Friday was my first-ever experience at MRG. I had long-since heard of it, but the reputation of the mountain had always scared me off in the past with their famous "ski it IF you can" motto. This has been a great snow year in the north-east, so I finally decided to give it a try.
Woke up Friday morning to about 2 or 3" of snow on the car, with it still snowing fairly steadily. Not hard, but enough to let me know it wasn't going to let up anytime soon. MRG is a little ways up Appalachian Gap, which is a driving experience on a nice sunny summer day. It was semi-plowed on Friday morning -- i.e., just hard-packed "white". MRG was further up the road then I remembered it being, so as I was going up I was wondering if I had managed to drive past an entire ski area, but going around one of the bends the road got a lot wider (i.e., welcome to MRG's parking lot), so I pulled over.
MRG has by far the smallest base lodge of any ski area I've ever been to, but it being a weekday and there being no-one else around, there was enough room to get geared up.
There's basically only two lifts -- the double and the single, and they're both right there when you step outside from the lodge. The terrain on the single is legendary, so I decided I'd probably be safer taking a few warm-up runs off the double.
The double disappeared into the clouds on the upper-third of the mountain, but not before passing over one or two small cliff bands. I couldn't really tell what was under the chair due to the fog, but it looked steep. Wound up taking something that was a cruiser; Quacky to Bunny, I believe, as I wound up crossing under the single. Nice layer of fresh on everything, but pretty icy or at least crusty underneath.
Rode the double back up, and decided it was time to experience MRG bump runs. Started down Gazelle (right under the double), and quickly found absolutely solid, teeth-rattling bumps that I couldn't see in the fog. : I saw a cut-over to Partridge, so I took that and discovered even more teeth-rattling icy bumps that I couldn't see. Got tripped up by something under the snow, took a little slide -- i.e., the usual "is this supposed to be fun?" experience.
About this time I was really wondering why anybody would want to preserve the "MRG way" -- i.e., trail signage is somewhat minimal, the bumps are icy, the lifts are slow, the ... I tried to keep in mind two of my favorite Bob Barnes-isms:
- Being able to see and being in balance are luxuries you shouldn't depend on
- Bump skiing is 50% doing it right and 50% doing it anyway
Took another run off the double and skied down Canyon. "Average sized" bumps to one MRG regular that I met, but pretty big by most standards. Again, just nice consistent lines. Three inches or so on top was helping substantially, and I was probably glad that I couldn't see much as Canyon is a looonnnnggggg bumpy run!
With MRG very rapidly "growing" on me (I wasn't bothering with the trail map as the trails twist and turn so much that staying on any one trail isn't that easy, so I was just skiing whatever I happened to run into) I finally hopped on the single.
There was a sign at the top saying something to the affect of "Base is firm and icy! Cliff areas do exist! Don't blindly follow tracks! Don't go anywhere if you don't know what's beneath you !". : Great! I have no idea what's on any of these trails (other then that Lift Line looked really scary !)... Uhhhhhhhh.
I found the only blue off the top (Upper Antelope) which had been somewhat recently groomed -- i.e., mini bumps were starting to form. I think MRG is the only area I've ever been to that would call Antelope a "blue"; it and Cantamount (another "blue") twist around each other; I don't think it's possible to know which one you're actually on, but they do get narrow, and I do mean narrow, in places. Again, nice rhythmic bumps in the tight spots help out immensely.
Blundered into Lynx, which is the first glade I've ever found that I would call "fun". Next time up I skied down Lower Antelope; every ski area deserves a trail like this -- lots of twists and turns, narrow spots, "wide" spots, flat spots, steep parts. Just a non-stop adventure all the way to the bottom, complete with a hike-out at the end.
Upper and Lower Glades were also fun. (Me? Saying glades are fun? Must be the MRG magic). Chute (right under the single) kicked my ass; I'd blame the fog, except I think it would have humbled me even on a sunny day.
I avoided Lift Line -- those cliff bands looked really intimidating, although I did see one guy cruising down it exerting about as much energy as I do on the bunny slope. He was just making big cruising turns over massive bumps, jumping as need be to clear any obstacles in the way. I was in awe. Fall Line seemed like a bad idea as well given that Chute was a rather humbling experience. Never saw Paradise, but from the map it looks like it's off Fall Line anyway.
By the time I reached the bottom, I really appreciated the slow ride back to the top. Gave my legs a chance to recover and reload for the next round of bumps!
Met up with vrcka and her husband and took a couple more runs off the double -- Quacky, Canyon, basically whatever we blundered into. Took one or two more runs off the single before calling it a day.
I wasn't about to go wandering off into the unmarked trees, but thanks to the zero liftlines, I got to a good percentage of the stuff that's actually "on the map". I didn't really find the various trails that I actually skied to be abnormally steep (compared to Stowe or Cannon, for instance, two areas that I know reasonably well); the trails, however, are narrow. i.e., don't stop turning!
I had asked before my trip if somebody was around to show me around the place, but in retrospect, I'm glad that I got to explore the place by myself. It was definitely a little scary at first -- the lift rides are intimidating, no doubt about it, but to me, a good portion of the MRG "magic" is that the mountain -- even the "on the trail" stuff -- just begs to be explored. Point 'em, go, and just ski whatever winds up underneath your skis. It was easily one of the most fun days I've ever had on skis, anywhere.
My final two acts at MRG were to have a glass of Single Chair Ale (highly recommended) and to get a "Mad River Glen: Ski it if you can" helmet sticker, which is now proudly affixed to the back of my helmet. I was taking a break at Sugarbush (which is literally about two miles away from MRG) on Sunday when somebody noticed my MRG sticker and proceeded to describe how horrible MRG is, how he hopes the place goes away, how it deserves to close, how that "stupid sticker" should be banished, how... I was speechless and finally just got up and left, with him still railing about how much he hates MRG. I guess it's not for everyone, but MRG sure is on my short list of the most awesome places I've ever skied. Can't wait to get back!