Monday, March 21, 2011

JJ update: Why is THIS the Real Jay Peak Snow Report? (Part Two)

Jonny Jay checks in, as told to SBR. He apologizes for no pics.

After the early March snow dump, that I of course had to miss in the interest of making a living, I was getting excited about a ski day planned for March 11 with a bunch of guys I hadn’t seen in many years. But Mother Nature was punishing me again -- with rain this time -- so after breakfast on Friday morning at the JJ Clubhouse, I decided to call the snow phone at Jay Peak. As you can tell from the title of this blog site, I always have mixed reactions to the snow phone wisdom. Sometimes it’s a whole new ski vocabulary, sometimes you can taste the obvious optimism, sometimes you wonder what mountain they are reporting from and sometimes (when the sun is shining and there is no wind) they get it just right! Well at 8:15 on a wet March morning, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that all 7 lifts “were spinning” and all trails open. Plus they mentioned a "mini snow fall" expected for that evening and somehow overlooked the fact that it was raining at the moment – but that was quite obvious.

Being a diehard and likely a masochistic skier who can find the joy in any kind of weather, off I went to the mountain. Arriving just before 9:00, the first thing I see is that the Bonnie is not running. Then a report from a fellow masochist that the only lift running was the triple and a couple of lower mountain lifts. That’s a big change from half an hour earlier when all seven lifts “were spinning!” Well,  I thought, not much to explore but it will be fun. But the other guys all wimped out! So by 10:15 I was off with my plastic Jay baggie over my jacket to check out the snow. First run I tested the Derrick, which turned out to be far better than expected but a bit slow because there was about 6” of now wet snow to plow through. A good test for the Line Prophet 90s, which I am happy to say have worked out very well in most conditions (thanks to SBR for buying a pair the year before to give us all a report). Then it was the UN, which I rarely ski now as the knees can only take so much in a day. All alone, new snow to check the speed so I could “let 'em go” and the knees were fresh and ready. Great run! I looked back up and remembered the old days when it was called “The UN Express.”  They’ve dropped “Express” from the name now and I am thinking that is because it is not as narrow as it used to be – and certainly not as gnarly.

So what the heck, we’re on a roll, why not try the Kitz? Another great run, especially without any people interference, but my arms and pants were starting to get pretty wet. Well after a cruiser down the Montrealer I chose the last run to be lower Powerline or Lift Line (since I couldn’t get to much else and the glades were a bit heavy and I was really alone). Good thing it was the last run – very heavy down Powerline – and I was soaked. But you can always have fun if you’re dressed for it at Jay.

Moral of the story – the Jay Peak snow phone is a guide, if you’re a skier or rider then Just Do It, you never know until you get there!

And by the way, the weekend turned out to be actually very good with the promised few inches of snow covering the firm surface very well. Even had an epic run down the skier left Upper Kwai with my two great nephews and the tram running overhead – It was “showtime boys" and the old knees and the Line Prophets delivered!

Jonny Jay

Part one is here...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Seeing Jay Peak through new eyes

Despite the twin-tip mid-fat skis, baggy pants, newschool poles and internet-based apres-ski activity, I am an old-school skier at heart. Or maybe just a little stuck in my ways. The experience of skiing at Jay Peak with five people I had never met, and living the "condo lifestyle" for the first time, gave me a unique opportunity to see a very familiar place from a variety of new perspectives. You might even say it bounced me out of very pleasant rut.

Ski in condo - no kidding!
Boot up to ski out is very handy...

Like Steve the day-tripper, I had never stayed in a "ski-in ski-out" type of accommodation before the NSBS. Not at Jay Peak, not anywhere else.  Skiing anywhere else has either been day-tripping or sleeping on someone's couch (or floor). When visiting Jay, Blue Toes and I are very fortunate to have access to two very nice ski houses in the Jay area, owned by family members. Before those houses were bought, there were rentals, and before that (which was before Blue Toes), we were all in day trip range from Montreal. Whether staying within driving distance or driving up for the day, one still ends up being lodge-based at the hill.  On top of that, our family has some routines. We start the day with oatmeal and coffee. Unless the skiing is sketchy or everyone is a little hungover (say, on New Year's Day), we usually roll into Stateside Lodge before 9 am. Those that miss that meet-up know that "hot chocolate break" is at 10ish, over at Tramside. Then lunch at 12ish, back at Stateside. After that you are on your own, just make sure you have a ride back to the house. It works, because everybody follows the drill.

Another summit based on communication
This condo thing got me all messed up. I had to think about food and booze before arriving, rather going shopping after skiing was done. I had to check-in, get keys, be certain that other people got their keys and tickets, not lose the keys, so much to think about, aaahh!!! I wasn't even sure who I was rooming with, let alone it was someone I'd never met. We organized a meeting at Stateside by e-mail. Everybody made it. We sent an e-mail with directions to MadPat from the chairlift using an iPhone. It worked. After skiing was done, we settled in to the comfy Jay Peak Village Condos. And settled is the right word. Once you realize that the car is parked, the lift is a short walk and ski away, and there really is no reason to go anywhere, much stress is relieved. Yeah, OK, I'll have another beer. I could get used to this...

