So there was some pretty big news announced in the ski world yesterday with Vail acquiring 4 new “properties” (that’s how big conglomerates refer to their ski areas) including Okemo in Vermont. This brings their total number of mountains in their portfolio to nearly 20 and frankly it’s hard to keep up with this consolidation trend. Vail is not alone in this buying spree. There is also Alterra (Aspen), Boyne, Peak Resorts, Powdr (yup that’s spelled right), Alpine Valley Holding, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Mountain Capital Partners, and a few others not to mention the State of New York which owns three mountains. These corporately owned mountains represent nearly a quarter (and growing) of the approximately 425 ski areas in the United States. Beyond the ownership they are changing the face of the industry with a veritable plethora of joint pass pricing that is altering the economics of the ski world. While the trend is applauded by some and disconcerting to others the fact is these companies are offering values and conveniences that many skiers want.
So how does Mad River Glen, America’s only cooperatively owned ski area, respond to this shift in the landscape? This is a question we hear quite a bit along with: “Are you going to partner with any of these groups?” In our view the answer is pretty straight forward. Mad River Glen offers a very unique experience. It’s an experience that isn’t for everyone but is quite appealing to a viable niche of the skiing public. It’s a strategy that has worked since Mad River Glen was founded. Back in the 1940’s Roland Palmedo, Mad River Glen’s founder, had a clear vision for a ski area with a different kind of ethos. A place where sport and being in nature was more important than financial gain. He famously (especially when one considers when he uttered this) said;
“A ski area is not just a place of business, a mountain amusement park, as it were. Instead it is a winter community whose members, both skiers and area personnel, are dedicated to the enjoyment of the sport.”
The skier-owners of Mad River Glen carry on this vision today and are dedicated to protecting and preserving it for future generations. So what is it that makes a ski day at Mad River Glen so special?
It’s a combination of many things, and for every skier the answer is a little different. 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 skiers, with its co-op ownership, non-commercial, family-friendly atmosphere, dedicated staff and – of course- our icon, the Single Chair. Mad River Glen offers the most challenging and diverse ski terrain in New England. The trails were cut to follow the mountain’s natural contours. On the one hand, skiers can descend the entire 2,000’ of vertical on true expert terrain with no run-outs. On the other hand, Mad River’s mountain layout with a single base area makes it an ideal family mountain with plenty of blues and greens to satisfy every level of skier.
The Single Chair limits uphill capacity thus guaranteeing low skier density on the trails even on the busiest days. Mad River Glen is one of the last bastions of natural snow skiing in New England and is one of only three areas in North America that prohibit snowboarding. Combined, these qualities create a 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 sense of place that is truly unique. The mission of the Mad River Glen Cooperative is to protect and preserve these special qualities.
As the ski industry continues to evolve the best strategy for Mad River Glen is to be true to our ideals and Roland’s original vision. We need to price passes and tickets in a way that makes us sustainable and we can’t try to be everything to everyone. As the ski world changes our little slice of heaven will become even more special and unique to a certain segment of the market that truly appreciates the experience one can only find here at Mad River Glen.
We know that there are many compelling options when it comes to deciding where you and your family will ski. We hope and trust that you will continue to appreciate and support Mad River Glen for generations to come.