by preserving low skier density, natural terrain and forests, varied trail character, and friendly community atmosphere for the benefit of shareholders, area personnel and patrons.”

Canonizer: I think a number of people were disappointed that the mountain wasn’t willing to extend the season when we had all of the late snow. A lot of us understood that the mountain was only going to be taking its season ticket holders and not actually making money from non-local visitors. I understand that construction of the new single chair had to begin but shouldn’t snowfall determine the end of the season? Did you consider running the double?

Eric Friedman: I can assure you that no one was more bummed out about being forced to shut down early more than the mountain’s management. It killed us to pull the plug with such great skiing, but we did not have much of a choice. We always work very hard to offer the longest season we possibly can. We view it as critical to offer the most skiing we can because sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t allow us and it needs to balance out for our skiers who loyally buy tickets and passes. Yes we did consider opening the double only, but we decided against it. The “Sunnyside” gets hammered in the spring far more than the upper Single side of the mountain. Plus if you came by the area after we closed you would have seen the entire base area taken up by the chairs that had to be removed. We simply did not have the room. We have a very tight construction schedule that we needed to follow. Unfortunately some of our skiers may have felt short changed, but the vast majority understood why. Hopefully we can go extra early and extra long next season!

Mike_Trainor: Are there any plans in the future for the Sunnyside Double? I know most of the lift was replaced a few years ago but the drive terminal is getting up there in age. In the last few years when I have been there, on two occasions the lift has been down due to mechanical problems. Which as I am sure you know can create a 40 minute line at the Single mid week and I would hate to see what it would be like on a weekend. Are there any plans in the future for this lift or have I just hit it on off days?

Eric Friedman: I think you just had some bad luck and hit an off day. While we have had some odd electrical issued on the chair the Sunnyside Double is in fine shape and we have no plans beyond scheduled maintenance going forward. One thing that is on the table is to (and it was designed to do this) turn it into a triple chair. We would space the chairs more and not increase the uphill capacity too much, maybe about 10%. This would really help during the busy periods and also help out with our popular kids programs as we sometimes have trouble finding riding partners for the youngsters. A triple would allow an adult to go up with 2 kids instead of just one. Like I said, this was planned for when the chair was built so we can do it any time the Co-op shareholders decide to.

Tin Woodsman: Any updates to the status of controlled access to/egress from Big Basin?

Eric Friedman: Do you really mean Big Basin? That land is on the top of the North Fayston Road and does not abut Mad River Glen. I assume you mean the 20th Hole in between Mad River Glen and the Mad River Barn down the road on Route 17. If so there is no change to the status. We are not actively trying to acquire the land. The co-op has a right of first refusal on the purchase of the property and is preparing as best it can for that eventuality. Certainly nothing is imminent.

mattlucas: Will you be doing forest maintenance for lift tickets this summer? When will the dates be announced? Will I be able to borrow clippers if I don’t have any? Thanks.

Eric Friedman: You bet we are and the dates are set. We ask that folks bring their own clippers. We have some but not enough for everyone. The purpose of Mountain Work Days is maintenance of tree skiing. This involves cutting lines as well as setting aside areas for new trees to grow. Everything is done with hand tools. Work days are organized and led by Jay Appleton in consultation with ski area management.

Mountain Work Days are a great chance to get out on the mountain, discover sacred ski terrain, and learn about northeastern mountain forests. It is fun and satisfying to see a ski line take shape, and see how trees can grow with some care.

What to Bring:

  • Sturdy Boots
  • Work Gloves
  • Hat
  • Drinking Water
  • Lunch
  • Cutting Tools
  • Appropriate clothing to stay warm and dry
  • Fun Attitude
  • Favorite beverage for “apres ski”

Proper Cutting Tools:

  • Loppers (long-handled)
  • Bow Saw
  • Folding Pruning Saw

Loppers are the most useful tool to bring. Make sure they are in good working order. The following tools are not allowed: All power tools such as chain saws, and all swinging tools such as hatchets or axes.

