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  • Jay Peak, Vermont: Into the Woods & Glades for Fresh Powder

    by Mitch Kaplan

    Photo courtesy Jay Peak Bill Stenger made a surprising statement. I was attending a seminar focused on this question: how could skiing/riding portray itself as cutting edge adventure while effectively emphasizing safety?

    And, paraphrased, this is what Bill, president of Vermont’s Jay Peak Resort, said: Once we decided to be open from boundary-to-boundary, and thinned our glades to make a lot of tree terrain accessible, everyone - on groomed slopes or not - became safer. Our overall accident rate went down.

    Seems illogical, yes?

    But, it isn’t. And here’s why. When advanced sliders are restricted to traveling on-piste, they tend to go faster, and they often encounter trouble negotiating around slower-moving, less skilled sliders, who themselves tend to move erratically and to be intimidated by speed demons. Crashes happen. When advanced sliders go into the trees, they must slow down, so they’re less likely to crash. And the groomed trails, now populated more predominantly by slower folks, become safer, too.

    Jay Peak is famous for a few things: it has the east’s only high-capacity aerial tram; it gets more snowfall by far than any other eastern ski area; and it offers the region’s best in-bounds glade skiing.

    On that last point? By "best" we mean gladed runs for everyone. These glades - that were making things safer - had to be investigated.

    Which is how I found myself entering something called Bushwacker. Here was a glade that begged to be skied. Even by those barely out of a snowplow. Even by those who stood maybe 36 inches tall. I paused a while and watched a pod of small kids, accompanied by instructor, wiggle into that tree collection. They darted through the widely spaced trunks like midget race cars run amok. They even squealed gleefully, like midget race car tires. Really. This has got to be the definition of fun.

    I’d arrived there fresh from a black-rated zone called Beyond Beaver Pond Glade. The contrast was remarkable. And delightful. First, our posse had rumbled stop-and-go fashion through steep drops, sharp changes of direction and stashes of powder. Now here, the routes were well trodden and the slope forgiving.

    But, the effect was the same. In the trees, we were skiing the mountain. Not someone’s alteration or facilitation of the mountain. The actual topography and pitch that the hill presented. You got the feeling that you were adventuring through in the woods. You had to employ your skills to make the turns and handle the ungroomed snow. You had to make decisions. And, yes, you had to slow down.

    Whether you were hard core enough to take on the trees on the blacks or just eager enough to try the greens, you captured that feeling of being one with the mountain.

    You’ve gotta love that about this place.

    Photo courtesy Jay Peak Jay, like any major snowsliding destination, offers all the expected amenities and programs. But, in keeping with its special qualities, it offers something called Mountain Expeditions. The program comes in two varieties: for age 10 and up; and for teens. Mountain Expeditions presents the opportunity to explore the woods by skis, board or, snowshoe in the woods; to get "first tracks" off the tram at 8 a.m. (if you can get those adolescents out of bed), or to cross-country ski, telemark, or snow skate. They also can apprentice with instructors and assist in the regular Thursday night torchlight parade. Participants receive a certificate and other goodies, as well.

    That certainly escalates the cool factor.

    Parents with a mind to explore can get in on glade clinics or even backcountry tours.

    I watched those kids zip through Bushwacker, then followed them down. Re-united with my own friends, we re-ascended the high-speed quad for a shot at Everglade, black-rated and seemingly endless. But, we found Everglade’s end, just in time to ride back up for another go at Beyond Beaver Pond Glade. You see, "That was great - let’s do it again" is what skiing trees is all about. And Jay had certainly lived up to its rep for glade skiing.


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    ...... Mitch Kaplan is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate’s Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.

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