Mad River Glen & The Natives

Published On October 2, 2018

An Essay by Stephen D Joslin

Howard Moody, was MRG’s very first General Manager.

My brother David and I were born and raised in Waitsfield. I remember riding to the mountain in 1947-48 with my Dad to watch the construction of MRG. My late ex-father in-law, Howard Moody, was the first manager of Mad River Glen. He and his wife Martha bought my parents first home on Bridge St. when they moved to Waitsfield. Howard had been a ski instructor at Stowe for a number of years so he knew Roland Palmedo, part owner of Stowe, well. When Roland left Stowe to begin Mad River, he hired Howard to manage it. My Dad, Riford S Joslin, worked in Sig Buchmayr’s first ski shop in the basement of the base box and carried the pies and cakes that my Mom and Martha Moody baked on Friday nights and Saturdays to supply Tex Thompson’s Basebox. In the initial years there was insufficient housing for the sudden influx of skiers. Most Valley natives would rent out empty beds every weekend to the visitors. Even then, there were not enough beds to accommodate the skiers. Many Friday and Saturday nights the assembly room on the second floor of the old Waitsfield High School became a ski dorm. Folding army cots were set up in the assembly room and probably on the stage too. My Dad was one of the villagers who would volunteer to sleep on a cot in the boiler room to keep the coal fired boiler stoked to maintain heat for the skiers.

This photo of the Moodys came from Ginny and Henry Perkins (founders of what is now the Mill Brook Inn) scrapbook.

David and I learned to ski at MRG on Franny Martin’s rope tow powered by a Model A engine. We went through many pairs of mittens and at least one jacket each year. I started working at the Mountain during the 8th grade on the packing crew; side stepping down the mountain with Raymond Weston who always tried to sneak us in some vertical skiing without being caught by Roland or Ken. In High School and College I worked every weekend and vacation at Mid-station, most always with Bover Graves. I vividly recall the lack of rest room facilities at mid-station. By working on the Single, David and I got to know most of skiers and their children by name. During the summer of 1961 I mowed trails by hand and helped pour the tower bases for the first double. The concrete piers for the new double were poured in place on the mountain with a gas-powered hand fed cement mixer. The gravel for the concrete was shoveled into burlap bags, five shovels per bag and then taken to the loading deck of the single. A single bag of gravel was then put onto each chair and taken up to midstation. There each bag was hand unloaded and put on a trailer pulled by a dozer and transported across to the new lift line where it was hand shoveled into the mixer. David worked all through High School, College, two winters after College and one summer selling tickets, sanding the parking lot, packing trails with Billy Stearns, lift duty, trail mowing, running the snack sled at times, pouring concrete for the new Birdland lift and driving a Sno-Cat with Jack Larrow.

The rope tow at Tucker Hill Lodge owned by Franny Martin referenced by the author.

I remember the great bands that played at Birchluf every weekend and sneaking libation at the Dipsy Doodle. My daughter, Cara, and my son, Seth, have both skied MRG. David’s sons and their children continue to squeeze in an occasional run. “Moody’s”, formerly Moody’s Creek, is named after my daughters’ Grandfather supposedly after he ended up in the small brook that was at the top of the cut off. I even spent one night in the Starks Nest to shovel out the chairs at the top in the morning after one heavy storm so that the chairs would not drag in the snow and pull the cable off the bull wheel.

Cara Joslin Morris, Howard’s grandaughter, came back to visit her grandfather’s old stomping grounds.

My great grandparents, Hugh and Elizabeth Baird, owned the property that is now the Mad River Barn. In fact, Hugh at one time owned a large portion of the land now owned by Mad River Glen.

Both David and I recall, with smiles now, our run-ins with King George on the Single, it was his Kingdom. Occasionally a mechanical failure would mean we could not ride down the lift at the end of the day. We would ride a barn shovel, the handle out in front, down the Porky to the bottom. God forbid that the handle got stuck in a mogul. I was asked only once to help change a pulley assembly and it was on tower #10. I was afraid of heights and used both feet and both hands to hold onto the top of the tower; I was not much help. We would swing into the tower from the moving chair and climb to the top and jump a moving chair coming down to leave.

Ski Patroller, Don Powers performing at the Dipsy Doodle circa 1950’s.

David and I along with most of the other Valley kids who worked at Mad River have fond memories of our associations and particularly those incidents that we did not get caught doing to make the cold more bearable. They would make another essay.

Part Two –

Andy Hengstellar took over the ski shop after Sig left.  His son, Sonny Hengstellar, would get aggravated with customers hanging over the ski repair bench so he placed a line of metal ski edges along top rail of the ski shop work bench and hooked them to a phone battery with a switch.  When skiers would rest their arms on the bench and get too close, Sonny would hit the switch and look surprised when the skiers complained of a shock.

Hearing instructor Don Powers’ Alpine yodeling coming up the Single when all else was quiet would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  The echoes were eerie.  Don, tall and slender, was a magnificent skier and also involved with the operation of the Dipsy.

In the Spring when it was warm and sunny, skiers would stash beer, wine and booze under the Mid-station platform.  We had a concern it might spoil and occasional quality control tests were conducted. One sunny day a young lady skiing in shorts fell out of the chair soon after I loaded her at Mid-station and landed out in front of the platform.  Prior to loading she had been under the platform, obtaining a drink of mineral water I assumed.  I had to give a statement to the insurance company afterward and never heard anything further.

“King George” AKA George Neill was the main man on the Single Chair for over 40 years.

Bud Philips was involved in the development of some of the first fiberglass skis. They were green on the outside and pink in the interior with a very soft upper surface which soon became pink and fuzzy.

If you wanted to get Sonny Hengstellar wound up, mention Cubco bindings, early safety binding.  He said they were only good as a bottle opener.

1965 saw a number of Valley youth volunteering or being “invited” to join the Military:  Bobby Fielder, Marines; Brian Orr, Army; Wendell Weston, Army; Dave Jamieson, Army and myself, Army; all MRG skiers.  This was when Viet Nam was really starting heat up. When David Jamieson and I returned in the Fall of 1967 Ken offered the returning service men a free season’s pass in exchange for limited work at the mountain during the winter.  I recall helping to set the bamboo poles for a Kandahar race on the Canyon.  I also resumed skiing that winter for the first time since 1959. After the start of the Iraq War I suggested a similar program to management in Jan of 2005. which they enthusiastically endorsed.  It should be noted that Bobby, Brian and Wendell all paid the ultimate sacrifice and a memorial was established to them at the Couples Club field by Dick Kingsbury, also a Veteran of Viet Nam.

The Bud Phillips Ski, one of the first fiberglass skis on the market.

Ken asked me to lead the Easter parade one year, believe it was in the early 60’s.   I rode my white Arabian/Quarter horse mix, Rex, all the way from home with a bag of hay and some grain and lots of warm clothes.  The plan was for me to lead the parade on Rex in front of the Basebox.  After a few steps it became obvious that the snow was too deep, Rex was sinking almost up to his belly and started to flounder.   I was worried he would injure his legs.  I got off and led him back down by the ski shop entrance and eventually road home.