Then we went skiing. Skiing with a group of people you only met in person that morning doesn't really fit with my "slow to adopt change" philosophy on life. On one of our first runs, trying to be a good host, I stopped in the usual spot and waited for everybody. Hey, wait a minute, everybody is skiing by me! But, but, we always stop here. Why aren't you stopping here? Oh well, off we go... Then it started snowing heavily and powder madness took over. MUST SKI IN THE TREES was the mantra. Later I learned that some people actually viewed "groomers" as a necessary evil to get to the various glade runs on a mountain. But wait, this is a cool run, not simply a "groomer." And it is covered in a lot of new snow. There are no trees in the way. On day one, Steve and I sure got that, and had the "Run of the Day" on Upper Exhibition. Oh yeah, did I mention that? We have to play "Run of the Day" at the end of the day...

Willis meets the bloggers.
Eventually, I chilled out. The chairlift discussions about where to ski next took on a familiar tone. The collective knowledge of three experienced Jay Peak skiers and the turbo-charged enthusiasm of the others had us skiing all over the place. Like I said in an earlier post, rope to rope, and a little beyond. A flow developed and everybody went with it. Despite skiing at Jay Peak on a semi-regular basis since I was twelve, I skied places I had never skied before. I took people to places they hadn't been before, or back to places they hadn't been in a long time. We skied runs like the Quai and the Green Beret, that, while well marked on the trail map, could never be considered "groomers." Beyond that, we ate at the Tram Haus Lodge with our ski boots on. We blogged like uber-geeks in the restaurant on the first evening. The jovial and accommodating Willis Whitaker of DEW Construction gave us a hard hat tour of the Waterpark construction site. By the end of the day on Friday, I was exhausted.

SBR's big sister shreds Haynes
It is good to be jolted from the routine every now and then. Seeing Jay Peak through the eyes of five different people has given me a fresh perspective on a long-time friend. I have found a few new creases in the armor, and a few new quirks in the personality of Jay. After the other bloggers left, I stayed an extra day and skied with my sister and her husband, who had appeared out of the blue on Friday. Saturday was one of those days you could feel a little smug and say "you should have been here yesterday." The weather was damp and it eventually started raining. Line-ups were long due to school break crowds and wind delays on the Bonnie and Tram. Who cared? Not me. After a couple of great runs on the Derrick and the Haynes, we had the usual bag lunch in the usual place and then Sklinda and Dogski called it a day. I carried on for while, and after a great chat on the Flyer with some guy from Philly, I skated off for a solo run down the Can Am. From the top of the pitch, I could not see another person. The Bonaventure chair was silent and unmoving. The rain-wetted ice glowed blue in the grey light. I knew that if I fell, it would be a while before anybody found me. After all the preparation for the blogger event, and the intensity of the previous three days, I suddenly felt like the last skier on earth. There was no choice but to ski down.

Monday, March 7, 2011

NSBS backstory: A Blind Date at Jay Peak

Bloggers ready for first run at Jay. Photo by Matt.
When I told Blue Toes that I was going skiing with a bunch of guys I met on the Internet, she gave me a funny look. Not that this kind of Internet dating is a new thing. Since the early days of the Web, newsgroups, and then ski forums, have allowed like-minded individuals to find rides, ski partners, crash pads, ticket deals, mad parties, gear deals and much more. If you combine that with the standard travel industry model of the FAM tour (as in FAMiliarization), you get the Northeast Ski Blogger Summit, or NSBS. Or, as Steve Wright (Jay Peak Sales and Marketing VP) called it, the Anti-FAM. The guy does have a way with words.

A rare view of Timbuktu - untracked. Photo by Harvey.
Now that the first NSBS is over,  I can look back and say that those guys and I had an amazing experience at Jay Peak, on many different levels. What made it so? Well, for one thing, the mountain delivered the goods. Day One at Jay Peak was an unexpected powder day and days Two and Three were bluebird sunny days with enough leftover powder and finely tuned groomers to keep anybody happy. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe the storm that dumped 30 plus inches today - but I am not complaining. I don't know if my legs could have handled it. Beyond that, we had some very interesting insights into the future world of Jay Peak, the developments happening now and those scheduled for the years to come. Tough questions were asked and frank answers were given. These stories will come out in due time.

Secondly, you have the people: two Canadians, four Americans, with representation from one big province (Ontario) and three of the "New" states (NH, NJ and NY). Ages ranged from 30 to 53. Skiing ability was high. Stoke level was off the scale. Two kinds of glisse were performed, with both the locked and free heel getting along famously and, in some cases, switching it up. Three of the group members had considerable Jay experience, one a little bit and two were JP never-evers. The blogs (see below) represent six very different views on skiing.

