AlpineZone Challenge 2011 – 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 11/1/2011:

xlr8r: Could you please comment on the relationship between Mad River and Sugarbush? You are competitors but also seem to work together very well for the benefit and growth of the valley. What happened to the pass reciprocity between MRG and Sugarbush? Will this limited reciprocity ever come back?

Eric Friedman: Let me start out by saying that I love Sugarbush and ski over there all the time. My kids have had season passes there and my sons are good friends with John Egan’s kids and ski together quite a bit. While we might joke around and there is certainly some “competition” between the areas we really do get along just fine and try hard to work together to encourage destination visitors to the Mad River Valley generally. Since Win Smith took over at Sugarbush they have been incredibly supportive of MRG and the Co-op. In fact Win even sponsored one of the chairs on the historically restored Single Chair. Although we are a little unhappy that he just recently married one of our favorite Co-op shareholders and has dragged her over “to the dark side”.

We like to think of Sugarbush as our “Little Sister who lives just down the road”. Remember folks MRG was here first! Note our full page ad in the Valley Reporter we placed to celebrate their 50th anniversary – We always one-up them with these things as it was our 60th that year!

Mad River Glen and Sugarbush offer a combined ski experience that no other resort area in New England can match. 3 great mountains (Lincoln Peak, Mt Ellen and Mad River Glen) on one massif along the spine of the Green Mountains each offering a distinct experience.

Combined we offer the best and most diverse terrain anywhere in New England and together we share the beautiful, authentic and pristine Mad River Valley. Yes we do work closely together in many ways especially via the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce. We have reciprocal employee skiing privileges, training exchanges for our freestyle and race teams, we have a joint presence at the Boston Ski Show and have had a joint ticket product to encourage destination visitors to come to “the valley”. We get together to support many great causes/events like the Warren July 4th celebration, the Randonnee Race, broom ball fundraiser, and most recently the clean-up and fund-raising effort after Tropical Storm Irene. We also help each other out in many ways most importantly on the departmental level. Our maintenance folks communicate, the office/ticket staffs talk to one another and the ski schools and patrols have a tremendous rapport. We all know that “we are all in the same boat” in many ways. We were very appreciative last year when we had mechanical issues with our Sunnyside Double Chair the SB crew could not have been more helpful and were ready to help us out in any way they could and we’d do the same for them in a heartbeat. The bottom line is we could not ask for better neighbors.

Mad River Glen and Sugarbush have never had pass reciprocity beyond the employees. It is something both sides have considered but the problem is that we simply have very different business models that make it very difficult for us to come together on some issues, pass reciprocity being chief among them. As many of you know when the skiing is good folks flock to MRG like pilgrims to a holy shrine. Sugarbush’s pass base is so much larger than ours we could never handle the influx on good days. I think we both think that it I hard to say “never say never” but a reciprocal pass program would be highly unlikely.

steamboat1: Two things. Any chance of bringing back the wooden fenced lift line coral at the base of the single chair? It added to lift line experience & was so much better than simply roping it off. How about bringing back the wool poncho’s for riding the single on those cold days. Your customers very much appreciated them. Otherwise don’t change a thing. Everything else is perfect.

Eric Friedman: Jeez Steamboat you’re really dating yourself with these questions! No the wooden lift line corral is a thing of the past and will not be making a return. Yeah it certainly had its pluses and its fans but maintenance and keeping the snow in it were always problematic. No way to get a groomer in to flatten out those legendary ruts. In terms of the ponchos – we only have 3 left (the rest blew all over the mountain many years ago) and that is something that has gone by the wayside since the advent of Gore-Tex. Sorry my friend but you are on your own in the keeping warm department. Saw this pic and realized it covers the corral you mention in the background and a guy who seems to have lost his wool poncho;

deadheadskier: Does or has Mad River Glen considered either restricting ticket sales or increasing the daily rate on weekends? I’ve only skied there on weekends during the past several years and the 45 minute lines for the Single are a major bummer. It would appear on weekends that the demand exceeds the supply. Given MRG’s limited uphill capacity, I’m wondering if anything can be done to improve upon the experience for the weekend skier.

