Sunday, March 23, 2014

Vulcanized: powder, people and pain at Jay Peak.


Let me tell you a story: it was THIS deep...
 There was a lot of hype and anticipation for a winter storm called Vulcan that cruised through New England last week. Living at a distance, I had booked the time off before the forecasters freaked out, and consider myself lucky to have experienced it. And what an experience it was - from the drive down, to the skiing, to the apr├Ęs, to the unfortunate accident that ended our weekend, and one person's season, it was an action-packed few days at Jay Peak.

So, why are we driving through this again? Oh, yes, to go skiing, of course!
Let's start with the drive, something many Jay Peak visitors endure, and few locals truly appreciate. On a good day, I can travel from SBRHQ to the JJ Clubhouse in 7.5 hours. On a bad day - who knows, you might get diverted and spend the night in Cornwall. But not this time: with the dog as my co-pilot, and the valiant Snowbaru providing the ride, we headed into the maelstrom. With wind ripping snow across the flatlands of Ontario and Quebec, the roads were swept clean (mostly) but visibility was a bit of an issue. Once I hit the tree-lined back roads of northern Vermont, I started to realize just how much snow was actually sticking to the ground. I knew that Thursday would be a good day and was glad I hit the road in the late morning, and arrived in the early evening.

An on-map glade, late Thursday morning. Still plenty for everyone.
Thursday, March 13, was destined to be a day to remember for east coast skiers. From Magic to Middlebury, Wildcat to Whiteface, Stowe to Saddleback, it was a "powder day" of some sort. I use quotes because, depending who you talk to (or which ski report your read!), the definition of  powder seems to vary. For some it is fluffy, loose "blower" snow only, for others, well, if it is untracked and deeper than your bindings, it is a powder day. I would put Jay Peak on Thursday, March 13, as solidly in between. While there was LOTS of snow, it was well distributed by the incredible wind, so runs could be lovely cream-cheese goodness, obstacle courses of intermittent waist-deep drifts, filled-in surprises, or wind-scoured hellholes. Fortunately, the latter was the exception and wonderfully interesting skiing was the order of the day.

Not so thin thin cover on NWP.
My "run of the day" had to be Northwest Passage, a quirky little pitch not often in condition. Heeding beta gleaned in the bar the night before, I was heading to North Glade but decided to stop and survey the upper entrance to NWP. Often a siren's call leading skiers to a gnarly rock garden, it occurred to me that, today, of all days, it had to be good. And it was. The five tracks ahead left ample room for untracked turns and, upon reaching the steep part, I discovered that the relentless wind and continuing snow had filled everything in. Even the shark teeth on skier's left were navigable. Zip, zam, zowie and swoosh, off we go!

Ooops. Hit a surprise drift, double eject, sitting on my ass, might as well snap a photo.
A rabbit hole on Tramside. Watch out for the spike.
The crowds were out in force that day, due to a winning combination of Jay Peak powder frenzy and March Break madness. Despite the interesting people I was meeting on the chairlifts, the number of people on the hill finally got to be a drag. All the reliable glades were tracked up and busy. The Jet shut down with a mechanical problem at 11:30 and the Tram was on wind hold. I called it a day by 2 pm and headed up to Jay Pass for a short tour. What a contrast! Only a few cars were parked in the upper lot, so I chatted with a random snowboarder, and with a stuck truck providing entertainment, geared up for the trek on the Catamount Trail and into the woods. Being kind of pooped from the morning's activity, plus the fact that I was solo and nobody on the planet knew where I was, I kept the tour mellow and easy. The wind-packed cold snow in the upper glades was slow, and even with 112 mm skis underfoot, I had no trouble keeping speed under control. A fine end to a great day.

A little unexpected activity on the 242.
Up we go. Damn post-holing snowshoer!
Untracked up high, not far from the madding crowd.
On Friday, I was joined by Jonny Jay and his darling companion, the DC. I did, however, forget my camera, so have no photographic record of that day. Temperatures had warmed up a tad, the wind moderated a little bit, and the crowd increased considerably. With the Jet still closed in the morning, both the Bonnie and Freezer had the longest lines I had seen in a long time. The Tram line was ridiculous. Hardy folks were hiking to the summit from the top of the Flyer, even though the Tram was running. We don't do hardy, so stuck to the lifts.

