Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The future of Stateside: minutes from the meeting

You can do a lot of thinking when you're out on the tractor blowing snow. First of all, in this lean winter, that's a good sign: I'm blowing snow. When I first started this blog, back in the dim days of 2007, I had no idea where it would go. It started as a fun project to play with on the Interwebz, a good way to encourage some luddite family members to get more comfortable with "life online," and never in a million years did I think it would last this long. So here we are. In the early January of a slow start to winter, SBR and Blue Toes haven't even been to Jay Peak yet. Oh, I had big plans, and even have a midweek pass waiting for me somewhare in the bowels of Customer Service. Others have visited Jay, and their reports have not been that exciting. During Christmas week, I received a text from Pudd: "On the Bonnie. Raining at the bottom, snowish at the top." My sister Sklinda emailed me to say that "we miss you but you are not not missing much." Having said that, everyone had fun, Jay Peak couldn't have picked a better year to open a waterpark and snow is slowly piling up.

But you know, the great thing about Jay Peak these days is that if you can't talk about the skiing, you can always talk about DEVELOPMENT. So, here we go again. There isn't a lot of snow to talk about (though rumour has it there is a good one brewing for this weekend), so let's talk about construction, EB5 and the future of our spiritual home at Jay Peak, Stateside Lodge.

If you pay attention to the official Jay Peak blog (ie. not this one), you may have seen a call for submissions on the subject of the future of Stateside Lodge, the last bastion of the old school at Jay. If you missed it, check it out here, and read ALL the comments before continuing on. Seriously, this is important.

My esteemed brother and elder statesman of our posse (he'll kill me for that), Jonny Jay, took Steve Wright's message to heart and wrote an impassioned email, requesting to be part of the meeting (if you are saying "what meeting?,"  go back and read what I told you to - it's like homework). The email must have struck a chord with Steve, and Jonny Jay was invited to the exclusive think tank.

Since it didn't make it on to the Jay blog comments, I have taken the liberty of posting Jonny Jay's winning email:
I echo many of the blog comments and commend Jay for reaching out. I have skied at Jay since the 1960s, having taught with the Raven Ski Club at that time where instructors were encouraged to explore the mountain and give the kids some "mileage" as the best way to learn to ski. I am familiar with the changes, as being one who actually remembers and used the Poma lift and the chair lift that used to ride up to the peak. The only year I didn't ski Jay was 1972-73 when I was at Whistler in its early days. The Stateside "vibe" has always been the attraction for my family (we have a ski house in a small VT town, as does my sister in another small VT town, with her children and grandchildren, and my brother who you will know as Sick Bird Rider) as we like the no-frills aspect of the skiing experience. The family often has three generations of skiers on the mountain and the input is always entertaining when we discuss where the mountain should go. Keep it skier friendly, keep it simple, give the core skier base a place they can call home and want to return to year after year for – are you ready -- the skiing.

Those of us who are diehards yet realists understand the need to develop the resort experience to keep the mountain prosperous but we also hope that you don't lose the Jay magic that keeps so many of us religiously devoted year after year, snow or not as we discovered this past week. We stared at the people in the waterpark a couple of times but still went out to find what little snow there was and made the best of it. Yes, we will go to the water park one day, I suppose, and have some fun, I am sure, but let us remember that it is not what put Jay on the map. As an aside, my 46 year-old nephew was stunned to hear that you took the name of one of our iconic Jay runs to name the water park "Pump House." But I will add that it is a great marketing play. I would be happy to assist in the Stateside planning session on January 9 if you need my perspective as a realistic yet longtime hardcore Jay skier with a multi-generational backup team.
-and he signed his real name
Yesterday, JJ and 11 other committed Statesiders, skiers and snowboarders alike, showed up at Tramside, in the quaint old International Room, to find Steve Wright, Walter Elander, a few other staffers, the architects, along with the posters people had written comments on and a bunch of architectural drawings.

Here is the report, in its full stream of consciousness flavour, only slightly expurgated to protect the innocent. Remember, this is one man's impression. You might not agree with it. That's OK. There were 11 other "stakeholders" there and somewhere on the Internet, they might be putting out their version of events:
I am sure you are all waiting for my report with baited breath! Turns out the cynics in us were partially right because it wasn’t as much a forum about re-vamping Stateside (the Unchangeable as the new marketing campaign says) as it was an information meeting with a chance to discuss.

