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No Snowboarding at Mad River Glen and The Burton Poach!


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This post is shamelessly poached from the Ski The East facebook group, with Robert Lincoln as the original poster. Someone had brought up discussion around Mad River Glen's snowboarding ban, so Robert did a deeper dive (original sources of his posts is unclear). I felt this post was deserving of preservation for future readers:

Snowboard Ban

All of this begins with Betsy Pratt, the cantankerous former owner of MRG. In the 1980’s she had been unsuccessfully trying to sell the mountain, but would not sell to any corporations or ski companies… she knew they would destroy the identity and character of the place. 

There’s a legend that people like to tell about Betsy. She claims it never happened, but this is the story from a shareholder:

“In 1995, Les Otten, who’d just started building his resort empire with the American Skiing Company, made an offer to buyout MRG, which Pratt had presided over during the previous 20 years after her husband passed away. When he approached her at the bar, she took a drag off her big corncob pipe, blew the smoke in his face, and told him where he could stick the check,” says Eric Freidman, the MRG marketing director. “Then she sold it to skiers for half the price, and financed it interest free until she sold enough shares.”

This was during the time when ski area ownership was being consolidated all over the country… MRG was flying in the face of everything in the sky industry. They were laughed at when they attended National Ski Industry meetings. Les Otten kept threatening the shareholders, “We’re gonna own you some day.” But it never happened.

When snowboarding started to spread onto the scene in the mid 1980’s, with a do-it-yourself back-hill philosophy, it was a natural fit with the culture at MRG. So Besty welcomed snowboarding on the mountain initially in 1986, (it was the second ski area in the country to allow it, Stratton was the first). Back then, even though there were very few snowboarders, MRG had a full snowboard rental and retail shop selling Burton Elites and Woody's. 

It worked OK for a while, but then they started encountering problems. The single chair is the last one left in North America and it’s a flat landing at the top, there’s no ramp, so when you get off the lift you step off the right. Snowboarders, without any poles to use and having to unload on a flat landing area, ended up pushing off the chair to propel themselves up and off. This was causing the chairs to swing and screwing up how they were going into the guide on the bullwheel. So Betsy had to hire an extra person to stand out there to catch the chairs as they were coming back into the guide. It worked, but the bottom line was that there weren’t enough snowboarders riding the single to warrant the expense and manpower.

Betsy decided that snowboarders were free to go on the other three double chairs, and free to hike, but couldn’t go on the single chair. The problem is, the single takes you to where the goods are, the best of MRG. Everybody wanted to go up there, and you certainly couldn’t blame them. This caused a lot of rumblings from the snowboarders, and some of the local riders started getting pissed off at Betsy personally. There were a few confrontations… but the most legendary was the final confrontation. Betsy again denies that this story happened this way, but many locals will swear to it.

In the summer of ’91, a crew of snowboarders were skateboarding in Mehuron's Grocery store parking lot, and they ran into Betsy. One snowboarder had a video camera, and they stuck the camera in her face and started badgering her about the snowboard ban on the single chair. One MRG local who saw the actual leaked video said that she tried to calmly explain her rationale, how it was risky to have snowboarders unloading at the top of the single, and the kid cut her off mid-sentence with, 

“Well whatever bitch. Now I know what it’s like to be a ni**** in the 50’s.” 

Betsy responded, “Alright, that’s it. You’re done. There will be no more snowboarding at Mad River.”

The snowboard ban made her famous. "I told them they could ride the double Monday through Thursday,” she says, “but they said I was discriminating. So I told them to go away. Don't misquote me on this.”


The Burton Poach

MRG commemorated its newly restored historic single chair Saturday, 12/15/2007 during the official dedication ceremony. The mountain's 58-year-old diesel-powered single chair had been replaced with a new electric-drive single. 

The current Miss Vermont, Rachael Ann Cole, joined Miss Vermont 1948, Jean Peatman, for the official 'unlocking' of the single. General Manager Jamey Wimble thanked the shareholders and loyal MRG community members for raising approximately $1.35 million for the Capital Chair Campaign. The campaign was still working towards its $1.54 million goal. If you think that replacing a single chair with a single chair is a ridiculous decision for “progress,” you're not alone…. especially when you consider that the ski area was paying $300,000 more than it would have paid for a new double. And that’s not to mention the capacity of that single chair to deliver a whopping 200 skiers an hour to the summit. But the single chair is a MRG staple, a core part of its identity.

Early that morning around 6:00 am, Jake Burton and a snowboard team of about 20 boarders arrived on a coach bus to a spot in the Appalachian Gap, and took a long, frigid, windy hike through the woods to the top of Chute, under the single chair.

Just a couple of days prior to this, Burton Snowboards launched the “Poacher Freedom” campaign, and announced a $5,000 award for the best video of those boarders who take to the slopes at "elitist, fascist" ski resorts that don't allow snowboarding. (Deer Valley, Alta, Taos, and MRG at the time) Burton encouraged riders not to break the law, and posted a Ten Commandments of Poaching, which include always buy a lift ticket and always respect ski patrols.

"Poaching isn't simply a peaceful form of protest. It's truly your patriotic duty," the snowboard maker said on its website.

The riders, who were dressed in white Tyvek snow suits with "Glad River Men: Poach It If You Can" stickers across their chests, started their descent down the Chute, planned and timed to crash the ceremony taking place at the single chair base. But the riders were slowed considerably by the rugged and wind-blown conditions. According to mid-station witnesses, the riders were hustling to get down while the ceremony was still going on, but the Chute ended up being a bit too challenging for the unseasoned poachers. The whole issue was covered by local media, but unfortunately, the TV cameras were not set up on Chute where, apparently, most of the riders side-slipped the bumps and ledges.

Upon their arrival at the base, riders posed for group pictures with Miss Vermont, Rachael Ann Cole, and according to marketing director Eric Friedman, “were very respectful.” They left the base area only to return with creative, non-threatening posters to form a picket line. Still in their white Tyvek suits, the Burton crew behaved and the MRG crew enjoyed the show. After the picket, the riders even patronized the cafeteria and passed out “Poach It If You Can” bumper stickers. All in all it was a good, amicable showing for both parties. The only part of the Burton poaching code they did not follow was purchasing lift tickets.


Official Mad River Glen Snowboarding Policy



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  • 2 years later...

This story is incorrect. Those skateboarders were not skating at Mehuron’s. They were skating at the Grand Union. Any self-respecting skateboarder from the valley in that era would know that the pavement sucked at Mehuron’s and the curb at Grand Union was ‘proper’. Also, the video came after the ban. Moreover, there was absolutely no derogatory language pointed towards Betsy. By the way, I should know. It was my voice on the video and I have possession of that video.

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