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.


  1. Some surprises and some really terrible news here. Very surprised to hear that Stateside will receive the full build up treatment with full services and a lodge! Last year, if I recall, the plan was for more limited development (just the recreation center and new lodge, right?). Based on the size of the buildings and the quantity of buildings, it seems like any parking that was added will be gone and then some. We might even have a net loss of parking, especially with more overnight traffic there due to the hotel.

    The plan for the lifts is sound though I fear for the bonnie replacement not running in winds that the current bonnie could. Then again, that is often a good thing. The placement is sound but eliminates the stash that was tramside when the tram and flyer aren't running (more folks will head that way and access more of the trails without the uphill).

    The trail on the outside of Timbuk is devastating news. Not the first time I heard that rumor but it seems more fact than rumor if it made this meeting. That truly sucks that we would loose prime gladed terrain for an intermediate groomer on a trail pod that doesn't really have any intermediate terrain (I know that is the point but you don't see Sugarbush putting in a groomer off Castlerock!).

    Unlike the Tramside development, which I have largely concluded is out of sight, out of mind without any direct effect on me (and even some positive, bathrooms on the main floor of the Tramhouse!), these plans seem to have effects without much benefits. We all know we'll finally get decent smelling clean bathrooms no matter what, so I don't consider that a major point.

    I don't like that topo map talk about west bowl either. If the terrain isn't intermediate, they aren't going to rush and get it done. West bowl is going to be the redemption for Stateside it seems. Perhaps West Bowl will be the new Stateside in spirit? Until then...

  2. Gord-it was nice to meet your brother at the meeting-he represented the family profile well with equal parts disdain for the shiny, acerbic wit and-are you ready- loving attempts at keeping his mind as open as possible. Part of what he posited in his email was "Those of us who are diehards-yet realists (awww)-understand the need to develop the resort experience to keep the mountain prosperous (queue the conjunction) but we also hope that you don't lose the Jay magic that keeps many of us religiously devoted, year after year...." He also mentions that waterparks (and such) are not what put us on the map. To that, I only offer that we here disney-side are forced to concern ourselves with what put us there, on the map, but also what is likely to keep us here.

    As a snow reporter-turned reluctant marketer who leverages that piece of authenticity, it's obviously in my best interest to keep as much the same as I can because that message and more importantly that product, has power-at least imho.

    All in all, I think the meeting was positive. I think we all came together thinking we were just going to talk Stateside and ended up talking more about everything- which mostly was a result of the group taking the conversation in that direction once we started talking about what was included. I still think that the spirit of what people enjoy about Jay Peak is grounded in more than just making sure the facilities stay old but I really do try to keep my mind, about everything, as open as possible. As evidenced by responses in the meeting one man's devastating news is another man's top priority (these diverging opin's coming from within that same band of Stateside-lovers) so obviously all understand the fool's errand in trying to make sure everyone walks away with the perfect outcome. I was glad we are able to at least explain what we were trying to accomplish and what was compelling us to do so. Within that framework, I think, a lot of good things can happen. I certainly hope so at least. steve

  3. Jay is smart to reach out the way they did. The kind of input given above by River - you could pay real money for it.

    I know it was seriously flawed for most customers. And I'm sure the new development will be great. But I will really miss the stateside lodge.

  4. I guess that is why I became a shareholder at MRG. *sigh*

    I echo Steve sentiments. Jay isn't that big of a ski area and if you're increasing uphill capacity and number of beds at the resort. Intrawest made many changes to Tremblant, some of them good as the Laurentians ski area pre-1990 had a few major faults sometimes due to its topography. Ski trail wise, Jay isn't Tremblant pre-1990. I would be very careful, because it wouldn't take much to destroy what Jay has and you cannot put it back together if you go wrong.

  5. And just to be clear on the 'Unchangeable' marketing as it, the marketing, is about the only thing I can be sure of these days-it was never meant to connect to things like the Unchanging of the Stateside Lodge, or any other physical transformation the area might see. It was more noting that some of the things that make Jay Peak unique, special, weird, (wind, trams, harsh winters, etc..) remain unchanged regardless of adding skate parks and carousels...)--steve

    1. I'm sure if you could change the harsh winters to make it more pleasant for your new customers you would...

  6. It was a good meeting after all. I didn't perceive it as an information session... but the opportunity to put our collective toughts together and help the Jay Peak staff and the architects working on the project.

    As Jay "locals", we enjoy the stateside the way it is... but we all agree the place needs to be upgraded... Because on weekend, it is now full... Add in the racing moms and the place becomes uncomfortable very quickly!

    I think the plan for making it bigger and yet authentic is the way to go. Stateside doesn't need the attractions of Disneyland like tramside: it's a Skiing-first side... It doesn't need the amenities found on the other side (spas for exemple!) because if you want those type of things, they're not for everyone, and can be found on tramside.

    However, we do need:
    - Better bathrooms;
    - More tables and space for bags, lunches and gear;
    - More lockers;
    - More racks for skis... instead of littering the bottom of the trail with skis on weekends;
    - More food options;
    - More drink options;

    What we don't need is:
    - Stairs to access the trails/lifts;
    - Longer walking distance to lifts then tramside (again, it's a ski-first side and most people don't even need to buy tickets);
    - Having to remove skis/boards to get to parking lot... I like that on snowdays you can just glide all the way to your car

    I can't wait to know more about the process of planning these improvements and i sincerly hope Jay won't think of implementing everything mentionned during the meeting and stick to the basics: People are here to ski and ride!


  7. Thanks everybody for chiming in. Steve W, I do not envy your job these days but you are doing it very well, reluctant or not.

    Oh, I certainly "get" the idea of the unchangeable campaign (and I like it) but was just trying to poke a little fun at it and have a clever ending to my post. I would not be surprised, however, if the message a lot of people give you is that messing with the woods beyond Timbuktu would be messing with the unchangeable.

  8. Harv... you'll miss the Stateside Lodge only because you haven't had enough experience with it. Don't forget you have only skied there mid-week. ;)

    The low key simple lodge atmosphere is there but it simply isn't functional any more, especially on a busy weekend.

    The Unchangeable ending to this post was spot on. Tramside has always had the resort build up. But Stateside has always been the skiers lodge. It was the original part of Jay, its beginnings and roots. You can't build up a resort at Stateside without changing the Unchangeable. Tramside wasn't a major change for me as it is out of sight out of mind. A major build out of Stateside would be right in my face.

    Yes, the mountain and the snow (and the wind on the Freezer) are unchanged, but there is more to a mountain than snow and terrain. Which is why places like Mad River, Smuggs, Cannon, Magic, and Saddleback have all captured (along with Jay) the die hard skier. As SBR notes, flattening beyond Timbuk for an intermediate groomer is definitely a major change.

  9. I have read all of these comments and the original post with great interest. My husband and I own one of the condos on tramside and have watched our view of woods and the old tennis courts change dramaticaly to one of the parking garage, ice haus and now the waterpark. Every night, as I turn on my portable fan to drown out the subtle but annoying sound of the underground heating units for the pump house, and draw the blinds to darken the light from the parking garage, I tell myself 'change is inevitable'. I too understand why Jay has had to make these changes. TO STAY ALIVE.

    However, this week I skied fresh tracks on powerline three mornings in a row, and each time was saddened thinking how this will change when the new lift goes in (and a 6-pack to boot!) I also enjoyed a wonderful solitary journey through timbuktu yesterday morning after they dropped the ropes... and can't help but think that a run to east is a big, big mistake.

    Sure, update the lodge over at stateside, perhaps add some diversity to the menu (a food court type thing w/ some ethnic options like Mexican or Asian along w/ Vermont fresh???)Perhaps they can keep a tie to the past with large posters of old photos of the original runs and the founders (Walter Foeger and the like...) Even add all the other amenities if they have too, to keep the funding. But the mountain is sacred. The skiers and riders are the soul. Don't forget to keep listening to them.

