- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

FAYSTON, Vt. — Mad River Glen’s single chairlift is a relic of skiing’s past, when lifts were novel, tickets cost $3.50 and everyone rode solo.

—Fifty-eight years after it began ferrying skiers up General Stark Mountain, the lift remains a beloved anachronism. Its days, though, are numbered sort of.

The 158-chair lift, one of just two singles still in operation in the United States, will undergo a $1.5 million renovation after the season ends. The diesel engine that powers the lift will be replaced with an electric motor; the towers will be sandblasted, repainted and installed anew; and the wooden chairs will be replaced.

Tradition won’t be thrown to the wind: The new lift will be a single, too, bucking the trend of covered gondolas that carry up to six skiers at a time. That’s fine by many, who savor uncrowded trails and speak reverentially about the solitary 12-minute ride to the 3,637-foot peak.

“Just being able to hear the sounds of the mountain, the wind whistling across the gap. It’s a contemplative time,” says skier Jen Greenwood, 32, of Nantucket, Mass., standing at the base of the lift on a sunny, crisp Monday afternoon.

“The fact that it’s a single chair keeps the crowding down. There’s always room to ski off the trails at the top. I wouldn’t want them ever to change it,” she says.

At most resorts, investing in such a simple, outdated machine would be unthinkable. At Mad River Glen, which is said to be the nation’s only co-operatively owned large ski resort, it’s par for the course. The resort does little snowmaking and bans snowboards, priding itself on natural, no-frills skiing.

“They very much honor skiing’s heritage,” says Heather Atwell, director of programs and public affairs for the Vermont Ski Areas Association. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least that they’ve decided to refurbish the single chair. It’s definitely a place that honors its past.”

Although Mad River Glen is owned by its shareholders, it is open to the public, and anyone can ski there.

The lift, built at a cost of $150,000 by the American Steel & Wire Co., had 69 chairs at its debut in January 1949. Powered by a 140-horsepower diesel engine, a cast-iron bullwheel and more than two miles of steel cable, it carries about 500 skiers per hour to the top.

Cutting-edge at the time, the lift helped revolutionize skiing in the mid-20th century, according to John Johnson, a historic-preservation consultant who wrote a history of the lift last year for the Preservation Trust of Vermont.

“It was a safe, quick, efficient way to get a lot of people up the hill quickly, as opposed to rope tows, which were very tricky to learn and rather hazardous,” Mr. Johnson says. “It’s a real treasure. You have an artifact of this age and complexity, and it’s still working.”

Mad River Glen’s approximately 1,700 shareholders opted essentially to rebuild the lift rather than build a more modern multipassenger system that might have cost less.

“There’s a big sense of tradition here, and keeping the single underscores that,” says skier Peter DalNegro, 71, of Canton, Conn. “On an early morning, when you’re one of the first to go up, you have the sense that you have the whole mountain to yourself. I’ve written poetry in my mind riding up. When I can remember it later, I write it down.”

Work will begin in spring, according to spokesman Eric Friedman. “It will start the day after we close this spring, whenever that is, and go through summer and fall, and we’ll have it done for October, when we open for fall foliage rides,” he says.

The project is being financed with donations. So far, Mad River has about $700,000 in hand.

te from web. Feb 24 was deadline, not date of a physical auction. closed bids for an auction of 140 of the chairs, with a minimum bid of $1,000 each. Some folks plan to use them as deck chairs or other furniture.

Couldn’t find anything on what auction netted - or even if bids have been opened yet. mmg

Five other chairs will be raffled off, three will be awarded as prizes in a “Why I Love Mad River Glen” essay contest, and the rest will be used for promotional purposes at the resort.

“I’m getting one and putting it in the rafters of the cathedral ceiling in my living room,” Mr. Friedman says.

Mad River Glen: Fayston, Vt. Visit www.madriver glen.com cqr phone 802/496-3551. Full-day adult lift tickets, $54. For details on all ticket prices, go to www.madriverglen.com/? Page=tickets.htmlcq. Mad River Glen is a three-hour drive from Boston, an hour from Burlington, Vt., or five to six hours from New York City.

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