Interview with Nate Martin, MRG Mountain Manager
Can you tell us how you started working at Mad River Glen?
Nate: When I was young my baseball team was coached by Bob Cook, Mad River Glen's assistant manager. He needed hand mowers in the fall, so when I was 14 years old I started working after school for $2.50 an hour. Then I began working part time during the winter, and in 1982 I was hired as a full-time employee. Like everyone up here, I started out doing a bit of everything, trail crew in the summer, lifts in the winter. Eventually I got off the lifts and went into grooming, making snow, and lift maintenance. And it just escalated from there and here I am!
How long have you been mountain manager, and how has the job changed over the years?
Nate: It was right after the Coop started about 20 years ago. It was really just a new title as my job didn’t change much. The main difference now is that there’s a lot more permitting and scheduling. There are a ton of permits that people don’t know about. Some are renewed every year, some every ten years, and you’ve got to keep up on them. But everything else is still there. I have Pete Defreest, Chuck Martin, and Stevie Eurich working for me, in the winter Chuck and Stevie are in charge of the lift operators. Then there’s snowmaking and I’ve got Travis Michaud the groomer in the winter.
So there are two of you that actually do grooming?
Nate: Travis does most of the grooming and I help him, there isn’t enough grooming for two full-time people and it’s hard to get people to do it part-time. Travis works a ton of hours, he usually gets in around midnight but if there’s a big storm he might start at eight in the evening. Then I usually get in around three or four in the morning so I have four or five hours to help him finish up before the mountain opens. The weather makes a big difference, if it’s warm you’ve got to wait until it cools down, and if it’s raining you’ve got to wait until it starts snowing.
Can you tell us what’s involved in maintaining the lifts?
Nate: In the winter there’s a lot of work getting the lifts ready, most people don’t realize that Chuck, our head lift mechanic, gets here at 4:30 in the morning to start prepping the lifts. He has to check every chairlift, every grip, check the brakes, warm up the auxiliary motors. Then the lifties get here and start cleaning chairs off. Even though we would do it anyway, a lot of it is state-regulated. Once a week we run the lift with the auxiliary motors to make sure they’re working properly.
The summer is when most of the work is done. We have to grease the wheels and lift the cable up so we can check the bearings, grease the rocker arms, make sure the bushings aren’t worn out, check for loose bolts, check the grounding rods, and replace grease in the bullwheels and hubs. Every year we check 20 percent of the grips for the chairs, if we find a crack, then we check another 20 percent, and if we find another we have to check all of them. We check and oil the motors, make sure the belts are wearing properly, and check the auxiliary power units. If the cable stretches too much we have to get a cable splicer in to shorten the cable. We move the chairs two feet every year to minimize stress on the cable, and raise the counterweight if necessary. If you take care of the cables they last quite a while, the one on Lift Four was installed in the early 1980s. And we have annual inspections by the state.
It seems Mad River has a pretty good record of reliability with our lifts.
Nate: A lot of areas now are having trouble getting qualified help, it’s an industry-wide problem. Many of the lift mechanics are getting older and ready to retire. It’s hard work, when you’re 40 feet up changing a wheel in the pitch black and it’s ten below zero, it’s really not fun. It’s hard to get people to do that when you can make good money sitting at a computer in a warm room.
It’s that stuff that keeps us skiing! What else do you do?
Nate: In addition to the lift stuff, we also have trail work, bridge work, building maintenance, septic system maintenance, road and parking lot maintenance. The last few years we’ve had the money for Ry Young and George Amenta to do trail work in the summers. [The work was funded by Stark Mountain Foundation. – Ed.]. Pete’s working on the groomers right now, he takes the tracks off, checks the tires, checks the bearings, tightens up bolts, checks for cracks in the cleats and checks the rubber belting. We also get the mowing crew up every year to help clear the trails with hand scythes.
I heard that Matt Lillard, the new GM, is hoping the campaign can fund a new power mower.
Nate: Our power mowers are no longer running, they’re so old you can’t buy parts for them anymore. It’s been happening for some time but the money hasn’t been available to do anything about it.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Mad River?
Nate: When the bullwheel axle broke on the Single, that was pretty difficult, it was down for ten days around Christmas. That was on the old Single, I think that helped get it replaced by the Single Chair Campaign.
Overall I’ve always felt supported and I have a good job, there’s only a few of us that have these positions and I feel lucky to work here.
What do you do for enjoyment in your spare time?
Nate: I like to go fishing up on Lake Champlain. I have a RV and a boat up in North Hero, I try to get up there on the weekends in the summer. I mostly go for Salmon, Walleye and Bass, I’ve been trying to catch Rainbow and Brown Trout but haven’t had much luck. I mostly eat the Salmon and release the rest, you’re limited to keeping two a day. Some guys are catching and releasing 30 or 40 a day but I’m just an amateur compared with them!
As an employee of Mad River, do you think the campaign will have a positive impact on mountain operations?
Nate: Yes definitely! The campaign is the reason we got the snowmaking electrical fixed, that’s made my job much safer and less stressful. Everything went smoothly with the new electrical, the fuses used to blow frequently, and then the guns would freeze up and so on. That was a big plus, thank you!