Eric Friedman:  Always a good question and thanks for asking. Yes the lift lines at MRG can get a tad long at times. I’d like to think it is because of my AWESOME marketing but I probably can’t take ALL the credit!

First I must say that it is unusual to have the 45 minute long lift lines, it does happen but usually not more than a handful of times every year. Even when the lines are long smart skiers can always get a solid number of runs in by skiing early in the day, later in the afternoon and through the peak lunch rush. That all being said one of the great things about our limited uphill capacity is the fact that while you might wait on a line at the bottom you’ll have the trails to yourself on the way down, even on the very busiest of days. So many ski areas these days put so many people on the hill that it feels like human pinball out there. What I always tell people is it’s just like my Mom always told me; “The best things in life are worth waiting for”. One of the issues with our liftines too is the way that lines are perceived. It used to be all ski areas had lift lines on weekends and that was just how it was. Today’s skiers are conditioned to have a low tolerance for lines. I get it and can certainly understand why folks don’t like to wait around but even on the busiest days here I think that the vast majority of skiers still get more skiing in at MRG than they can sometimes handle. Plus it has been said that MRG has the “happiest lift line in America” because they appreciate why they need to wait.

To answer your question specifically no we don’t really limit sales per se, but we do stop selling tickets sometimes when the parking lot fills up. The reality is that when our lot is full, the lift lines get long and the Basebox Lodge is packed to capacity so the fact is the lot limits our capacity. The fact also is that we have a huge number of pass holders so we can’t stop them from coming. We do charge more on the weekend. ($66 weekend, $70 Holiday and $45 midweek) but the fact remains that many people still work and most people ski on weekends. If I can solve that whole midweek skiing problem I’ll be regarded as the smartest ski are marketing guy ever. Don’t hold your breath! This all being said I would guess that having lift lines that are too long is a far better problem to have than what some of our competitors are forced to deal with. Bottom line is if you can get here during the midweek I’d highly recommend it – check our website as the season approaches for some amazing online ticket deals –especially during the midweek periods.

deadheadskier: Are Co-op Shares still available at MRG? If so, what are the current upfront costs for new share holders? What are the annual financial commitments and benefits to share holders? If new shares are not for sale, can they be resold by current share holders?

Eric Friedman:  Mad River Glen is currently owned cooperatively by about 1,700 skiers who own a total of 2,200 shares in the mountain.

We are the only cooperatively owned not-for-profit ski area in the nation. Of course shares are still available, in fact the MRG community continues to grow by leaps and bounds every year. Shares cost $2,000 each and can be purchased upfront or with $150 down and $50 monthly payments. If you and your family ski at MRG a fair amount it is absolutely worth buying a share from a financial perspective however we never suggest that is the reason one should buy a co-op share. You should do so because you want to help protect and preserve the unique experience offered here at MRG. Co-op Shareholders get a 10-15% discount on tickets or passes, depending on what they buy. Each co-op shareholder is required to spend at least $200 each season as what we call our “Advanced Purchase Requirement”(APR). For most all of our skiers it is money they would have spent anyway. Shareholders fulfill that requirement with the purchase of tickets, passes or if they are unsure when or if they will be visiting the mountain they can get our own currency – Mad Money (we’re sort of like a 3rd world banana-republic in that regard). Mad Money can be used anywhere on the mountain for tickets, food, bar, nursery, ski shop, etc… so even if you come up one weekend a year to ski you’ll more than likely spend that money anyway. Co-op shares can never be re-sold on the open market. If you decide in the future to tender your share you can do so by selling it back to the Co-op. It cannot appreciate in value and you’ll receive what you paid less a processing fee. If a shareholder no longer is using the mountain for any reason they can turn their share into what we call a Preservation Certificate. This basically de-activates your share which means you lose voting rights and shareholder discounts but you wouldn’t have to pay the APR. One can decide to reactivate the share at any time simply by letting the co-op office know.

deadheadskier: Has the recent decision by Taos in New Mexico to allow snowboarding resulted in any renewed discussion of doing the same at Mad River Glen? What about the economy? I would imagine in this economy someone has at least looked at the potential revenue allowing snowboarding would bring to the area.

