Jay Peak, A Skier’s Paradise in Northern Vermont
The vista from the top of Jay is among the most captivating I've experienced in the East
By Stevenson Swanson
As I left the aerial tram at the summit of Jay Peak for the first time, I found myself engulfed in what I had assumed was a bit of fanciful local lore—the “Jay Cloud.”
This is the meteorological phenomenon that is said to linger over the ski area while disgorging yards of flakes at a time, giving Jay bragging rights as the ski area that is blanketed in the deepest layer of snow of any Eastern ski area—an average of 359 inches a year.
During a snow-starved and unusually warm winter, a statistic like that was enough to make my son and I overlook the fact that Jay is the northernmost of Vermont’s ski resorts—as in only a few miles from Canada. That makes it too distant from the New York City area for a regular weekend trip, but more or less within range for a three-day holiday weekend.
In fact, the cloud that surrounded me was not dumping fresh powder on Jay. It was dense fog. It seems even Jay can be challenged for snow at times. But the area’s 2,153-foot vertical drop and 78 trails—including plenty of glades and two terrain parks, to say nothing of more than 100 acres of off-trail skiing—provide plenty of opportunities for skiers of all levels and interests.
And there seems to be a certain conditions-be-damned mentality among some of the flinty skiers who make the long trek to Jay. “What are you complaining about?” I overheard a woman tell her husband while waiting in line for the aerial tram. “You grew up skiing on rocks at Mad River.”
That would be Mad River Glen, the famously eccentric ski area—no snowmaking! no snowboards! the last surviving single-chair lift!—well to the south of Jay Peak. I didn’t spot any rocks at Jay, but there were some tufts of grass poking up through the snow on Ullr’s Dream, which, at three miles, is the longest trail on the mountain.
The next day, the Jay Cloud had dissipated, leaving the sky a breathtaking blue, against which the mountain and the aerial tram stood out in bold relief. The Alpine-style tram—the only one in Vermont—took us to the top of the mountain once again, but this time, we had a clear view of the surrounding countryside.
The day before, a set of stairs that leads from the tram level to the top of the mountain had been closed because of the fog. Now it was open. Up we went.
I happily admit that one of the reasons I ski is because I enjoy the views, and the vista from the top of Jay is among the most captivating I’ve experienced in the East.
Snowy, tree-covered mountains rolled away from Jay Peak in all directions. Off on the western horizon, the flat expanse of Lake Champlain was visible. Signs pointed out Mt. Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest peak and the home of Stowe’s ski area. And far, far below lay Jay’s base lodge.
After another day of skiing, we returned to our one-bedroom townhouse near the Stateside Hotel and base lodge, the smaller of the two base areas. I’m an advocate of getting off the mountain at the end of the day and exploring the environs, but sometimes there’s something to be said for bringing along your own provisions and staying slope-side. It’s more economical than eating out, for one thing. And in the case of a remote area such as Jay Peak, it’s also the most practical option.
There are some small communities near the ski area, including the village of Jay, but none have the charm or apres-ski offerings of Stowe or a similar winter-sports center. Fortunately, the ski area itself is well equipped not only with lodging but also shopping, dining and other recreational options.
At Jay’s larger, original base area, for instance, there is a large hotel and conference center, an ice rink, a spa, and, most notably, the Pump House waterpark, a 60,000-square-foot enclave of water slides, a languid stream for floating, and a wave simulator for the more rambunctious. Thanks to the Pump House’s glass walls, you can luxuriate in the heat and humidity while gazing upon the wintry scene outside. It’s a pleasant prospect whether you’ve spent the day skiing or not.
If You Go:
Jay Peak went through some well-publicized financial troubles last year but seems to have weathered the storm very well. Snow totals as of publication date were north of 300 inches, with more on the way.
Stevenson Swanson is a New York-based writer and editor. A former national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, he has written about the environment, science, international affairs, culture, travel, and business, among other subjects.