Riding Jay’s Glades
by Lou Stephens
Powder seekers carve their own original trails off the beaten path, weaving across mountainsides in search of untouched snow. In a quest for this mind-blowing experience, Eastern skiers and boarders often head to the trees, and among the right-coast inner circle of tree skiers, one mountain rules them all.
Nestled in the northern mountains of Vermont lies an anomaly of the East Coast. Located at the tip of the Green Mountains, Jay Peak is one of the snowiest places in America and easily the snowiest of the East.
Over the last five years, Jay Peak has averaged 341 inches of wicked white, getting the most in the 2001-02 season when 414 inches of snow blanketed the resort. "I’ve skied five seasons at Jay, three of which were over 400 inches, so I can testify to epic conditions,” said Rob Reinfurt, GearTrade.com Site Manager. “Boilerplate? Not really. I did grow up skiing on the East Coast so I know all about boilerplate, but on the right year Jay got more snow than Alta."
Type the words "Glade Skiing" into Google and see something almost as impressive as Jay’s record snowfalls. Jay Peak boasts one of the most liberal in-bounds skiing policies of any Eastern resort, a quality that makes Jay Peak a favorite destination with core Eastern skiers in the know.
Jay Peak's layout gives expert skiers access to the mountain’s glades while maintaining the natural intimacy of the woods. Before glade skiing became popular, Bill Stenger, Jay's President, noticed that the biggest smiles were on the skiers covered with the most snow. He learned that the snow was leftover powder hidden in the glades between the trails. In 1987 he opened the first of 24 glades, and since then more and more skiers have found their own secret powder stashes in Jay’s backcountry.
Josh Reid, Co-Founder of Rome Snowboard Design Syndicate, and local of Waterbury, VT, remembers the old Jay, "I have a lot of experience up at Jay. It was the first mountain that I rode lifts at in 1986—a time when no other mountains in northern Vermont allowed snowboarding…The next year I had a pass at Jay, and I still made regular trips throughout the 90s for powder days. The early 90s, before Jay thinned out and really marketed the trees, were definitely the best years. You could go there a couple weeks after a storm and still find fresh lines in Timbuktu or in the short tree shots off the Northway. The lines were a little tighter, but that just kept skiers and tourists out. It’s still fun on a pow day with lines all over the mountain. And it’s pretty much the only resort on the East Coast with chutes and open terrain that is lift-accessible."
For three decades, Jay Peak has impressed skiers across the globe and in its backyard. Pete Cudney, a local skier from Burlington, VT said, "When I moved to Vermont, I bought a ridiculously cheap 'student' pass at Jay for my first season. I wasn't a student, but the dreaded-out guy at guest services suggested a student rate anyhow. I still remember skiing Jay on Thanksgiving Day in '97... Everything was open because they had gotten four feet of snow in one storm on Tuesday, and then another two feet the night before and during the day of Thanksgiving. Just ridiculous..."
At Jay Peak, conditions can rival the West. Meathead Films shoots entirely in the East and defends their turf on their website Meatheadfilms.com. "Despite the humble altitudes of our mountains, the region offers spectacular terrain that, before us, had gone largely undocumented. Meathead Films fills the East Coast gap in the ski-movie industry."
"The East is a region commonly looked down upon by the skiing media community," says Meathead Films cinematographer Geoff McDonald, "'Ski The East' is a statement of pride for anyone who loves to shred the tight trees, steep bumps, tech handrails, and huge tabletops that the East provides."
Many Jay Peak locals jealously guard their secret spots because of the recent influx of tourists. Meathead skier Joe Morabito, a VT backcountry die-hard said, "Secret powder stashes? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who am I kidding? I stick to the trails. That’s where it’s really at. Don’t go looking for stashes and don’t follow me. It’s not worth it. I’m, umm, just going to 'use the trees.'"
Another Meathead skier and Jay Peak local, Simon Thompson, is only slightly more liberal with expounding his favorite spots, "Secret stashes? Naw, I don't keep that a secret, I'm a generous person—I share it with my good buddies."
"It’s always fun to visit the Eastern slopes and try to find the locals’ secret stash they have hand cut the summer before,” said Dave Klopp, a Line Skis sales rep and East Coast ex-pat now living in Utah. “I once found some fun, challenging terrain at Smugglers Notch by using a trail map scribbled on a cocktail napkin by my buddy back in Maine."
Morabito proudly juxtaposes Eastern glades to the typical trails of the West. "The woods force you to remain aware and on top of your skis. Skiing open bowls and evenly-spaced aspens out West is effortless, allowing your mistakes to pass unchecked. In the East, the woods are technical and tight, much less forgiving to rookie mistakes. This adds an extra level of excitement every Eastern-glades skier can relate to."
"Just drop into the nearest glade—and they are everywhere on the mountain—and you have the place to yourself,” said Pete Cudney. “It gets so quiet. Just you, the trees, and the occasional holler from someone off in the woods who can't contain themselves. It can be snowing hard enough to cover your lap on the chair, but you don't really get it until you see the snow falling against the dark green of the pines in the woods."
Says Simon Thompson, "As a longtime Jay rider, I can definitely say that Jay's glades have a wide-open aspect to them, and they expand well beyond what the trail map shows. You can practically ski anything that is a wooded area at Jay, push the boundaries of a glade, bomb down a run, hop into the woods on the left, right, or below and then jump right back into the run—or just stay in the woods for that matter. It really puts the free in freeskiing."
Ripping through tight trees in the East give you some equipment issues to think about. "Midfats are gaining more and more popularity nationwide. The Eastern skier does buy a narrower waist on average for more edge control than the Western skier due to firmer conditions," said Line rep Dave Klopp.
Josh Reid of Rome Snowboards said, "People generally ride shorter boards for powder back east because the trees are much tighter than out west. For an average-sized rider, a 156 or 158 is a common length for riding on powder days because the trails get tracked super fast and then the rest of the day is spent in the trees. Those same riders would probably ride a 164, or even a 168 on West Coast powder days." He continues, "Rome doesn’t make any product specifically for East Coast tree riding. Some of our shorter lengths of Agents, Anthems, Machines and Flags do the trick."
It’s important to also think about how the East’s tight-tree paradise will affect the rest of your equipment. "One concern that does arise is durability of lightweight fabrics on jackets and parkas. Core glade skiers in the East will typically look for that tighter line that’s less traveled, which usually means a grazed tree or two," said Klopp.
Jay's glades are a sacred place for the skiers and boarders. "It’s just that feeling you get when you’re going Mach 5, trees are going by you so quickly, you're ducking under branches every so often and you're just holding onto your turns cuz you know what happens if you screw that up!" said Thompson.
With powder up to your waist and glades scattered like a playground, Jay Peak is one of Mother Nature's greatest gifts to mountain junkies. Joe Morabito sums it up, "Good glades and deep powder are where it’s at."