With Easter falling early this year, we took advantage of the 3-day weekend to plan a family ski vacation to Jay Peak in northern Vermont. Jay has long enjoyed a reputation as a skier’s mountain, thanks to its abundant snowfall and challenging terrain. More recently, the addition of an indoor water park, hockey rink, conference center, restaurants and two hotels has catapulted Jay into destination resort status almost overnight.
My last visit to Jay Peak was 10 years ago, pre-kids and long before the recent construction, so I might as well have been a first-timer. It’s always challenging to visit a ski area as a family for the first time, and we had our share of challenges getting the resort figured out, but ultimately we fell into our groove and were rewarded with great skiing and a great stay. So great, in fact, that the kids were literally in tears saying goodbye to Jay when it was time for us to leave, at nearly 7pm Sunday, after three very full days.
By driving up to Burlington Thursday evening after work, we gained the dual advantage of breaking up the 4-hour drive from Saratoga and getting an early jump on Friday’s skiing, but Friday morning’s drive through rain showers and brown, early spring countryside was less than inspiring. I just kept repeating “Jay never disappoints” and “the Jay Cloud always delivers,” and sure enough the rain changed to snow as we approached the mountain. Even better, by the time we were checked in and booted up, the sky began to clear and the sun came out.
I think it’s fair to say that we hit the jackpot for snow conditions and weather. Jay is up to nearly 350 inches of snow so far this season, with 50 inches falling in the 10 days leading up to our arrival. As one lift attendant put it, the mountain is fat with snow. We arrived just as the mountain was transitioning from winter packed powder to full-on spring conditions. Temperatures were mild, skies were sunny and wind was a non-issue for three days straight. Snow conditions ranged from packed powder and firm conditions on the upper mountain and north-facing slopes to creamy corn wherever the sun hit.
Big Jay backcountry in the foreground
We did have some bumps in the road, mostly involving adapting our ski routine to include 5-year-old Sylvie for the full day. At Gore, she typically spends half the day in day care and skis with us in the afternoon. It doesn’t sound like it should be a big deal, but skiing at a new area isn't the best time for modifying family dynamics and routine. Trust me, minor mishaps like catching a ski tip on the off-ramp at the top of the Jet lift (the ski ended up in the net) and falling in the mud outside the base lodge (both happened on Friday) are a lot less stressful on home turf.
On Saturday, we were joined by my college friends Damon and Cheryl. It’s a bit odd to refer to them as “college friends” because we’ve done a lot together in the 25+ years since college, including a few adventures that I’ve written up for this blog (Grand Teton 9/11, Wind Rivers). Damon has also been a ski instructor at Sugarbush for the last 10 seasons. It was great skiing with them for the day and the kids really enjoyed it too, often abandoning Beth and me so they could ride the chair lift with Cheryl and Damon.
I won’t bore you with a run-by-run chronology of the weekend. Instead, here are a few of our family favorites from the three days:
- Jet, for its fantastic spring snow and cheers from the chair lift for Daniel’s cape. I even got a few cheers of my own when I found the magic rhythm that let me fly down the bump line under the lift.
- Can-Am, which Beth backed off from on Saturday, then conquered on Sunday. Steep and intimidating.
- Valhalla, Kitz Woods, Showoff Glade and Canyonlands – some of our favorite glades. I wish we had tree runs like these at Gore. Actually, we do – we just don’t get Jay’s 350 inches of snow.
- JFK, Expo, Milk Run – fun black diamond bump runs.
- Ullr’s Dream – blue cruiser, beautiful views, packed powder end-of-the-day run with Damon and Cheryl.
For the record, Sylvie skied every one of those runs with us except for Valhalla. She skied bell-to-bell each day too, till past 4pm – pretty great for a 5-year old!
So we got in a ton of skiing and sampled a fair amount of Jay’s diverse terrain. I don’t even feel the least bit disappointed that I didn’t take a shot at Jay’s gnarliest black diamonds: Green Beret, River Quai, Tuckerman’s and the Face Chutes. Those slopes likely didn’t soften enough to be in prime condition. Just knowing that those trails are there and being able to look at them from the tram is (for now) enough.
As if we weren’t tired enough from the skiing, we had daily access to the Pump House, the resort’s 50,000 square foot indoor water park. I think Jay has really hit a homerun with the Pump House – it was a ton of fun for the kids (and parents too). After skiing, hitting the water park and then getting a late dinner (we stuck to the resort restaurants), all four of us literally collapsed each night in our room (really a one-bedroom condo unit) at the Hotel Jay.
The kids have already decided that we’re definitely going back to Jay. No argument here.
A special thanks to my pal Gord – aka Sick Bird Rider – who writes the Real Jay Peak Snow Report and sent me a bunch of helpful insider tips before our trip.