Saturday, March 14, 2015

Powder March is on at Jay Peak

Not Jay Peak but not very far away.
Now, THIS is tree skiing.
If you read this blog even rarely, you will have figured out that we typically report on recent experiences, as opposed to what is happening right now, or, like other snow reports, what is likely to happen in the near future. This week, the recent past and the the near future are lining up to be quite similar. If it is still Saturday, March 14, 2015, when you finish reading this, I suggest that you pack up the car and start driving, because tomorrow is shaping up to a powder day at Jay.

Once again, I locked in some holiday time and planned a Jay trip with high hopes that conditions would be good, or at least better  than what we found on our last visit (see below). Jonny Jay's report that it was "pretty good" left me optimistic, since he tends to be understated in his reviews. After three great days on the mountain, one of which was in the "lifetime top 10," plus two short but outstanding backcountry runs, I was definitely not disappointed.

Upper Quai - don't go there.
After arriving on Friday afternoon, I changed quickly and headed up the 242 for a little hike in the snowy woods. Driving by the Big Jay parking spot, I spotted a lone young snowboarder hitchhiking in an oddly frantic way. He looked to be in some distress, so I picked him up. While he was stashing his board and pack in the back of the Snowbaru, I observed that his board was not a splitboard and that he didn't have any snowshoes, either of which should be standard equipment for a snowboarder on a Big Jay outing (not to mention a couple of partners). I commented on the lack of snowshoes and he told me that he had hiked out.

"Really?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, man, it was up to my chest in places! Sometimes I just lay on my board and paddled with my arms."

"Like on a surfboard?" I wondered aloud.

"Yeah, like a surfboard, except you don't float in snow like you do in water."

No kidding, I thought. Long story short, he went on to outline his first trip to Big Jay: starting from the tram summit, consuming four beers along the way, coming close to riding off a cliff or two, not really knowing where he was going, and his epic slog out to the road. As far as I could tell, his only safety net was a cell phone, beer-fueled energy and a big dose of good luck. When I let him out near The Dip, I suggested that he start saving up for a splitboard, and he wholeheartedly agreed. Well, that starts thing off on an interesting note, I thought, and off I went into the trees.

A rare view of Powerline - untracked.
Speaking of trees, I spent a lot of time in the woods over the next few days. I don't know about you but when I ski solo, the instinct to explore takes over. Go here, go there, follow your nose, find that rabbit hole, wander the mountain. Snow conditions improved every day. As if six fresh inches on Saturday morning weren't enough, the day was highlighted by getting first tracks on Powerline at 9:30 am, and simply got better after that.

Some easy to find glade at JPR. On a Saturday.
 Sunday was similar, except for the time change. Yes, I forgot, and so did the 20 or so people in Stateside Lodge at 9:00, all thinking we were getting there for first chair but sheepishly putting on our boots while the neatly stored bags of the true early birds mocked us from the cubbies. It didn't really matter, the Jay Cloud had delivered another five or so inches of snow, so there was lots to go around until the hordes arrived at 11 am. Like the day before, little stashes of snow were there to be had all day. The secret stash of the day was completely unexpected: just looking for the most direct route to coffee, I took a shortcut through the Tramside terrain park and found boot-deep snow at the sides of all the features. Woo hoo!

Then there was Monday, March 9, 2015, a surprise powder day to be long remembered. Howling wind, thankfully milder temperatures and a lot more snow than forecast greeted the small and predominately grey-haired posse of skiers pulling on their ski boots at Stateside. This was a day to figure out the right aspect to ski, as the wind was piling snow up on certain sides of the mountain. I found places that were knee-deep and others where all the snow had been scoured away. Fortunately there was much more of the former. Then the sun came out. What a day!

No secrets - this was Timbuktu at 10 am on Monday, March, 9.
So that was the weekend that was. I could go on, there were many stories and many interesting people encountered. But it is enough to say that the mountain is well-stocked with snow, more is on the way and if you haven't been to Jay Peak yet this season, just go. Now.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Scrapey New Year!

"You should have been here last week."

A new view of Jay Peak from A-35. Vroom.

That was the unsaid greeting when Blue Toes and I arrived in Vermont, just before New Years. You know, before Christmas when there was some snow, even during the rain, when it was soft and the woods were in play. Before the Four Cowbramoosemen* of the Snowpocalypse rode in and spread Rain, Wind, Ice and Cold all over the mountain. Ah well, who knew that far in advance? The gods of vacation planning are fickle and sometimes you get what you get. So you run with it.
CanAm was not looking good on December 29. Or 30.

Like, for example, the Guy From New Jersey we met on the Bonnie, who opined that "well, everywhere else is just as bad or worse, so I might as well be at Jay Peak!" Kind of a JPR marketing guy's dream, this fellow was. Hey, the family was was happy in the waterpark, he was out skiing (or, "killing time between drinking," as he so eloquently put it), and in his world, life was awesome. Jonny Jay and I awarded him the Positive Attitude Award for the day.
Our new favourite thing to complain about: The Ditch at Stateside.

In the end, Blue Toes and the DC did not ski while we were down there. JJ and I did, because, well, that's what we do. There is this twisted enjoyment we share, related to skiing in adverse conditions and finding the silver lining. Where was the silver lining this time, after the bitter wind, lack of terrain, boilerplate ice and frigid temperatures? Not many people on the hill! No lines! On New Year's Eve Day, walking up and riding the Tram just to get out of the wind. Ripping down Ullr's at mach looney with nobody in sight. Ice, schmice. Kind of like the old days. And, of course, the apres-ski was fantastic. In our world, family fun always makes the trip worthwhile and highly entertaining.

A Jay Peak sunset, singing the blues.
* "Whats a Cowbramoose," you ask? Go to Jay Peak, check out the magazine cover. Or click here. Surrealistic Pillow, man.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A short report in free verse

This just in:

Skied northwest passage Valhalla
Beaver pond
It is scrapey on the groomers
but awesome for this time of year

...by Pudd

Monday, December 15, 2014

A short and sweet snow report from Jonny Jay

December 15, 2014:

For anyone wondering – the snow conditions at Jay are excellent. Mountain is in full swing with snow in the glades and perfect conditions on the lower mountain for anyone recovering from a broken femur . . . Deer Run was reported as super! Beaver Pond and Andre’s had only minor streams, good snow and lots of fun. The snow was sufficiently saturated to hold firm and will provide a great base for the winter snow yet to come. 


So get out the boards, see you there.

- Jonny Jay

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter skiing at Jay Peak

By Jonny Jay

The early season ice is now paying dividends because, along with some late March storms, it has produced some excellent spring skiing at Jay. Unfortunately it was a work weekend for us but we got down Sunday night to ski on Easter Monday – Buckaroo Soo still in broken femur recovery mode - progressing slowly but surely.

Apparently Sunday was an extraordinary spring ski day and the weekend saw tailgate parties and lots of fun. Monday morning looked like it might rain but I was determined to get a few runs in. Well by noon the sun was out with blue sky and an open mountain with handful of skiers/riders. We topped it off with lunch at the Tower Bar. Conditions were superb. Even Timbuktu was in fine form, Upper Milk still skiable and fun, CanAm fully covered, etc, etc.

If the rain holds off we should be good for a few more weeks, so drop the garden shears and get at it.

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