The scheduled work day dates are;

August 11 – Regeneration zone maintenance – Lower Glade gets a haircut
August 25 – Regeneration zone maintenance and a little cutting
Sept. 22 – Line maintenance
October 7 – Line maintenance
October 27 – Line maintenance

Last year in the Alpine Zone Challeng Jay Appleton, our Co-op Board President and a forester by trade, discussed these work days and the philosophy behind them. I thought it might be valuable to include what he said again. He has been heading up this tremendous volunteer effort for the past 10 years. He even maintains a website dedicated to the effort. Check it out at Here’s what Jay has to say;

There are two parallel efforts regarding forest regeneration: On-trail, and off-trail. On-trail regeneration involves cordoning off small areas with blue bamboo (aka boo) and line. This keeps skiers off these areas so young trees may grow, and also insures the annual mowing crew will not cut the “regeneration” down. “Regen zones” are placed where promising young trees are already present, and are laid out with the rhythm or flow of skiing in mind. Annually “volunteer” work crews reset or replace the boo and line on every regen zone. The effort was accepted by the skiing public with surprising ease. There has been some occasional grousing, but as the trees have grown and the placement of some regen zones were adjusted for better skiing flow, the curmudgeons have accepted this practice too. After eight years, some of the oldest regen zones have trees that are ten feet tall, and the boo and line has been removed from a few zones to see if the skiers continue to respect them (they do). Given public awareness of climate change, people readily make the connection that new trees need to be nurtured to replace the older ones, or the MRG experience will become one of open trail skiing rather than tree skiing. Also, trees hold the soil in place, thus keeping the problem of land slides in check. (Land slides in steep terrain are a common problem at all eastern ski areas, including MRG, and the resulting slide paths are full of rocks.) The trees on the lower half of the mountain (e.g. Lower Glade, Gazelle) grow at twice the rate of those on the upper mountain (e.g. Creamery), so the “return to their former glory” is a slow process, but from a biological standpoint, it is happening! For Mad River it is “preserve and protect” in tangible form as the saplings we ski by now will be the stately trees that future skiers will appreciate. Credit for this success must also be given to the MRG Ski Patrol. While the volunteers set up and maintain the regen zones each summer, it is the Patrol that tends them during the ski season, insuring the boo is standing and the rope in between are visible.

Off-trail regeneration is part of woods line maintenance. To date we have stayed away from hanging rope in the woods to identify regen areas. It does not seem to make sense, and ups the ante on the Patrol to monitor them from a safety standpoint. So woods line maintenance comes down to selection of healthy young trees, and then defining the line with islands of brush to shield the selected trees from the skis of our skiers. A really clean, manicured line is unhealthy from a silvicultural (branch of forestry having to do with forest regeneration) standpoint. The trick is to maintain ski terrain in the woods without compromising the ability of the forest to regenerate itself. To date, success on this has been mixed, and we continue to learn. Some lines continue to widen, but others are stable, young trees are growing without skier damage, and they ski darn well. We have found that bigger is better for woods line islands. Small islands or individual saplings get trampled and beat up over time, especially with low snow years like the last one. It is the outer trees and brush that protect the inner ones.

Mad River occasionally hires a professional forester to assess the health of our forest (he skis too). He reports that Mad River’s mid-mountain forest is thin silviculturally from the Single Chair north across the area served by the Double. The forest is doing fine from the Single south. Weather events have been toppling the evergreen forest of the upper mountain, obstructing woods lines descending from the ridgeline. This appears disconcerting, but in reality this is the normal regenerative cycle of spruce-fir forests. These trees grow up all together, and fall down all together – known as an even-aged forest, with maturity at about 50 years. Our forester has no concerns about Mad River’s ridgeline forest because new trees are growing rapidly in large numbers where the forest canopy has been opened up.

Some ski areas have dabbled with on-trail regeneration (Upper FIS at Smuggs, the Big Burn at Snowmass, and tree planting at Sunday River), but woods lines and so-called adventure areas at many ski areas are devoid of regeneration, and there appears to be no attempt to allow new growth. This is a worrisome trend because the woods lines will become open trails unless careful management is implemented for new trees to grow. Examples of woods lines that are now official trails are Paradise at Mad River, and Robins Run at Smuggs. At Mad River we are trying to address regeneration and have seen some success, but it is clearly work in progress. In general the scope of work has increased and there is now coordination with the trail mowing crew. The annual mowing crew no longer mows wall-to-wall. They leave stuff along trail edges to halt the widening syndrome, and avoid promising new growth. Tree planting has also been done, with moderate success. The number of trail regen zones is stabilizing, and we are experimenting with unmowed on-trail regen zones without any boo and line to see if this less-obtrusive practice works. In general the emphasis or focus in woods skiing maintenance has shifted from cutting lines for skiing in the short term, to defining ski lines that promote regeneration in the long term. Skiing is the obvious motivation, but we must steward for forest for the long haul or a scraggly mess will be left for future skiers. This would be judged as very short-sighted as it takes 30 – 50 years for a tree to grow to maturity.

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