For Saturday's big birthday blowout in the Base Box, Friedman rented a tent, booked a swing band, and hired a caterer—imperial extravagances by Mad River standards. He also charged $25 for tickets to the party. Earlier in the day I heard Paul Marble, a bearish old guy in a cap who sells maple syrup from a pickup parked at the base of the mountain and who happens to be a shareholder, grumble to one of the ticket ladies: "Ol' Eric's sure spending his money—our money." But none of the other 400 or so guests seemed to mind. In fact, men and women who under normal circumstances wouldn't be caught dead in anything fancier than a ski parka arrived in black tie and evening gowns. Women mushed over the ice in boots and donned their heels inside; men pointed at one another and snickered like farmers embarrassed at being seen in their Sunday best.
Many of the regulars at Mad River first visited with a local ski club, and social life on the mountain is still demarcated somewhat by these origins. I fell in with a crowd who had discovered Mad River in the midsixties through the Ramapo Ski Club in New Jersey, among them Carol Pierce. An ebullient, dark-haired woman, she had come all the way from the state of Washington to attend the party. She mentioned that her husband, who had been a patroller at Mad River for 35 years,was skiing in Idaho, and that started Carol railing about the evils of Sun Valley, where the man-made snow was "unforgiving" and unskiable. Then she got on to Sugarbush. "We call Sugarbush 'Mascara Mountain,'" she said. Mad River's nickname is Hardware Mountain, after the unofficial dress code: $600 ski boots and duct-taped wind pants.
Chris and Sarah Haviland were sitting at a table with friends. The two practically qualify as the royal couple of Mad River Glen: Each is among the best skiers on the mountain, and they met through ski clubs. Sarah, who is 28, traces her lineage to a group from Hartford, Connecticut, and Chris, who is 39, stocky, and balding, to White Plains, New York. (Even Chris's parents met through a ski club, at Gore Mountain in New York; they took their first trip as a couple to Mad River.) They built a house halfway between his office, in Burlington, and the mountain. Sarah, a good-natured athlete who could pass for a beach volleyball player, says they ski about 35 days a year. "When they close the mountain, we keep walking up and skiing down Chute until there's no more snow," Sarah says. But Chris says his brother, Mark—who skins up every morning before work and updates his Web site with snow conditions—is the real maniac of the family.
This was the evening of the day of rain and impenetrable fog. Without trying to dampen their enthusiasm for the occasion, I asked what they had thought of the conditions.
"Excellent," said Chris.
"Well, maybe just good," Sarah added, in a stab at plausibility. I asked how long they had stayed on the mountain. Sarah looked at Chris with unfeigned pride and said, "Chris took his last run on the single at 3:59." The single closes at 4:00.
"I have kind of a motto," said Chris. "If it runs, I ride it."
James Traub writes regularly for the New York Times Magazine.