by Stephen Jermanok
Located in northern Vermont, only a 90-minute drive from Montreal, Jay Peak always had the reputation of having the greatest snowfall in New England. Whenever Killington, Sugarbush, or Stowe ski resorts received three inches of snow, you could count on Jay to get at least eight inches of fresh powder. On average, the ski area receives more than 400 inches of powder each winter, easily surpassing any other ski resort in the region. Meteorologists will tell you that it’s due to the lake effect, being one of the first peaks the snowy weather reaches after hitting the shores of Lake Champlain.
With a height of 3,858 feet and a vertical drop more than half that, Jay Peak always had the terrain to become a world-class skiing destination. It just didn’t have the amenities. That all changed in 2009, when the Tram Haus Lodge opened at the base of the mountain offering studios, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom suites.
Tram Haus was merely phase one of a $200 million development. In 2011, Hotel Jay debuted and is connected to the Tram Haus Lodge. Inside Hotel Jay is the largest indoor water park in Vermont, the Pump House. Just outside the hotel is the new Ice Haus, an indoor skating rink open to the public for ice skating and hockey games. Combined, the resorts feature five restaurants.
With these recent additions, Jay Peak is now a four-season playground for families. Come in the winter to downhill, cross-country ski, snowshoe, skate, and play on all the rides in the water park. Think that water park gets hot in the summer? No, it has a retractable roof so you can be cool year-round. This being Vermont, you can expect the biking to be spectacular. Jay Peak is surrounded by bucolic rolling hills and large dairy and horse farms with little car traffic to contend with. There’s also ample opportunity to go hiking and mountain biking. So if you haven’t checked out Jay Peak, now’s the time.
Our Editor Loves
- Ski-in/ski-out lodging, with equipment lockers
- Indoor water park
- Skating rink
- Family Room 5+
- Kids' Pool
- Onsite Dining
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The guestrooms in Hotel Jay are a standard size with two double beds, flat-screen television, dressers, good closet space, and a balcony with views of the trails snaking down the mountain. A nice feature was that it had a full kitchen with refrigerator, oven, microwave, coffeemaker, cabinets with dishes, and seats at the kitchen bar. The spacious bathroom had a shower and featured locally sourced bathroom products. Wi-Fi is complimentary and there's a docking station to listen to music. Unlike many ski resorts, where you have to wait for a carrier to bring your own luggage up to your room, there were bellhops available to help.
Larger "family suites" are also available. Enter through the kitchen to a large sitting area with sofa that turns into a pullout bed for the kids. Nearby is a stone fireplace and balcony. The master bedroom is off the living room, with private bathroom. Note that rooms near the water park can be noisy. If you have young children who need to get to bed early, ask for a room away from the Pump House.
Grab your equipment from the ski lockers and head out the back door for a full day of skiing on some of Vermont's finest intermediate and expert terrain, with a heavy dose of glades and bumps if wanted. That's not to say you can't learn to ski at Jay as well. The Kinderski (ages 3 and 4) and Mini Learn-to-Ride (ages 5 and 6) skiers have access to the moving carpet on the bunny hill and the indoor ramp. These small groups with low student to teacher ratio can head out in the morning or afternoon.
Older children, like the Jay Explorers (ages 6 to 10) and Mountain Adventures (ages 10 to 17) have an opportunity to ski all day with instructors. One ride on the Aerial Tram to the summit and you'll understand why folks love to ski Jay. The mountain is essentially a monadnock, where on a cloudless day, you can see Lake Champlain to the west, Stowe Mountain in the south, the highest mountain in New England, Mount Washington to the east, and the snowcapped peaks of Quebec rising in the north.
From the summit, take the Northway trail to either Angel's Wiggle or Hell's Crossing, two sweet narrow runs lined with snow-covered pines. To reach one of the more popular runs, Kokomo, head up the mountain on the Flyer Express Quad to Wedelmaster and Ullr's Dream. At Kokomo, you feel lost in the forest, skiing around the tall pines and spruces. Another family favorite is the Montrealer, off the Triple Chair, a nice ridge run that rewards you with great views of the valley below.
Indoor Water Park
If your family prefers the water over the mountains, you may enjoy the indoor water park more than on the slopes. The Pump House is a vast indoor water park the size of an airplane hangar with colorful tubes (water slides) running outside the facility and back in again. Try La Chute, where you do a loop and then drop 60 feet per second before making a big splash in the water. Far mellower is the lazy river that glides under the manmade waterfalls around the perimeter of the building.
