New Film Documents Mad River Glen’s 75 Years as a Skiers’ Paradise | Film | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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New Film Documents Mad River Glen’s 75 Years as a Skiers’ Paradise


Published January 31, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated March 26, 2024 at 4:11 p.m.

Still from "Mad River Glen: A 75-Year Fellowship of Skiers" - COURTESY OF BRIAN MOHR / EMBERPHOTO
  • Courtesy of Brian Mohr / EmberPhoto
  • Still from "Mad River Glen: A 75-Year Fellowship of Skiers"

In the mid-1990s, Betsy Pratt, then-owner of Mad River Glen, did something many businesspeople would consider unthinkable. She turned down a lucrative offer to sell her ski resort to a corporate interest and instead sold it for a far smaller sum to a cooperative of skiers who were committed to maintaining the mountain's natural beauty and simple ski-bum charm.

Pratt, a lifelong skier who died last March at age 95, never viewed Mad River Glen as a moneymaking venture. Her accountant once estimated that she sank $3 million of her own money into the resort over the years to keep it solvent through its leanest winters. She even mortgaged her home.

Decades before "Ski the East" stickers appeared on roof-racked Subarus, Pratt's red-and-white "Mad River Glen: Ski It If You Can" bumper stickers proudly proclaimed allegiance to one of Vermont's most celebrated ski mountains. The resort has welcomed skiers for 75 years — but never snowboarders.

Now a new short documentary marks that anniversary while offering fans a glimpse into the resort's history. On Friday, February 2, Huntington filmmaker Rick Moulton and the Stark Mountain Foundation screen "Mad River Glen: A 75-Year Fellowship of Skiers" at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center Film House in Burlington. Mad River Glen's Basebox will host a free follow-up screening on Saturday, March 2.

Using archival footage and new interviews, Moulton traces the history of the ski mountain, beginning with its founding in 1949 by Roland Palmedo. The ski industry icon was instrumental in creating the National Ski Patrol and the first women's U.S. Olympic ski team.

Palmedo, who owned the Mount Mansfield Lift Company, built Stowe's first ski lift. However, as he watched the sport explode in popularity and investors build even more trails, lifts, hotels and resorts on the mountain, he came to lament the decline of the sport's original rustic nature.

So Palmedo purchased 2,000 acres of woodland in Waitsfield, Fayston and Warren and opened Mad River Glen in 1949. He sold the resort in 1972 to Truxton Pratt and a small group of like-minded investors who intended to keep the ski mountain small and simple. After Truxton's untimely death in 1975 at age 49, his wife, Betsy, inherited the mountain and managed it according to Palmedo and her husband's original vision.

"All these other ski areas have leases on state or federal land, and they're beholden to corporate boards," Moulton said in an interview with Seven Days. "But Betsy owned the dirt [and] was able to call the shots."

Filmmaker Rick Moulton interviewing Gamal Buhaina for the documentary - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Filmmaker Rick Moulton interviewing Gamal Buhaina for the documentary

That autonomy permitted her to make a then-unpopular decision: In 1993, she turned over the resort's management to the Mad River Glen Cooperative, with the transfer of the title occurring in 1996. To finance the $2.5 million deal, the co-op sold 1,608 shares to Mad River Glen enthusiasts; Pratt even gave it an interest-free note on the amount she was owed.

"She lost money on the deal," Moulton noted, "but she kept it in the hands of the people who loved it."

Moulton's film also recounts co-op shareholders' 2000 decision to rebuild the mountain's chairlift as a single rather than as a high-speed triple or quad. The lift reopened in 2004.

The motivation, Moulton explained, wasn't just nostalgia but also practicality: A high-speed quad would have put four skiers on the slopes every four seconds, while the single chair delivers just one skier every nine seconds. A higher-capacity lift would have fundamentally altered the way skiers experience the mountain, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Eighteen months in the making, "Mad River Glen" was a labor of love for Moulton, who, along with his wife, Melinda Moulton, the film's executive producer, has been a member of that skiing fellowship since the early 1970s.

Rick Moulton was twice elected as a trustee of the Mad River Glen cooperative. He's been on the New England Ski Museum's board for 30 years; was a founding member of the International Skiing History Association, of which he is still chair; and served a decade on the board of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. His 1982 full-length film Legends of American Skiing was honored at the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival and nationally released on PBS.

This isn't Moulton's first film about the Stark Mountain ski area. In 1988, he released "Spirit of a Classic." But the 75-year-old, who still logs 50 skiing days a year there, thought it was time for an update and a deeper dive into what he called a "one-of-a-kind" ski area.

Originally slated to run 20 minutes with 16 interviews, Moulton said, the project ballooned to more than half an hour with 45 interviews. The film has something in common with a ride in Mad River Glen's chairlift: The longer run time is worth the trip.

"Mad River Glen: A 75-Year Fellowship of Skiers," Friday, February 2, 6:30 p.m., at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center Film House in Burlington; and Saturday, March 2, 5:30 p.m., at Mad River Glen's Basebox in Waitsfield. Free.

The original print version of this article was headlined "See It If You Can | New film documents Mad River Glen's 75 years as a skiers' paradise"

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