Eric Friedman:  Umm no!

Why is the economy bad? In all seriousness this issue is not one that even comes up very much in all honesty.

bvibert: Any word on the terrain park that was mentioned on the Mad River Glen Facebook page?

Eric Friedman:  You bet, it is almost done maybe by the end of the week. It is MRG in scale and MRG is terms of look and feel. Just a couple features up on Lark (off the top of the Birdland Chair – and accessible off the Slalom Hill too. This will be called The Lark Park and the two features are made entirely of wood. We also have plans to add a few features on the very bottom of Lower Antelope (below the bridge back to the base area). While we are excited about the idea of a park here at MRG make no mistake – we have no intention of trying to compete with the big boys in this regard. We have simply gotten so many young skiers asking for it that we decided to try and give them a little taste of it. Rest assured we have not lost our overriding attitude that we don’t really need a terrain park because Gen Stark Mountain simply is one giant natural terrain park.

Magog Fishy: Only major issue I have is the parking situation, especially during a snowstorm — it often can be treacherous to maneuver around crammed in cars to find a space. I generally buy tickets ahead of time online but cannot always get to the mountain early. If I recall correctly, the co-op has repeatedly said it will not increase the parking. Any plans to reconsider this?

Nope , the fact is there is no room for us to expand. We understand it isn’t the most ideal situation but we don’t have much in the way of wiggle room.

billski: Is it true that MRG has ambassadors who (might) give a tour of the hill?

Eric Friedman:  Yes our mountain hosts offer tours on weekends and holidays at 9:30 AM. Simply meet at the flag pole in the base area. Please keep in mind that the tours are designed as a way to give new visitors an understanding of the “lay of the land”. Don’t expect a tour of our legendary glades, you’ll have to find that on your own!

That all being said – do contact me directly anytime and I’d be happy to take you out personally! Twist my arm and make me go skiing – PLEASE!!!!!

Nick: Are there any trail changes, new trails, upgrades, or other capital improvements in the works that you could let us in on? Not that you need any, but I’m generally interested in where the mountain sees itself in the coming decade.

Eric Friedman:  No there are no new plans for new trails, just ongoing maintenance and continued work on our legendary gladed terrain. In terms of other capital improvements we allocate money each year to keep the infrastructure “up to snuff” and the Co-op has been chipping away at deferred maintenance for years. Since the Co-op took over 15 years ago more than $4 million have been spent on capital projects including the restoration of the Single, replacement of the Sunnyside Double drive, installation of the Callie’s Corner handle Tow, addition of a new maintenance shop, shoring up and painting of buildings generally, and various renovations to the Basebox Lodge.

That all being said we have a 20 year capital program in place that will continue to keep our facilities looking good. The Co-op’s board of trustees is also in the process of reviewing our base area master plan which interestingly will be discussed at their next meeting on November 12th. Nothing earth shattering but it does include a new patrol/ski school building, additions to the Basebox Lodge and other projects that will enhance the experience for our skiers. The ability for us to successfully achieve these goals is dependent upon prudent management, the loyalty of our skiers and the ability for us to continue growing our community through Co-op share sales.

xlr8r: Any chance of upgrading the single chair to a high speed detachable single?

Eric Friedman:  Ummm No! But be aware that when our skier-owners were deciding on the fate of the Single Chair a few years back that was one of the options on the table and we did get a rough price on what it would cost (It was a lot!)

But in all seriousness people might not be aware (and this is the God’s honest truth) that The MRG Single Chair is the fastest fixed grip lift in North America with a maximum uphill speed of 600’/minute.

Running time to the top of the mountain is about 9 to 10 minutes depending on the day which ain’t bad for 2,000 plus vertical feet. In fact it is the fastest way to the top of the mountain in the Mad River Valley. Like my Mom said earlier in regard to lift lines. “The best things in life are worth waiting for”! Also be aware that The Single just got a $1.8 million historic restoration just a few years back so we won’t be even considering the topic again for decades.

To view forum comments on this Challenge and the Challenge Results, please visit the following page: