Friday, March 11, 2016

Timing is everything this winter.

A classic view of Jay Peak
It is no secret that a lot of Eastern skiers have been pretty grumpy this season. Ullr has been fickle, and many resorts would not have opened without snowmaking. Jay Peak did not escape the meagreness, though over the last few weeks, the snow planets lined up and delivered some good accumulation. I took advantage of a window of opportunity earlier this week, and got to ski for three days before the warm-up that was forecast to cause a big meltdown (figuratively and literally).

CanAm looking a bit glacial on day one but much better than a month ago.

Canyonland was in fine shape on Sunday, a nice treat.
 Skiing on a Sunday always has a special flavour. The mountain will still be busy but the atmosphere a little more subdued. I think there is a greater percentage of experienced skiers, which makes things a little more predictable. This Sunday in particular was a great day to clean out the cobwebs and get the lift-serviced mindset back. The sky was clear and blue, temperatures really pleasant and the wind pretty much non-existent. Groomed runs were in great shape, the woods were a little scrapey but still fun and it was best to stay away from ungroomed natural snow runs unless you needed to practice the controlled sideslip. Of all places, Flash was Run of the Day, with smooth snow and no ice. Chatting on the chair, I met people from New Jersey, New York City and downstate New York, all skiing at Jay because the conditions were better than anywhere else they considered. Like a good passholder, I skied till noon. After a pizza-fueled visit to FirstTrax, I changed setups and drove back up the 242 for a tour up Mt. Trixie. As always, a world apart from the resort but so close.  In the backcountry woods, the snow was very interesting: a firm crusty base with a variable but imminently skiable soft crusty-ish surface layer. If that makes sense.

In the crusty Canyonland the next day.
Monday's weather and conditions could not have been more of a contrast. The sunny day before might have been the perfect ski day for some people but on this day, many people would not have skied. The Snowbaru's thermometer indicated that the outside temperature was -2 C, was was great, but the wind was howling and wet sideways snow was starting to come down hard when I rolled into the Stateside lot. At 9 am, the Freezer, Tram and Bonnie were on wind delay. Alrighty then, up Taxi, down Sweetheart and off to the Jet we go. The snow continued to pile up but by 10:30, changed to a lovely wind-driven sleet/snow mix. Visibility was poor. I took a break. The regular crowd of local retirees was leaving, several complaining about the long line at the Jet, though admitting that the skiing was very good. You can't begrudge these people for bailing, they can ski every day if they want. Soon enough, the sleet changed back to snow and people got spread out on the hill. The big line disappeared. ROD, again perhaps surprisingly, was Kitzbuhel to Lower Jimmy Glade. I took three runs in a row down that, all with more or less the same line. Each time, I felt like the first person down, as my previous tracks had been filled in by the driving snow. Somewhere around noon, the wind died down, the Bonnie opened, the snow died off and the fog rolled in. Visibility got worse. The fact that you could see something made skiing in the woods or shrubby runs like Powerline much preferable to an open cruiser, not to mention the nice new snow. The Tram and Flyer never opened that day, so some creative route planning yielded untracked results well after lunch.

Monday: fresh tracks near noon in an accessible glade. No complaints.
Along with the weather, the tone of chairlift chats changed on Monday. With the exception of Grumpy Hockey Dad, who wasn't pleased with the poor visibility, everyone I talked to was having a fantastic day despite the challenging weather. Two passholders from Stratton drove up for the day and were clearly having a terrific time, despite the fact that they had never been to Jay Peak before and "couldn't see shit."  Another conversation helped restore my faith in the future of skiing humanity. Two boys, maybe 12 or 13, regular Jay skiers and obviously friends, chatted confidently with me, and we had a refreshing and highly entertaining discussion about fat skis, google defrosters and what Jay Peak like when I was their age. Maybe there is something to this Raised Jay thing, after all. It blew my mind a little when, after I described the experience of riding the Jet T-bar, one of them confessed that while he knew what a T-bar was, he had never ridden one, nor even seen one at a ski hill.
CanAm much improved on 3/8.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016, is now on my list of top l0 Jay Peak ski days. Except for the cloud-shrouded upper mountain, above the Bonnie summit, the sky was clear. All lifts were scheduled to open, but as I didn't feel like waiting for the Bonnie, I went up the Taxi, and sped down Queen's Highway, thinking a trip up the Tram might be in order if the line wasn't ridiculous. Monday's snow had been groomed, the wind was down and the mountain looked very inviting. The Tram line was too long, so I headed for the Freezer and was on the third chair. Deciding to go right, I poled through the undecided and found myself second guy down Ullr's. I let the skis run so I could stay that way. Despite the new snow and grooming that pitch was still very firm and very fast. I think I did two big turns on it. When I noticed that first guy's tracks led to Beaver Pond, I channeled my Crazy Canuck downhiller heritage and bombed the rest of Ullr's. What a way to wake up. There was no ROD because every run was fun, with snow like sugar frosting. Mexican Night at Bernie's the night before gave me the fuel for a fantastic day spent checking out all the old favourites: Can Am, JFK, River Quai, Green Beret, Exhibition and even Wedelmaster (with the Groomer Trap variation). I rode the tram three times and did Valhalla twice, it was in fine condition.

The Tuesday morning view on the River Quai
Above those clouds, looking at Big Jay.
All good trips must come to an end and I headed home on Wednesday. When I left The Clubhouse at 10 am, the temperature was 60 F and skies were overcast. The warm-up was on. I am glad (and lucky) that I timed this trip well but am confident that Jay has a solid enough base to keep spring conditions going for a while.

Welcome to Valhalla.
Fingers crossed.

Think Snow.

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