    As long as I still can look out my back windows and see that snow covered peak up there, and can go past all the people in swimwear heading to the waterpark, past the masses in the bar, past the kids with ice skates swinging over thier shoulders and past the latte drinking pseudo skiers...and still get up to that peak to ski uncrowded slopes and silent glades...I can accept what the management has to do to stay alive.

  10. A lift going up Powerline doesn't concern me much because that is where the lift was originally. A six pack isn't the end of the world either... Jay has one of only two trams in New England and has had a high speed lift for a dozen years now. So a six pack up Powerline isn't exactly going against the old school Jay grain at this point. Actually, I think the lift revisions are the best part of the plan so far.

  11. To Anonymous Condo-Owner: well said. The woods at Jay are pretty special. After skiing there for 40 years, there are still many places left to visit. I agree with Snowway Steve about the lifts though. Back in the day, we would ski the old "red chair" liftline at great peril, since every power pole had these diagonal guy wires on that could decapitate you if you missed a turn. With a lift realignment, some stashes may be lost but new ones will will emerge.

  12. Thanks SBR for the post/update. I am actually now fairly optimistic about the new State Side Lodge, as it appears they have the right architect (different one from Hotel Jay/THL) -- although it would be nice if they moved the proposed hotel and jungle gym (or whatever it is) somewhere else. FWIW Banwell designed Saddleback's Lodge, which I have said in the past (on a ski forum) is the closest thing to what I would like to see built at State Side if indeed it has to be torn down. Saddleback's Lodge is not perfect (I might choose a different type of wood), but it has a nice vibe plus a nice big fireplace. I like the pictures on Banwell's Web site of what they did at Dartmouth and Sunapee -- have not been in either, although coincidentally did stand outside Sunapee's the end of last April (it was closed for the season).

    I just hope Jay get's State Side right as there is a lot of riding on it, especially with what happened with the scale, mass, and vibe of the New Hotel Jay -- like many, I am still scratching my head. The scale and mass feels out of character for Jay/NEK -- because of the +/-30' drop in elevation between Hotel Jay and the access road, it feels like it is an 8 story building you are looking at; plus it is just a wall of a building (I think they would have been better off breaking it up in to a few buildings like they had in some earlier plans). I know they had constraints at Tram Side but it is hard to believe with +/-2,400 acres they could not have come up with a better plan; THL also has a big mass from the hotel lobby side, but you don't notice it since you don’t really ever see it (unless you play croquet on those big green fields). While I feel they did a very nice job on the outside of HJ with the post and beam details (and the Waterpark looks nice, although probably won't try it until the summer), the inside areas of the HJ hotel/restaurants seem touristy/trendy (plus way too much carpet and wall-board) -- I much rather go to the Belfry, JVI, or the bar at the Bridge for a drink. BTW, my head is still spinning from walking through the new arcade recently and seeing the carpet they put in there!

    With respect to the EB5 $ having strings attached for having to have a hotel at State Side, the reason of course they are there is Bill put those strings on. Before HE created the State Side plan and went out and raised the $, he could have asked State Side users what they wanted there/if they wanted an 85 room hotel over there -- he perhaps could have put the hotel at the base of the Village Chair.

    BTW, WTF is up with talk of possibly having a helicopter shuttle between Newport Airport and Jay Peak -- I guess it is looking fairly likely they (whoever owns the airport) are going to be getting gov $ to expand the runway there to handle charter, commercial and private airplanes bound for Jay. I do not have a problem with them expanding the runway, but a helicopter shuttle -- talk about going against everything Jay Peak claims they stand for!