You can also try your luck surfing the Double Barrel wave; try the rides in the kiddie playground, play basketball in the water, or simply lounge in the oversized hot tub watching sports on the large video screen. If you're feeling a bit waterlogged, head next door to the arcade and collect tickets to win prizes.
The Ice Haus, next door to Hotel Jay, is a state-of-the-art skating rink. When the Women's World Hockey Championship came to Burlington, the teams played exhibition games at the Ice Haus. Public skating is available daily so be sure to ask Hotel Jay's Concierge about the times it's open when you arrive.
Down the hill from the Ice Haus is the Clubhouse, the home of the Nordic Center in winter. Rent equipment and then head out on more than 20 kilometers of groomed trails. Snowshoes are also available and you have the opportunity to go on guided winter hikes with guides.
Once warm weather arrives, you can take the Aerial Tram to the summit for a picnic lunch with a view, head to the water park and swim under the sky now that the retractable roof is open, or go for a long bike ride past the rolling dairy farms. You can also play a round of golf at Jay Peak's Championship Golf Course, once voted the number one public course in Vermont by Golf Week magazine.
For dinner the first night, we went to Alice's Table in the Tram Haus. As an appetizer, we shared their version of the Quebec specialty, poutine, French fries topped with melted cheese curds and doused in gravy. Delicious! Then the kids opted for fish and chips and a burger covered with Vermont cheddar cheese, while mom and dad had a salad topped with chicken, and grilled ahi tuna.
Alice's also serves a breakfast buffet in the morning, featuring freshly made omelets, French toast, homemade cinnamon buns, muffins, bacon, sausage, yogurt, and fresh fruit.
Buddy's Mug Coffee Shop
If you're looking for a light breakfast, head to Buddy's in Hotel Jay for a cup of coffee and baked goods like croissants, muffins, bagels, and cookies.
Mountain Dick's Pizza
For lunch, we headed to Mountain Dick's for pizza, hot out of the oven and made to order. Located at one end of Hotel Jay, Mountain Dick's also serves pasta, salads, and beers on tap.
Another good spot for lunch is Aroma Cafe in the Tram Haus. They offer panini sandwiches, soup, smoothies, and a sweet maple latte.
Golfers and/or cross-country skiers will want to try the Mexican specialties for lunch at the Clubhouse Grille. Three bean chile, spicy calamari, and a taco salad are just some of the items on the menu.
The Foundry Pub & Grille
Dinner at the Foundry Pub in Hotel Jay can be a special treat. Try the nachos, a wedge salad, and mozzarella cheese sticks, before moving on to entrees of spaghetti Bolognese, pasta primavera, and cedar-planked salmon. Parents should try the Switchback Ale on tap, well deserved after a day of hitting the slopes or greens.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Servers at all the restaurants had a friendly, yet professional manner. Even when there was a packed buffet in the mornings and you had to wait for a table at Alice's, the host would hand you a cup of coffee and update you regularly on the availability.
The Art of Smart Timing
Like most ski resorts in New England, Jay Peak is bulging at its seams during the Martin Luther King, Jr. three-day holiday and during February vacation week. If you can head up here in March to enjoy the spring skiing, lines at the lifts will be reduced. Come back to Jay during the warm weather months and you'll find the resort in a totally different light. It has a much more laid back feel, ideally suited for hikers, bikers, and golfers. Fall foliage is another popular time of year, when the leaf peepers are out in force to see the maple leaves turn crimson, yellow, and red. Whenever you visit Jay, be sure to inquire about seasonal package offers.
Jay Peak is an hour drive from Burlington, a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Montreal, and a three-and-three-quarter-hour drive from Boston. Heading north on I-91, take Exit 26 to merge onto US-5 N/VT-58 W toward Irasburg. Continue to follow Route 5 North for 5.9 miles, before turning left onto Route 14. Follow for 4.6 miles and take a slight left onto Route 100. Continue for 6 miles, turning right onto Route 101. 3.1 miles later, turn left onto Route 242. Follow the signs for 5.1 miles to reach Jay Peak Resort.
Ski-in, ski-out lodging is available so you're seconds from the slopes. Guests who may be staying a littler further away have the option of walking or taking a shuttle.
For Mom and Dad
The hot tub is a nice warm-up, but to really get those knots out of ski weary legs, get a massage at Tram Haus' Taiga Spa. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., enjoy a deep tissue, sports, hot stone, or Swedish massage. Anyone will do nicely, thank you.
The Tower Bar in the Tram Haus has live music on Saturdays during ski season, so it's a good place to grab an apres-ski Vermont microbrew. Or wait until after you hit the hot tubs at the Pump House, for a drink at Drink, the water park's second floor bar.