Maybe we should take up hiking.
The overnight wind had refreshed many trails, and some (like JFK) were much improved over the day before. We enjoyed two back-to-back stellar runs in Beaver Pond before coffee break, which given the popularity of that glade, was, frankly, a bit surprising. After lunch, the DC headed over to the Taiga Spa for a massage, a gift from JJ, but the boys kept skiing. The Jet had re-opened, so we headed over, only to observe another monstrous line-up. Ahh, the joys of skiing during March Break! After some discussion of what to ski, we headed for Timbuktu and found fantastic conditions. Our legs were done by the time we got to the bottom, so we cruised over to the Bonnie and decided to have last run down the Can-Am. After Jonny Jay escaped the ranting and raving of a very tightly-wound 12 year old in the lift line, we inspected the run of choice from the lift and decided that it looked pretty good. Approaching the top, I observed that the wind had shifted and was now howling UP the Northway. Well, that settles it, we are definitely headed downwind! But you can't see the Can Am rollover from the chair, and you couldn't really see the ground due to the wind-driven snow. Feeling a bit like Antarctic explorers, we headed downhill. I stopped to assess the situation, but as usual, Jonny Jay cruised right by, confident as ever, and I got to observe his well-controlled sideslip into oblivion, snickering a little, as only a little brother can. Fortunately, he did finally hit a snow patch, and after a few scratchy turns, I joined him on the excellent snow below. Another fine end to a good day, capped off by a beer in the Bullwheel Bar, something we Clubhouse-dwellers rarely indulge in.

Traffic snarl at 8:55 AM. Yikes.
Saturday was a different kind of day. It started off well, though the crowd level went up another notch or three. We started a little slow that morning, and pulled into Stateside around 9 am. I think we snagged the last parking spot in the main lot. Later, we heard that cars were being towed from any no-parking zone, which would be a really crappy way to end a ski day: "Dude, where's my car?" But there are crappier ways to end a ski day. After a few pleasant runs and a nice break at Tramside, JJ, DC and I were heading over to the Bonnie for a last run before lunch. In the tail end of Buckaroo Banzai, below Taxi and just above where the glade exits onto Lower Can-Am, the DC simply zigged when she should have zagged, with excruciatingly painful consequences. As in, a broken leg. JJ stayed with her while I skied down to alert the ski patrol, not far away. This is why tree skiing in groups of three is a good idea. It is a weird feeling, skiing as fast as you can, but not wanting to have an accident yourself, through the people out there having fun, knowing that someone dear to you is in severe distress and needs help. The Jay Peak Ski Patrol were fantastic, getting her off the hill securely and safely, into the waiting ambulance. Great care continued at the North Country Hospital in Newport, VT, where the doctors announced that she would need surgery, and, well, we don't do that here. So, the doctor's orders were a cross-border trip in another ambulance, off to Montreal General. Jonny Jay had the presence of mind to ask if she might need her passport. Hmmm. Anyway, we bolted back to the Clubhouse so he could get the passport, and I could get organized for the long drive home. Moral of the story? All you Canadians skiing at JPR - have travel insurance! Thankfully, JJ did.

Not the view you want at the end of the day.
So the DC rests at home, with a titanium rod in her leg, mending slowly. Heal well, my friend, and we will see you on the slopes next season.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A mid-winter Jay Peak update from Jonny Jay

Mid-winter you say? Yes, I believe the best is yet to come. Things are shaping up well for epic March conditions, if that big storm would just materialize....

Jonny Jay reports after an expended sojourn at the mountain:

The last ten days have probably been the best of the season for consistent variable powder, packed powder and some afternoon scrape just to keep one honest! Glade runs were in great condition although, as always, another dump of snow would help the whole mountain.

Can-Am went from superb (as long as you avoided the shiny ice patches) to very slick at the top a scant hour later - as a few members of the group discovered after I told them how good it was – oops! Always good to challenge yourself . . . Power Line was a treat as usual, full of surprises and lots of good turns.

Oh – and the sun came out.

