Northern Vermont had been suffering for snow this winter, with storms tracking south and favoring resorts like Stratton. Luckily, as we passed through, the snow gods smiled on us, with a foot+ falling the day before we arrived at Jay Peak, and more coming down during the day. Add temperatures hovering around 0F and a strong, tram-stopping wind, and all the ingredients were in place for feather-light pow all over the mountain. And frostbite.
It was easy to see why Jay has a reputation for gnarliness, and the best tree skiing in the East. In fact, after this day, I’d say some of the best tree skiing I’ve ever seen. Glades are everywhere. Narrow, steep, one bump wide wild rides like Deliverance, expansive shots through big timbers like Expo, where you can pick your own pow, and Niseko-like cruisers like Timbuktu, where you can fire the turbo-blasters and whoop and holler at high-speed through perfectly spaced trees. The steeper narrow shots required care with mostly logs and the odd rock to avoid, but in the lower angled terrain, the cover was good and the pow plentiful. It was amazing skiing.
It was also incredibly cold. The wind halted the tram about 10.30am, and the top of the Flyer Express quad was brutally exposed to the wind. We retreated to the slower but sheltered Bonaventure quad, where the wind was laying down fresh layers of primo pow every run. The tram eventually restarted about 2pm and we hopped a ride to the top, just for the experience. In cloud and a blizzard, we didn’t hang around up there for long, and spent the rest of a superb day exploring trees and bumps off the deserted Jet triple. With the mountain to ourselves, it was a sublime end to an epic day.
The next day we headed to Stowe. With little memory of our last visit 14 years ago, we set out early to explore and try to beat the weekend crowds. The bitterly cold wind was still howling like a Journey song, sending shivers through everyone at the top of the Forerunner quad. This lift though serves those famous Front Four runs, so we hit the singles line and lapped as many times as we could before the cold drove us in.
Underneath the abundant fresh snow from the recent storm, glacial ice was still evident in places, a reminder of how lucky we were not to have been here last weekend. Starr was the king of ice, with two nasty pitches that I avoided like a Two and Half Men episode, and the entrance to Liftline had long slide potential if you didn’t set your edges carefully. But mostly it was excellent bumpy, somewhat steep skiing. National and Lower Goat (upper was closed) were the pick of the 4, and big soft moguls on the skier’s right of Hayride were a hoot.
We spent the afternoon exploring the other parts of the resort. The sun drew us to the gentler trails of Spruce Peak. Soft bumps and groomed runs, no people, it was a fine hour. Finally we headed back to Mt Mansfield and sampled the gondola runs. Chin Clip was a long, moguled, moderate angled run which skied nicely, even with conditions gradually getting firmer as the sun went down. The surprise was Perry Merrill, a run which rolled and swooped and swung through the trees. It was so good, we delayed a well-earned beer and sneaked another run just before the gondola closed. It was well worth it.
Finally, we headed to Sugarbush, another classic Northern Vermont ski hill. The same sunny, windy and brutally cold weather followed us, but once again we were in line early and shredding groomers before any signs of crowds appeared. With plenty of wind deposited freshies, the early morning cruising was rather excellent, especially the steep runs off the top of Lincoln Peak.
After a 15 minute warm up break – Sugarbush has no gondola sanctuaries – we headed out again about 10.30, and were staggered how much the lines had grown in such a short time. We soon learned from lift line gossip that this was due to the Heaven’s Gate triple breaking down, effectively forcing everyone onto the lower mountain lifts. After this it all got a bit slow. We found some well-covered mogul-ridden lines like Moonshine, Twist and Stein’s Run, all of which skied well, but with 10-15 minute waits for a chair, it was cold stuff. This drew us across the village to the sunny North Lynx Peak, where the skiing was gentler, but at least the solar radiation had the desired effects.
Heaven’s Gate reopened about 2pm, and we grabbed 3 quick laps, easily done as it seemed everyone had gone home. Organgrinder was a steep fall line bump-a-thon, Ripcord still smooth and carvable, and Paradise mixed great turns on monster moguls with the odd area of glaciation and frequent protruding rocks to dodge. Just another foot of snow – it became the mantra for an excellent 3 days skiing.
Jay Peak 6400m, Stowe 9400m, Sugarbush 6400m vert
Season Totals: 29 days, 235,200m vert
3 powder days