Jay Peak's reputation as the snowiest ski resort in the Eastern United States draws powder-seeking skiers from the entire Northeast despite its remote location.
Who says you need to head to the Rockies to find powder? Jay Peak has been the secret of “Ice Coast” powderhounds secret since it’s opening in 1957. Situated at the northern edge of Vermont’s famed Long Trail, and close to the United States border with the Canadian province of Quebec, Jay Peak offers anyone who makes the trek to their slopes a true wilderness experience spread over 385 acres and 78 trails. With something for expert skiers and beginners alike, Jay brings a true resort destination to one of the remote areas of the Northeast.
Situated near the northern terminus of Vermont’s Green Mountains, Jay Peak (affectionately known as “Jay” to those who frequent its slopes) opened in 1957 and never looked back. Now offering year-round activities, the resort is a favorite among locals in its remote Northern Frontier region of Vermont, as well as with skiers from nearby Quebec who cross the border to get their turns. With a laid back attitude and frequent harsh winter conditions, Jay lies too far from the hubbub of the big cities to the south, and locals couldn’t enjoy their short lift lines more.
With an average annual snowfall of 370 inches, Jay receives the most snowfall of any East Coast ski resort. As the first mountain winter storms hit when crossing the plains of Ontario, the resort is truly geographically blessed and typically receives significantly more snow than other Vermont ski areas every time a storm crosses the state. Skiers beware, however, with the abundant snowfall comes extreme cold and high winds, known locally as the “Montreal Express.” It is not uncommon for the summit to dip into the double-digits below zero during the throes of winter. Still, the storms that linger for days, known as the “Jay Cloud,” often deposit a plethora of a commodity not typically found in the old growth Eastern US forests: powder snow.
While Jay remains an eastern mecca for powder skiing, especially for tree skiers, the resort truly brings something to the table for everyone. Recent expansions have the resort well positioned for years of success, despite its remote location. With Vermont’s only indoor waterpark, an ice-skating rink, and miles of summer hiking trails, many families head to Jay and to enjoy the numerous off-slope activities never hit the slopes at all. Also noteworthy, due to the resort’s high amount of average snowfall, Jay is normally open far later than other resorts on the East Coast, and brings excellent corn snow skiing well into the spring months.
+ Typically highest average annual snowfall east of the Rockies
+ Tree skiing paradise with easy backcountry access
+ Relatively inexpensive lift tickets
+ Laid-back atmosphere and lack of crowds
– Remote Area make resort difficult to get to
– Limited Aprés Ski options
Updated for Winter 2015-2016 – Roger Tufts
The resort base is divided into two main areas: Stateside, and Tramside. Tramside is typically the busier area, with a number of restaurants, a large hotel, and the waterpark, as well as Jay’s 60-person aerial tram—the only one of its kind in the state. Also located at this side is the Green Mountain Flyer quad chair, affectionately called the “Green Mountain Freezer” by locals due to its typically chilly and windy ride.
Stateside offers a more classic ski area feel, and many skiers choose to lap the Jet Triple chair and Bonaventure Quad all season long and avoid the more crowded Stateside Base altogether.
Jay is not a particularly large resort (even by East Coast standards). Most visitors have little difficulty mastering the trail layout in a single day. That said, Jay is the type of resort that has so many nooks and crannies that a full season might not be enough to find all of them, particularly if venturing into the resort's famous glades.
While green-rated trails only comprise 20% of Jay’s mountain terrain, the lower mountain does give beginners an opportunity to spread their wings and grow their skills. Jay even offers a lower-mountain only lift ticket at a significant discount for those who know their skills aren’t quite ready to tackle Jay’s steeper upper-mountain runs.
On Stateside, runs off of the Taxi Quad will give beginners a few options. The nearby Village Double lift also offers a beginner area that is fairly cut-off from the rest of the resort, so beginners won’t have to contend with the fear of expert skiers whizzing by them at uncomfortable speeds. On Tramside, the Metro Quad offers a few beginner runs, as well as access to the Terrain Park, so be sure to choose your run before wandering into an area that puts you out of your comfort zone.
One interesting pod of green terrain is found near the Tramside base for beginners and intermediates are three blue-rated runs named Quarter Moon, Half Moon, and Full Moon. These three runs are rated intermediate, however they offer a three-step introduction for beginners and intermediates to tree skiing. The runs get progressively more difficult from Quarter to Full, but each lasts a short time and can be exhilarating for those not used to skiing through the trees. It is quite fitting to find such an area at Jay Peak, as the resort is known for its top-notch tree skiing.
Each of the resorts main upper-mountain lifts offer at least one long groomed run all the way back to the base. The resort really shines with its expert trail offerings, but it does offer numerous trails that are black diamond-rated that intermediates would feel comfortable on and may be able to progress their skills.
Intermediates can enjoy runs off the summit by taking the aerial tram. To the skier’s right, Vermonter gives skiers great views of the surrounding wilderness, and deposits skiers back into the middle of the resort. To the skier’s left, Ullr’s Dream brings skiers around the boundary of the resort down to a number of flatter runs back to the Tramside base. Many of the runs off of Ullr’s Dream can provide a fun day, but the long traverse back to the bottom can prove repetitive and dull after a while.