See you all at the mountain.

Jonny Jay

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Skiing the Big Chill (AKA Polar Vortex) and loving it

"There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."

According to the Internet, it may have been a Norwegian who coined this phrase. No matter. Norwegians, in my experience, are somewhat loony and would certainly embrace the experience of skiing at Jay Peak in the throes of the Vortex and the dismal northern dregs of winter storm "Hercules." Embracing our inner Norwegians, we dressed for the weather and embraced some classic Jay conditions during the first days of 2014.

Clear and frosty at the top of the Montrealer.
As usual, many members of the Jonny Jay Ski Club gathered at Jay Peak over the Christmas and New Year's holiday. The weather was all over the place, ultimately laying waste to the fine start to the season enjoyed by those lucky enough to ski before Christmas. Reports were contradictory: BBP was awesome, or BBP was awful; Valhalla was "not awful" - that sort of thing. I arrived at the end of the holidays, just in time for the deep freeze and some surprisingly fun skiing.

The marked path through the snowmaker's ice fog
Day one found Jonny Jay, yours truly and the two nephews enjoying some quality bonding time. JJ and I are actually great uncles to these lads but since it tweaks our vanity to admit it, we simply call them "the nephews." No pictures were taken due to technical difficulties but a good time was had by all. The surprise of the day was Timbuktu, which skied very nicely given the snow levels. But we won't talk of Kitzbuhel, which was definitely having an off day. The Kitz has its moments but that was not one of them. Oh well, if you want to know what conditions are really like, there is only one way to find out.

Snowmakers manage to fashion a mound of snow that resembles the classic profile of Jay Peak.
On day two, only my sister-in-law and I would ski, a very rare event. The fact that Friday, Jan. 3, was the coldest day so far made it even more special. My car registered -22 C in the parking lot, so it could only be colder on the hill. We had a great day, complaining about the temperatures but enjoying the snow, which was really nice. The day started off well with a first run down Goat to Buckaroo and a little fresh snow in that glade. We adopted a "two runs and take a break" schedule due to the extreme cold. After four runs, it was time for a long lunch at Howie's, the new eatery at the new Stateside Lodge. For a crew used to sitting in the old Stateside  "locker room," eating white bread sandwiches and "crisps," this was quite a shift. The service was cheerful, the chowder outstanding and my sandwich very tasty. All of which made heading out again into the deep freeze a little less daunting. Surprising the nay-sayers, we lasted until 3 pm, when both the sun and the mercury started to dip below the horizon.

Nice view from the lunch table!
 Jonny Jay joined us for somewhat warmer (or at least less cold) day three, a Saturday. Ushering in the balmier (only -15 C) was our old friend the wind, which, along with the extra people a weekend brings, scoured many exposed areas. With the Freezer being open, we ventured over to that side and even found some nice snow in Beaver Pond. You just had to ski where the snow was, a lesson learned the hard way at the top of the Northway. While I was enjoying a few inches of windblown ice crystals on the left edge, those sticking to the middle were rewarded with a surface worthy of the Ice Haus.

JJ inspects Can Am
 Besides the cold, the topic of the week (of course) was the new Stateside Lodge. Even with experienced guides, my first day using it was a bit confusing. By the second day, I had the lay of land sorted out, and a few mysteries solved (like, who was Howie, and what vintage is the bus?). There are pros and cons. I have to say, the 54 stairs up from the parking lot are a bit daunting. The inside stairs - very ski boot friendly. And the cubbies are nice. Though there could be a few more hooks. And the bar? What a concept! The jury is still out on the bowling alley effect between the ski racks and the two lifts, and, just like at Tramside,  people are already leaving their skis at the top of the pitch. Is it different? Absolutely. Is it better? In some ways. Did the architect make some mistakes? Let's have a beer at The Bullwheel and talk about it. I could go on but what's done is done, and when it all boils down, buildings are just places to park your stuff. We really just come for the skiing and the people, don't we?

No visit to Montgomery would be complete without paying respects to Don and Frosty.
And then there is the long drive home...

Monday, October 14, 2013

A field trip to Stateside

Why most people go to Vermont in the fall.

