An Ode to Mt. Ellen and it’s People

At MTE it’s not unusual to run into a bunch of older guys and gals booting up in the lodge in their Tyrolean Sweaters and Moriarity Hats.  You can also find them on those older low red benches sunning themselves on the upper deck mid-morning and lunch time.  Have a chat with them and they will tell you they’ve been coming here since the place opened in 1963.  They will also tell you the place hasn’t changed much and they have no desire to venture over to the fancier Lincoln Peak with all its bells and whistles.  Yup, they are just fine and prefer it here.

What makes this place so special to them and other hardcore skiers?  I’m sure I don’t have all of the answers, but I can tell you why I like it here so much.

MTE has been around a while and as I mentioned before, not much has changed.   I know this not only because of the framed photos on the walls in the lodge, but because I also remember skiing here as a young kid way back when I had those lace up leather ski boots and wooden skis, which are still down in my basement.  I remember hectic early mornings that bled into late mornings gathering gear while my mother made liverwurst sandwiches wrapped in wax paper that went into the “scotch” cooler.  After many trips out to the car loading stuff, we would pile into the Saab station wagon, my brothers and I marking territory and crying out to my parents if we got close enough for our shoulders or butts to touch.

You drive up to the lodge and immediately see on the left of the front door a taped-up window that’s been like that for years.  To the right several windows have been blocked off.  One window is replaced by an industrial kitchen fan and others with just plain old plywood.  Above the grand stairway entrance are huge windows looking out from the floor above in the GML.  From there you face to the NE.  If you are an early riser and have gotten out of the house on time you will look out on a breathtaking sunrise; even better you might have seen the moon setting just before.

For the past couple years since I have been working at Sugarbush and commuting up and down Route 17, I have experienced this almost every clear morning.  I get the sunsets on my way home too!  There has never been a day except for a few snowy, greasy, slippery sideways rides downhill, that I didn’t tell myself that I am one of the luckiest people to have this commute.  (I am specifically comparing myself to those unlucky commuters stuck in traffic on the way into NYC.)

This year, the day before opening day at MTE, I walked into the lodge to a great surprise.  Sun was pouring through east side windows into a vast open area with plenty of room for those original beat-up farm tables and benches.  Along with the wooden couches that have new cushions, they had been sanded and refinished.  As I faced the fireplace a beautiful work of art above the new cast iron pellet stove welcomed me to “Glen Ellen”.  Where the heck did the stairs go?  They were cleverly moved along with the position of the Gear Shop and VASS, which has its own brand spanking new wing of three floors, elevator, and all.   

After I excitedly took it all in, my boss Karl and I quickly got to work cleaning the Guest Services area.  The back room had been used for a storage area for power tools, paint, screws, electronics and wiring, sawdust, you name it, etc.  I wanted to rip out the carpet behind the desk to do justice to the new flooring on the other side, but quickly changed my mind when I couldn’t get it to unstick from the underlying carpet.  From what I could make out, that carpet had several large holes underneath anyway.

This is a reason I love MTE.  We got some updates this year, but the place still feels the same.  What those carpenters did along with our employees that threw in a hand working morning into night back through into morning was amazing. And all in just a couple months!  Most people thought MTE would not be ready for opening day.  You can just feel the love for the place with the thought and care from the whiplashing whirlwind of downright laborious work.

The same weather-beaten faces appear every morning to get in some runs whether its 20 below zero or damp and drizzly.   They will be done skiing early afternoon and make way for the college students and passholders that know a good value , super trails and expert terrain.  Some head to the terrain park, others to the top of Summit and take in one of the best look out views in VT.  There you can see a huge expanse of Lake Champlain, make out hills and valleys in between, and rest your eyes on the snow capped Adirondack Mountains of NY.  I can make out my home in a little nook in a bay between Charlotte and Ferrisburgh.  One sunny day I even think I saw my dog running around the yard…

I asked to work at MTE mainly because it shortens my commute.  Driving to LP can exceed an hour.  I’m comfortable in the gutsy atmosphere with original structure and original regulars.  I now know and love just about every employee there since we are in closer proximity than at LP.

I arrive around 7 and meet Gordon on my way up in the parking lot. Most of the season it’s still dark at this time.  Sam, main lift operator at GMX has arrived much earlier than that. 

Judy in tickets arrives a bit after me, and we often compare the conditions of Route 17 since we both do this drive. 

I unlock front door and kitchen staff has been making muffins and sizzling bacon. 

Arnell opens the locked metal front gate to the cafeteria at 7:30.

Lift managers Dave and Nate sit down with breakfast burritos. 

Gordon (pictured at the top of this article) walks in and orders a bunch of eggwiches, and stuffs them into his bright yellow jacket pocket to hand out to the boys working parking.  He asks me for help with his coat zipper that he can’t reach in this stiff and bulky uniform.  Milo from ski and ride shows up. 

We share the back room and are careful to keep our stuff from getting in each others way.  Ambassadors arrive. 

We have a little meeting, sign in, talk about the open lifts, terrain, conditions, races, and decide who’s going where to cover important areas like greeting, drop off, bag police, ski rack attendant, lift line coraller to name a few.  Jim Soutar, who’s a whopping 83 years old can be found at his usual post on a chair right outside the ticket window.  He NEVER needs to come in and warm up because he is dressed in those wool layers and negative 200 below zero type boots.  Hes done at noon and usually tops his day off with 8-15 runs.  Judy was concerned one day when Jim didn’t arrive.  “Oh, no need to worry, he’s shown up every Saturday since we opened and has already fulfilled his ambassador day requirement”. 

If you saw fresh flowers on the Guest Services desk, they came from Sam who also has a job working in a greenhouse.  Throughout the day I interact with these great people and many, many more.  Jon, Ronny, Blake from F and B. Vaughn from the rental shop. Cooks, dishwashers , Lift operators, Mountain Ops, Facilities, IT Gear Shop sales people like Pam.  She is a former judge who commutes a 2 1/2 drive from Hardwick, is rarely late or misses a day.  I have come to know some of the regular skiers, recognize the same GMVS kids who come to me around lunch to make a gift card or sort out Resort Charge in place of cash.  I get a daily call from Robert Fuoco asking how the conditions are.  “Hey Anne, what’s the story?”  I have never met him but he has seen me on the slopes.  “I was that old guy in the bright green snow pants behind you on Northstar.  You should check out F.I.S.” 

At 3 pm I unplug the music when the band starts playing upstairs at GML.  Mikey and Teddy may rush down for a gift card for a guest who didn’t know they can’t pay cash for all those beers.  More people arrive who are not here to ski.  The crowd murmur and music get louder. The large “Liberty” type bell hanging upstairs may be gonged to the beat of the music at some point to celebrate this or that, or just celebrate!  Later in the season these folks will peel off their jackets and migrate out to the sunny deck.  Chuck from Lawsons may be throwing out t-shirts.  The band may also have set up on the deck and THIS is what I define at “Apres Ski”!

I had a revelation that made me wonder if joining this MTE team was all meant to be.  One of those moments when you go “Oh yeah, coincidence, may be that’s why…”  MTE used to be an entirely separate ski area from Sugarbush.  We now call it Mount Ellen, or Sugarbush North.  When you see that older fella in the wool sweater, you will see he has a badge sewn on his coat, hat, or sweater.  Its says “Glen Ellen” and has a Scottish coat of arms underneath.  He’s mighty proud and happy that I notice.  I tell him how cool it is. And I also tell him ” OH, you know what?  Ellen was my mother’s name.”   

Luv ya Ellen!

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