Over at the Stateside, Montrealer to the skier’s left brings intermediates down a long groomer back to the middle of the resort, where they are greeted with a number of options to get back to the base, including Northway and Angel’s Wiggle. Jay also has cut a few intermediate glades for skiers who want to try their luck in the trees. The best of these are Bushwacker and Stateside Glade.
Jay’s famed strong winds often blow the abundant snowfall off the trails and deposits powder stashes amongst the maples and pines in the woods. To the skiers’ right of the resort, runs such as Timbuktu and Kitz’s Woods offer fantastic sustained top-to-bottom steep tree skiing. On the opposite side of the resort lie other great runs such as Bear Pond Glades and André’s Paradise. In between, skinny trails such as Staircase Glade and Deliverance offer some of the truer tests on the mountain.
For those looking for a short-but-sweet big mountain experience, board the tram to Jay’s summit. A short hike brings daring skiers to the top of the saddle amidst rime and ice-covered vegetation. Bring your A-game here, however, as any run down the extremely exposed saddle will be under the watchful eye of those riding the tram. Directly under the tram are the Face Chutes. Each of these are often covered in the East Coast’s finest conditions (read: dust on crust), but occasionally offer a short but sturdy test of your meddle, especially during the spring months.
Other, more traditional advanced runs may be found off further down the mountain off the tram, or off of the Jet Triple on the Stateside part of the resort. Valhalla and Green Beret are favorites off the tram, while bump runs such as U.N. and Haynes alongside the steep groomer The Jet will keep advanced skiers busy off the triple. If cliff skiing is your true desire, be sure to make your way to Upper Can Am and Upper River Quai off the Bonaventure Quad and air it out.
For more about Jay Peak's gladed skiing and backcountry offerings, check out Ultimate-Ski's Jay Peak Backcountry & Glades review.
While most locals won’t tell you where to find some of the best off-piste tree skiing in the country, many would be happy to show you in exchange for your company and a beer. As they say, “Ask and you shall receive.” For fear of losing favor amongst some of the locals, I’ll keep some of the named favorites to myself. However, it won’t take much searching and friendly questioning to find some of Jay’s excellent lift-accessed side country runs.
Big Jay, situated just to the southwest of the Tram summit, is Vermont’s tallest peak without an established base-to-summit hiking trail. Big Jay can be accessed by traversing off the back of Jay Peak Resort through an established backcountry gate, followed by a 1-2 hour hike depending on conditions. Be sure you are well aware of your surroundings, however, because a wrong turn off this peak could leave you miles away from help in one of the more remote areas of the country. Ski your way back to the access road, and a passerby will be happy to give you a lift back to the base.
Many of Jay’s best tree runs can be found in-between established trails. The resort has a well-known relaxed policy in this regard, and there are often fresh tracks to be found long after a storm if you know where you look for it. Exercise caution, however, as some of Jay's tree runs are quite narrow. It's always best to venture into the woods with someone who is familiar with the terrain.
The Tramhouse at the resort’s summit is home to the Sky Haus Deli, which makes a great warming spot on the coldest of days in Northern Vermont. Unfortunately, the Sky Haus Deli is frequently closed, so check resort information if you plan on making a food-related pit stop after your ride up the tram. If it is open, however, you will be treated to an excellent sandwich at nearly 4,000ft of elevation and unobstructed views in all directions well into the Canadian province of Quebec.
While there are hotel options on the mountain, the lack of a true pedestrian village at the resort can leave things feeling sleepy during resort after-hours. For those looking for resort gear, the Stateside base does have a ski shop, and the General Store at the Tramside base stocks a ton of unique Jay Peak memorabilia.
The nearby towns of Jay and Montgomery Center feature a combined population of fewer than 1500 residents, so neither will provide the exciting après-ski excursion some skiers and riders may be looking for.
On the Tramside base, those looking to grab a quick sandwich can stop by the deli at the Provisions General Store, where lots of resort memorabilia and gifts are also for sale. For those looking for a more complete dining experience, Alice’s Table serves excellent comfort foods with a local flair. The nearby Foundry Pub & Grille also serves more upscale food such as pasta dishes, steaks, and locally grown vegetables. For pizza, look no further than Mountain Dick’s Pizza for a top-notch pie. The Tram Haus also contains a coffee shop to get the blood flowing on a cold morning, and a great post-ski bar called Tower Bar.
On the Stateside base, the Bullwheel Bar is the stop of choice for most looking for a hot or cold beverage after a long day in the powder. Both bases also have standard ski area cafeterias with the typical fare such as burgers, chicken fingers, fries, and wraps.
While it does offer some of the best skiing in the East Coast, thousands of families flock to Jay for it’s PumpHouse attraction, a giant indoor year-round water park, and the only one of its kind in Vermont. The park features multiple full-scale waterslides, an indoor “Flowrider” to allow a surf-like experience, a large “anything-but-lazy” river, and a bar for adults.
Jay also hosts a number of activities for those there during winter months that aren’t headed to the slopes. The resort offers snowshoe tours around the nearby woods and a full-sized ice-skating rink that often hosts local hockey tournaments. Guests are always allowed to also ride the tram, skiing or not, as long as it’s open.
Off-season, Jay also allows hiking and tram rides to its open-view summit. The resort is also home to championship golf course that has received rave reviews since its opening in 2007. With ski season often stretching into May, it's not uncommon to be able to ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon for a truly exception two-sport day.