The Jonny Jay Ski Club had a little off-season get-together last week, with the goal of celebrating a significant birthday for one of our members. That part of the trip is altogether another story. What is relevant to this blog is that we all knew that a pilgrimage "up to the mountain" had to take place, to see what was going on in Construction Junction.

We go to Jay for other reasons but, of course, try to maintain a low profile.
I rode with Pudd and his brother J, who hadn't been to Jay in a while. After getting over our shock at the smooth ride up the freshly paved 242 from Montgomery, we came around the corner and saw the The Hill. Needless to say for this crew, there were a few f-bombs of amazement at our first view of the construction going on at the new Stateside Lodge. Since the Stateside lot is still closed to the public, we parked at the new Mountain Kids Learning Center. The windows we could peer into revealed evidence of an active day-care operation. That was one end of the building. The other - who knows?

We found this in the parking lot of the Mtn Kids Learning Center. Very odd.
The star of the show, of course, was the new Stateside Lodge and Hotel. It is huge. And kind of barn-like, to be honest. And it has fake sugar-shack vents on the roof. Which is of course, appropriate in Vermont, as there are lots of barns and sugar shacks. But for whatever reason, it made me think of a monastery. Sorry, architects, but you have designed a very practical, not ugly, but decidedly monastical structure for the base of this hill. I am sure we will get used to it, though I am am not looking forward to figuring out the new plan of attack. What door do I go in? What table do I stash my stuff under? Are there hooks for my jacket? Will there be cubbies? And wait, what, there are three flights of stairs between the parking lot and where I put on my skis? Sheesh, where is the effing elevator? We are not getting any younger.

The new lodge pretty much dominates the the Stateside landscape.
The biggest discussion started when we hiked uphill of the new lodge, to the base of the previously new Taxi Chair. We imagined ourselves cruising down Queen's Highway, heading to the Bonaventure Chair (now painted green, no longer The Red Chair), or perhaps, with a little more speed, the Jet. The available terrain between the lodge and the lifts is vastly reduced from the old layout, and the downhill skier will be faced with uphill hikers to the Taxi Chair, sidehill sliders to the Bonnie, and downhill traffic from the runs above. On a slow day, probably no big deal. On a busy day, well, we all concluded that there is a cluster-f-bomb waiting to happen.  We shall see.

Surely, some snow will even this out. But it does look a little tight.
If you have read this blog with any regularity, you may have noticed that our little group is a bit reluctant to accept change. When it suits our tastes, we embrace it. When we have it forced upon us, we scope it out, we adapt and we seek out the best in the new situation. There are a lot of Jay skiers like us, and most of them hang out at Stateside. The old Stateside Lodge was the last holdout of The Past at Jay Peak. Now that it is gone, and a new space has been introduced, we have to adapt. Lockers have been booked and passes purchased. Fueled by stoke and history, the spirit of Stateside skiers will prevail and, after some growing pains, find its place in the new layout. Because really, a lodge is just a place to put your boots on, and the real reason we go to Jay is up on the hill.

There is hope, let's just trust that it is not discounted like a t-shirt.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Looking forward into the grey area.

"Leaving the City" - by John Rowe
When Newport-based artist John Rowe sat at a traffic light in his adopted Vermont town and imagined the image above, I wonder if he considered what effect it would have on skiers like me. Maybe, maybe not. Artists, of course, make art for a wide range of reasons, and are probably pleased when their work creates unexpected reactions from viewers. Perhaps it is my love of post-apocalyptic themes, exemplified by movies such as Blade Runner, Mad Max and Waterworld, but when I saw John's painting, two things popped into my brain: 1) I had to get a copy (which I did), and, 2) is this the Jay Peak of the future?

Yes, what will Jay Peak become in the grey area of the future? A maze of traffic lights on the 242, elevated parking, synthetic snow in a warmed world, waterparks everywhere and golfer-filled condos aplenty? Probably. With any luck, they'll throw in some mountain biking, because you could do that year-round when the snow stops falling.

