Basch: Jay Peak offers humbling, uplifting experience

  • Skiers and snowboarders prepare to take a run at Jay Peak in Jay, Vt. The Northeast Kingdom ski area plans to stay open into May. Marty Basch / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Friday, March 30, 2018

Jay Peak is loaded with remarkably first-rate skiers and snowboarders.

Whenever I’m there, I’m quickly reminded I’m not one of them.

I’m okay with that because Jay, in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom near the Quebec border, is a mountain that can make you feel small on the skills side, then pushes you and makes you better.

It’s got luscious groomed terrain like plunging Vermonter and 3-mile long Ullr’s Dream accessed by the tram from the frosty 3,968-foot summit towering over a domain of forests and farms. There’s sweet Montrealer off the Jet and winding Northway from both the swift Flyer and pokey Bonaventure commonly called “the Bonnie.” Those white striped carpets may entice many recreational-minded visitors – and are appreciated bailouts for those gingerly entering the glades – but duct tape diehards use them as entry ways into nirvana as Jay is known for the goods in the woods from Timbuktu on the southeastern border to Andre’s Paradise on the northwestern side.

Jay has got a reputation for big natural snowfall, and when it dumps, it’s the place to be. Hoots and hollers echo from the moving chairs and the tight trees in the woods. Those with big brewers’ beards, dreadlocks, gray beards and the fashion conscious emerging from SUVs and King Cabs go wow in the pow.

Mother Nature’s series of hard-hitting early- to mid-March nor’easters put Jay over the 350-inch mark this season, which means May skiing for the ninth straight year. When my wife Jan and I were there, 23 inches of light snow fell in 24 hours, a total of 35 inches during our two-night midweek Stateside Hotel stay, burying my hatchback.

That snow made for happy feet, dancing on powdery layers of dust on crust and vigilantly advancing through knee-deep powder in lower mountain glades leaving us deliciously spent.

That’s when it’s apres ski and pillow time.

The resort has been on a decade-long growth spurt, undergoing a metamorphosis from worn to a reborn international destination for skiers and riders on both sides of the border.

Hotels, restaurants, shops and other weatherproof insurance policies have developed at Jay as a way to ward off Mother Nature’s mysterious moods like December’s sub-zero stretch and January’s thaws.

Jay’s progress is evident at its two hubs – Tramside and Stateside – and also with its increase in the number of cottages for lodging. Aesthetically focused Tramside’s the draw for destination skiers largely because of its namesake tram. Slopeside lodging includes the suites at the Tram Haus and Hotel Jay. Other amenities cover the popular Tower Bar, voguish Alice’s Table, other restaurants, shops, ice arena with skating, hockey (tournaments) and curling, and the Pump House Water Park.

Stateside is historically the locals’ haunt and the last piece of Jay’s transformation since 2008. The Stateside Hotel which opened in December of 2013 is a more traditional hotel and least expensive of the resort’s properties. Hearty Howie’s Restaurant is located there while the base lodge includes the Bullwheel Pub with the front of the resort’s first shuttle, a blue bus, hanging from a wall. There’s also a trendy taco truck outside (and a Japanese miso joint in an old grounded tram at Tramside).

Stateside got another indoor insurance policy with the opening Dec. 26, 2017, of a 15,000-square-foot recreation and entertainment center called Clips and Reels. The family-centered complex features several colorful rock climbing routes from traditional to playful Clip ’n Climb paths, a ropes course, arcade and 142-seat alcohol-serving cinema with second-run flicks. It’s the last of Jay’s planned weatherproof amenities.

Next up in Jay’s growth is a couple of synthetic athletic fields with a late summer scheduled opening date built to FIFA standards so the resort can host soccer, lacrosse and field hockey tournaments and camps.

Jay’s slopes can readily tire you out, so apres ski indoor rock climbing or falling asleep watching a movie was easily eclipsed by a couple of pints at the Bullwheel followed by hopping on the resort’s four-wheel drive shuttle to the water park where tubing down a lazy river while watching snow slide off the transparent ceiling is entertaining despite the joyous cries of happy Canadian kids crooning on holiday.

Not only can the skiing tire you, but so can shoveling out your car. In the parking lot, snow lovers from two countries pitched in among spinning tires and rocking vehicles. We took a half hour to shovel out; another part of a stay at Jay.