  13. I am a long time Jay skier (30+ year) and now a Jay condo owner, where I spend most weekends and holidays year round with my family. From Montreal we have access to several really good resorts, some of them with as much snow as Jay (Massif). The main reason we chose Jay is the skiing experience, the liberal out-of-bounds policy, the glades, the secret stashes in bound and out of bounds. This is what sets Jay apart. Development does not worry me as much as putting too many people on the hill at the same time. I have witnessed firsthand what Intrawest did to Tremblant and this is the first thing that scares me.
    The other thing that scares me a lot is infringing on the out of bounds area such as past Timbuktu and beyond beaver. Putting a run past Timbuktu would be a definite first step toward the ‘Tremblant-isation’ of Jay. Preliminary plans of putting a traverse through Beaver and Beyond beaver to reach the west bowl almost keep me awake at night. Discovering those spots should involve some good Jay explorating spirit and the privilege should not be handed on a silver platter in the form of a ski highway that will bring hordes of beginners sliding sideways through those ‘sacred’ woods.


  14. Steve - you make a good point about Stateside. It was basically deserted when I was there.

    No doubt the stakes are high for those who love the essence of Jay. Reading these comments is inspiring as they are loaded with articulate passion. I wish all the old time Jay skiers the best in this period of change.

  15. The Timbuktu transformation cannot happen!!! Don't let that side of the mountain become the intermediate side. Keep the skiiers on that side, and let the vacationers do their own thing on the rest of the mountain.

  16. I too have been a long time Jay skier. My kids were “raised Jay” and frankly I’d like to think of myself as “raised Jay” too. For all of us who have been at Jay for a long time, we are ambassadors. More often than in the past, we’ve been riding chairs with people who are first timers at Jay and we all, well least I, talk to them as though I am a Jay ambassador. As a result of our friendly gestures, how many of those newbie’s go home and tell people what a great place Jay is. I bet quite a few.

    I remember when they took out the Jet T-Bar and replaced it with the Blue Chair. We were so upset. Fears set in that more intermediate skiers would find their way to “my” mountain. Of course they did. I’m still there though.

    They replaced the red chair-I think it was dangerous. We were happy bout that one.
    They replaced the green chair with the flyer and I can remember using the term “freezer” to Bill. He didn’t like that.

    I have met and skied with so many people, many of them became friends, some met at Jay and married - most of us are still there.

    Maybe there are some who don’t think the mountain has treated us properly, or that they are changing things for the worse. But, I think otherwise. We ski for a reasonable price, we play golf or mountain bike on great tracks. We enjoy the people, the views and even the weather.

    So change is coming again. We’ve been through the Weyerhaeuser days, then with St Sauveur and now with Bill and his partners. I think we have it good, if not great and Bill, being one of the most positive people I have ever met has been a superb influence at Jay.

    Am I unhappy that stateside will never again be “skiers side” – you bet I am!
    Am I unhappy that our glades have been overcome with far too many skiers – yup!
    Am I unhappy that there is talk about cutting out trees in the orchard area – for sure I am!

    But, I have to trust the management at Jay to do the right thing. Maybe they haven’t done all of their homework, and maybe some of the changes won’t work out right away, but they will fix them. I really hope these changes won’t drive me away and I’ll leave this posting with the following wish.

    I wish that you won’t Tremblantlize or Stoweize our mountain. It’s not the reason people come from far. They like that there is not a long line of cars coming up the mountain roads: They like the natural beauty and roughness of the mountain. They like the quaintness of what they get and they like the price they pay. Jay is a skier’s mountain. Don’t change that please.

  17. I am delighted to hear by way of MF's comment that the same guy that designed Saddleback's lodge will also be redesigning Stateside. For those that have not been there yet, Saddleback's lodge is excellent and user friendly (if a bit too small now that Saddleback has been getting more skier visits, but small size is not an issue of design but rather budget).

    I've been to Jay twice now since the new Hotel Jay has opened. I was reserving judgment until it was complete. And now that it is, I am disappointed in its size and scale. I never got worked up about the waterpark and the Tram Lodge was done right and looks great and has good scale. But the new Hotel Jay is a monster. Although not as garish as Claybrook at Sugarbush, it certainly is similar in scale and size. Very sad to see that. And I was hoping the architecture would match Tram Lodge but it doesn't. It looks out of place, IMO.

    Hopefully the new Stateside will be more appropriate to scale and size and have more of an old school look and design.