Hopefully, that particular future is beyond my lifetime. The immediate future is easier to grasp and still snow-filled. Despite a lingering love for the old Stateside Lodge, our crew has pretty much accepted the fact that the new edition will be an improvement. We like the Taxi Chair and the Sky Haus Deli. Jonny Jay and I had lunch at The Foundry last spring and agreed that it wasn't so bad after all (and quite affordable, compared to regular cafeteria prices). A few of us have even dipped their toes into into the Lazy River and come out alive.

How do we deal with this? How do we go from bitching about development to quietly acquiescing and actually enjoying the results?  We go skiing. We find the chutes, the shots and the not-so-secret stashes, and sometimes, we just cruise the groomers. We take the long view. We appreciate that local businesses like Firsttrax, Sylvester's Market and all the others will thrive with a more year-round attraction. We look back to the Jay Peak of old, the slow double chairs, the Jet T-Bar, the 20 minute lift lines and wonder: was that better? Not really. Though I have to admit, I do cherish the memory of skiing certain untracked runs in "the woods" before they became "glades" and were given names. We will never get that back but it will always be with us. As Utah Phillips said, "Now the past didn't go anywhere, did it? It's right here, right now." As summer wanes and fall creeps in, I have to admit, that right here, right now, I am really looking forward to another winter of skiing at Jay. That is my past and that is my future.

And as for development? All we can hope for is that the powers that be at JPR don't lose sight of the "long memory," a concept that is another gem from Utah Phillips: "...the long memory is the most radical idea in this country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we're going, but where we want to go." - U. Utah Phillips

Where do you want to go, Jay Peak?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Final Day??

By Jonny Jay
The classic spring view of the Jet
Although Jay is doing its best to keep things running it looks like Mother Nature may give winter the last blow this week with announced high temps. One Jay source did say they wanted to keep going until mid-May if they could but . . . check on Thursday. 
Good conditions in Beaver Pond!
Skiing was great on the weekend if you timed it right. Triple chair side in the morning and then the big mountain late morning on. Upper Ullrs and Beaver Pond were perfect on Saturday at noon
but they closed it on Sunday because there was a bit of a walk over a few spots on the runout and I guess you could catch an edge in the various small fissures along Kokomo but hey -- it's spring! Jet, Haynes, CanAm, Expo Glade and even the Goat were all in good shape but the bottom runouts could melt away pretty soon.

A great season overall.

Nice snow on Tramside
Excellent coverage on the Vermonter!
RIP, Bonventure Chair
RIP, Stateside Lodge
Jonny Jay says adieu, for now

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stateside Farewell



By Jonny Jay
 

Were we skiing on these when it was built?
It was a glorious day for the Stateside Lodge sendoff on April 6, also known as the Chalet Shakedown. Albeit a bit chilly, the combination of tailgate barbecues and plenty of anti-freeze kept everything (and everybody) fluid. With demolition only days away, the old lodge put up a valiant effort to defend her weaknesses, and promote her strengths, while diehards searched for souvenirs and newbies wondered what the attraction was to this ski lodge with the inverted "V" roofline and the infamous bathrooms.

The party in the parking lot was in full gear by noon and the Jay Peak management is to be credited with letting it all go full tilt, in Stateside style, while also sponsoring a late afternoon band to wrap things up.

The highlight of the souvenir seekers was revealed when I walked into the seasonal locker room on Sunday morning only to find that the men’s room door – yes that big steel blue one – had gone missing! “Hey honey, look what I got from the lodge!”

I first entered the doors at Stateside in the late 60s, and there are many fine memories of a skier’s mountain with all the basics at hand. Now we are a multi-generational family of stateside groupies, shunning the more sophisticated Tramside cousin. After Monday a new era begins . . . let’s try and stay positive people, even though it looks like the new eating area will be facing the parking lot! Maybe the orientation will allow for a view of the tram, or the mountain, and all will be good again.

And by the way, the skiing is still great with almost anything skiable/rideable, and that’s what we really go for -- see you there.

JJ.


Tailgating in full swing

There is no shortage of snow at Jay Peak

The essence of Stateside

It was an all ages event...

The spirit of Jay is orange!

Do you think he was skiing the next day?

Who let the dogs out?

Bruce got things going and kept the grill grilling
 
Some EB5 construction workers on a day off?