Thirdly, you have the common threads: obsession with skiing; the Eastern skiers' constant quest for powder days among the icy days; a predilection to write about the ski experience, take pictures and, finally, an inclination to share that commentary online with whoever chooses to read it.

Nice condos and first tracks to Racoon Run!
Ultimately, this event could not have happened without the support of Jay Peak and, in particular, Steve Wright. When I first dreamed up the idea that it would be cool to bring together a group of ski bloggers at the same mountain, at the same time, and see what came out, I had no idea that I would be staying in a ski-in/ski-out condo with three days of complimentary skiing for six people. As the idea gained momentum, with the input of Harvey44 and others, I started to think that the do-it-yourself original plan was maybe not enough. I drummed up my courage, wrote out a proposal and set up a meeting with Steve back in October. The meeting went very well, IMHO. The stage was set, the incentive was offered and all that remained was for Ullr to smile upon us, which he did. Selling out to the man? Not at all. Taking advantage of a generous offer made by a creative marketing guy taking a big chance on my pitch? Absolutely.

Your humble author finds some fresh tracks on one of his favourite runs at Jay Peak, the Green Beret. Photo by Matt.
The blogs involved in the 2011 NSBS

The Real Jay Peak Snow Report:
The Snowway:
Ski = MC Squared:
Ski Mad World:
Harvey Road - The New York State Ski Blog:
The Magazine - The Mountains Less Traveled:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

NSBS Day 3: Nothing like a little hike to start your day!

Posted live from a yellow picnic table in Stateside Lodge. Man, am I a geek!

Yesterday, I did something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I have to admit, I'm a bit of a slave to the lifts at Jay Peak and have long wanted to get into the Vermont backcountry. Every time I drive up the Mountain Road, I stare at a certain hill and think, "I'd like to hike up there and ski down." It's not a particularly secret stash, and certainly not hard to find, but most people opt for the ease of The Dip. Oh well, too bad for them. On the third day after a storm, there were only about half a dozen tracks ahead of us.

With the route-finding guidance of Steve, our gang of four headed out and were skinning up by 8:30 or so. We could have been earlier if it were not for a few cascading and hilarious mistakes that caused some delay. Oh well, the snow wasn't going anywhere.

Matt skins up the track some nice people made for us.
Steve looks pleased with his situation
Where's Harvey? Backlit in the early morning light. Lots of snow to go around.
After an epic sidestep to egress from the run, we dashed back to the condo, threw everything in our cars and headed for the lifts. Another sunny day, the groomers were super-fast and fun. We even found fresh powder in a few spots in Beaver Pond, probably the most popular glade at Jay Peak.

For the first time visitors in the crew, this trip was a dream come true. For the returning skiers, it was a rekindling of the stoke you have for a familiar place. The lesson: never take Jay Peak for granted.

After a delicious lunch at Alice's Table, we went for a different sort of hike. More on this later!

You can read about day three (and see more pictures) from other points of view at The Snowway, Ski = MC Squared and Harvey Road. I'm sure there will be more to come on this trip.

Friday, March 4, 2011

NSBS Day 2: Oh darn, the sun came out.

Today was a day for exploring. Light winds, brilliant sunshine and cold temperatures. Not to mention a little leftover snow from yesterday. But where to go? With MadPat added to the collective, our fired-up crew now had three sources of Jay tribal knowledge for seeking out leftover powder. In doing so, we literally skied from one boundary rope to the other. There were even a couple of forays beyond a rope. I have to thank Snowway Steve for sharing his extensive knowledge of woodland nooks and crannies, which allowed me to ski somewhere I'd heard about but never been before. If I can find it again...

Since the sun was out and the wind was down, out first ride (after the Village Chair), was up the the tram and down the Green Beret, one of my favourite runs at Jay Peak. After negotiating the sketchy, rocky, top section we found only a few tracks in the fresh powder and plenty of room for new ones. After that things became a blur of trees with powder, trees with not so much powder left, repeat. The handy groomed runs that take you to the various glade runs were in great condition - truly "powder/packed powder."

Ullr is smiling on this group.

Steve takes the rock jump on Green Beret

Matt ups the ante with a tele-heli. I took pictures.

Ski bloggers in their happy place

MadPat running gates in the forest beyond the rope
Check out more tales and pictures from today on Harvey Road (there's a video there too), Ski = MC Squared and The Snowway.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

NSBS Day 1: What a day!

There was a little unexpected snow at Jay Peak today. You could even call it a powder day! SBR got a face shot on Upper Exhibition at 11:30 am, on the way to lunch. Unreal day, snow-filled everywhere.

I did not take many pictures today but the guys I was skiing with did and have already written some great reports. How can I keep up? Check out Harvey Road, Ski=MC2, The Snowway and FTOL. Watch the "ski blogs to read" feed to the right for further reports from some other skiers that were here for the festivities.

It snowed heavily all morning. Accumulation on my pants only halfway up the Bonnie.
When I returned to the Snowbaru, it turned out that the car had a powder day too!