The Mad River Valley – not just a ski town.

The Mad River Valley is not just a ski town |

Old school skiis. | Photo creds: Patrick, 3/21/09 Flickr

When I first came to the Mad River Valley I was not much of a skier. I arrived on the back of an old pair of Rossignol Quantums; museum pieces, strait as an arrow and utterly lacking any semblance of side cut. Although they might look fun on someone’s ski-house wall today, in 1994 they were just beat up old planks that drew amused laughter from my ski-patrolling sidekicks during that first season ski-bumming it at Sugarbush. By contrast, I owned a pretty nice mountain bike, which I had purchased for the ghastly sum of $550.00, cashing in my first several post-graduate paychecks in 1993. Since I had the bike, and not the skis, I considered myself a mountain biker first and foremost.

And ride I did during that summer. Day in, day out, I peddled from the the apartment I was crashing in on Bridge Street in Waitsfield Village, through the covered bridge and up the East Warren Road; across the town line to Plunkton and down Fuller Hill to the Village where I was helping my friends renovate an 1830’s farmhouse. And every day at lunch time I would make the 12-mile trip in reverse, gaining as much elevation as I possibly could in order to rationalize the months of poverty to which that purchase had subjected me.

The heart-pounding uphill was rewarded by miles of East Warren views. And the thrilling descent into Warren Village was the ultimate recompense, but I knew nothing of what lay beyond the open road, and what I was doing was hardly mountain biking. In those days mountain bikers blazed their own path, and I frequently found myself wading across the Mad River or extracting myself from a thicket after the “trail” I was following died in the woods and my sense of direction failed to land me where I had predicted.  I was not a trailblazer or a pathfinder – I was simply looking for an allusive off-road adventure.

Today that has all changed as the Mad River Valley magically transforms from ski town in winter to mountain biking mecca in the summer, with the Valley floor serving as a transition between 4 distinct trail networks. The community of North Fayston, isolated by ROAD in distal proximity from town and school, are intimately connected in the backcountry to their their southerly neighbors on a series of moderate but flow-y loops to the east off of Old Center Fayston Road, which rate from intermediate to advanced and land on Old County Road in Waitsfield; and to the South into Phen Basin, the popular and technical Chain Gang and more moderate East Loop jump off at the ends of Phen and Stagecoach Roads respectively, and connect North Fayston via the Bassett Hill Trail.  

To the east the family-friendly Wu Ledges provides for good intermediate trail riding, as do the popular Blueberry Lake trails, which contain adventure for all ages but which require less experience and no suspension due to the modern design and easy flow inherent in their thoughtful construction.  I still ride my ancient hard-tail there from time to time, just to give the old gal some exercise.

Along German Flats there is a bunch of intermediate riding to be found from the top of Sugar Run Hill and adjacent to the Catamount trail – good intermediate downhill with some newly bermed switchbacks (a little too tight for my riding style) heading back to German flats, or some nice, flow-y elementary rollers that connect the Catamount network with Harris Hill Road off of Rt 17.

Mad River Valley, Not just a ski town | LiveMadRiver.comTo the east the Enchanted Forest provides easy access from the Tucker Hill parking area and gently flowing variety until the steep downhill terminates on Dana Hill Rd; or stay left onto Cyclone Connector and the significantly more techy Cyclone. Across Dana Hill the aptly named Busternut, GS and Clinic all provide increasingly challenging terrain that can be mixed and matched into loops of different variety jumping off from the Lareau Farm in Warren via the easier Revolution.

And finally, the rectangle parallel to the Sugarbush Access Road, framed to the west by German Flats and the east by Route 100 in Warren, the most challenging and technical network in the Valley, and some of the nicest trails in the Great State of Vermont. These trails are not for the beginner, and should be ventured on with some familiarity of the area (and with plenty of water). From the Eurich Pond at the Southface Condos options abound for the skilled and adventurous; from the moderate start on the Eurich Pond Trail to the more challenging technical work on Noonies, Guyers or Hell Hill, to the steep and challenging Bitches Brew or High Plum, and the Rollicking Maple Twist, there is something for everyone and all within a few minutes of the heart of the Mad River Valley.

These trails are painstakingly cut, maintained and upgraded by the Mad River Riders as volunteers spend the balance of their working lives building the back-country network that has made the Mad River Valley a destination not to be missed by those with a passion for the summertime adventure. The resulting network is the result of a life-long passion fueled by the need to stay active outdoors on a year-round basis by a small group of devoted aficionados.  

With winter just around the corner, there is still plenty of time to get turns in, of the peddle variety. Who ever said this was just a ski town!