The bottom line is that the EB5 money – the foreign investment fund where all this investment comes from – does have a few strings attached: surprise, surprise. Not necessarily bad depending on your point of view. For starters, forget about salvaging the old lodge for anything.

- There MUST be a hotel over there, slated at 85 rooms, targeted at the more economical lodger than Tramside;
- There MUST be an 8,000 sq ft Mountain Learning Centre (I asked what that was and apparently it can be whatever they want);
- There MUST be a 12,000 sq ft lodge;
- AND there MUST be a 15,000 sq ft Recreation Centre.
Oh, and an outdoor amphitheatre.

All these are great but certainly not what any of us envisioned for Stateside.

Now I will go back to the beginning with a discussion on the status of the mountain upgrades. Jay will have three distinct base areas, Tramside, Stateside and the West Bowl. These “portals” will each be stand-alone mini ski areas with lodges etc. Lift upgrades are as follows:
- Six person chair to replace Bonnie (this apparently will not work at max capacity to keep the traffic down to only slightly more than today . . .). This chair will take the old Power Line route to where it used to be ending at St Georges Prayer.
- The Bonnie quad will be moved to replace the Jet chair.
- The Jet chair will be moved to (some of us will remember) right of the Bonnie up to Taxi to serve the Terrain Park round trippers and the Rabbit Run/Chalet Meadows crowd.
- The T-bar is gone to be replaced by a Magic carpet.

Now on to the really good stuff. There is a need to expand the mid intermediate/novice terrain and, wouldn’t you know, there isn’t any of that moderate grade terrain left on Tramside because it has all been used for condos! There is a surprise. So making use of the little trails below Taxi and the Queens Hwy will be accomplished with the new short chair. And then the “not set in stone” plan is to add a long wrap around trail to the East of Timbuktu as a nice intermediate trail. Of course that would be great if it were just the occaisioanal skier, but in my mind it will destroy the unique character of that side of the mountain, as well as bring more novice skiers on to advanced terrain as they decide to give Timbuktu a try, or the Kitz, or whatever. My friend B. was also there, as was another Stateside regular, and we all had a few comments on that point - as you can imagine. Not to mention destroying the “secret” stashes over there or the fact that the race crowd, and Pudd, will use it as a downhill training run.

Of course, one of our points was that the West Bowl was supposed to add significant Intermediate terrain. Well, out came the topographical maps and apparently it will be more expert slopes than they thought, hence the need for this trail. Go figure. The West Bowl expansion is in the permit stage and is not expected for at least 43 years – oops that was a typo, 3 years. And there will be a sideways chair that will run from near the top of the Snail to the West Bowl “portal” and back (editor's note: maybe they could build an elevated, covered Magic Carpet, running both ways!).

There was also some discussion about encouraging more racers with an FIS sanctioned trail which apparently can be accomplished by widening the Haynes. On the positive side, this is a great idea to promote the mountain and get the hardcore skiers there. Of course not so great with all those beginners that will be going down this nice wide trail.

Given that there wouldn’t be any development without this EB5 money, the Jay group (and the architect firm in the meeting) does appear to be trying to be sympathetic to the Stateside “vibe” within the parameters, however it is a major development shift. For example, it seems the architecture will be “homey,” either a New England flair or log/post and beam concept. And the hotel will not be placed in an area that blocks the view of the mountain, as the new Hotel Jay and  water park do at Tramside. The Rec centre discussion was interesting because it could be a fitness centre/skate park/rock climbing/etc place – remember it is bigger than an NHL hockey rink (editor's note: and environmental learning centre/art gallery, NEK mountain culture/history centre?).

All in all, it was a very civilized group with a lot of rambling discussion, including the menu of the Stateside lodge. We even discussed Wifi access, which they are all in favour of, and a fireplace and lockers etc. but it all seemed kind of moot once the master plan had been unveiled. Kind of ironic because when you look at the comments on those big posters soliciting comments from everybody about what should Stateside be, the general consensus is: “leave it alone,” “clean bathrooms,” “better food,” “add a stripper pole,” and  “don’t touch the trails.”

So there you go in a nutshell. Once this is out on the blog I would expect there will be some counter reaction. By the way the architect firm is Banwellarchitects.com. They have done several successful ski areas (specifically: Belleayre, NY; Dartmouth, NH; Mt. Sunapee, NH and Sadleback, ME). They seemed like the right guys for the job – they have already planned for lots of cubby holes for the box lunch crowd and it looks like that will be encouraged to a degree.


Unchangeable? I'm not so sure anymore.