Saturday, February 23, 2013

Big Jay Powder Day

Brad, 6:54 am: Take your skins up to Jay. Better get up there and ski for me.

Me, 7:28 am: Can't do it. Overslept. No ski buddy.

Brad, 8:03 am: "No friends on a powder day" means you're still suposed to ski. You know they got 2 feet?

Brad, 11:54 am: So, how is it?

Me, 8:54 pm: Got the only tracks on Big Jay all day. Almost impaled myself on a spruce, ended up in a pit, and avalanched myself off a jump.

Brad, 8:55 pm: Dude. When i told you to take your skins i didn't mean to get yourself killed solo in the bc. 

Me, 8:55 pm: Sorry. You can't reason with 3 feet of powder. If today were the last day I ever skied, at least it would have been the best.

Me, 8:56 pm: Hey, don't tell my wife I hitchhiked. She'd kill me quicker than a spruce pit.

Strange sounds echoed up through the trees from below, eerily muffled by the 23 inches of feather-light powder that had fallen overnight in the northern Greens. Unlike a typical powder day at Jay, I was shocked to find that the woods were not, as usual, chocked full of skiers. The woods were in fact full of Hollywood extras shooting a horror film of some sort. From the sound of it, a Godzilla knockoff.

Hello? How come we never ski in CANADA??
It was 10:42 am and I was standing above the furthest chute in the Beaver Pond glades thinking about where this day was going to rank on the scale of greatest days of my life. Rolling in late, I was happy to find both the Tram and Green Mountain Flyer on wind-hold. Choosing to skin up rather than wait and smoke with the Queebies, no sooner had I slapped on the mohair than the Flyer started turning.

Unable to slide, I practically jump-turned my way to the front of the line, layered up with the full force of the Freezer blowing in my face, and stripped my skins while dangling high above the catwalk to JFK. A real World Cup caliber randonee costume change. My reward was first tracks through one of my favorite glades at Jay.

All over the mountain hundreds of people were screaming "OH MY GOD!!!!" as they made their own first turns through Jay's infamous glades. Screaming when they could at least. Most of my first run was spent in powder deep as my teets, and frequently far overhead. The pressure to join in the powder day PDA was high, but OH MY GOD seemed a little overplayed. Instead, I chose maniacal laughter.

Yes. That deep. And deeper.
Two identical runs later and the day was already a top 5er for me. It doesn't take many people to track out a forest though. By 11 am, things were starting to feel scratchy, and competition for fresh snow was high. Another ride up the Freezer and my eyes began to wander to the Face Chutes, Green Barret, and those narrow lines in between. Bootpacking up from the Flyer, it was obvious I was at least the 10th or 12th person to have the same idea. Oh well. At least I would earn a few turns today.

Even the shortest of in-bounds hikes can change the entire feeling of a ski day. Leaving the calamity of a busy resort behind me, things quickly started to feel a lot more private. Incredibly, all 12 boot-packers had passed by the Saddle Trail over to Big Jay. How could it possibly be that, nearing high noon on a powder day, the Jay backcountry was completely untracked?

If you've never been across the saddle from Jay Peak to Big Jay, you're missing out on some of New England's best and most readily accessible BC terrain. There's plenty of documentation explaining exactly how to do a run on Big Jay. Here's the quick and dirty:

Park across from the logging field on 242. Take the Tram to Jay Peak summit. Ski off the summit towards the Flyer, and watch for the BC gates between the wind fencing at the bend in Northway. Follow the rabbit hole down towards the saddle between Jay Peak and Big Jay. Skins on and up to the summit. Pick your line. Push hard right when things level out, always keeping the creek bed on your left. Watch for the old Catamount Trail to follow out to 242. If someone stole your car, hitchhike back to the resort and call your mother for a ride home, just like everyone else does. 

Got it? Easy right? Lets go!

Anonymous Akbar

Ok, so yeah, that's the local rundown you'll get riding the lift with a bunch of guys headed towards the Dip. You know why people ski the Dip? Because it's quick, easy, and you don't need a shred of BC knowledge, ability, or a competent ski buddy to rely on if things get hairy. The Dip is for dummies. A great (safe) day on Big Jay requires a little more calculation. 

I did a quick gear and time check and figured I was in pretty good shape to push out towards the saddle. 11:40 am. Skins, water, food, emergency gear, puffy, dry gloves, shovel, Nikon.... ski buddy? Well... there's no such thing as the perfect pack on the perfect powder day now is there?

Even when I'm alone, I'm never without a few good ski buddies. Imagination is a powerful thing, and while it wont dig you out of a spruce pit, at least it's good company. Today my imaginary skiing companion is an anonymous local I met on an anonymous local skisex chatroom. For the price of an imaginary reacharound, he promised to show me around the Jay backcountry. How could I refuse?

White carpet down the Rabbit Hole
My new friend, we'll call him Akbar, is pretty well known by the fewest and prick-liest of New England's ski-snob elite. No, don't ask me who he really is. He's taking a pretty big risk agreeing to show me all the snobbery's favorite ski spots. I always protect my sources.

Twenty three inches is deep. Fifty inches of wind-loaded freshness is even deeper. While the gong-show contestants were back beating their drums and hacking up all the powder in Jay's manmade glades, Akbar and I were busy shoveling our way through a grueling mile of the deepest powder I've ever seen in New England.

The first part of Saddle Trail runs gradually downhill from the Northway junction. On a busy day, someone will likely have done all the hard work for you and you'll be able to glide gently down for the first half mile. On a an untracked day, plan on an hour or more of hard work to earn the summit of Big Jay. Today, even the downhill section felt like a gradual climb.

Down into the saddle.
Skins really aren't necessary until you pass through the first of several clearings on the saddle. It's a good idea to put them on earlier than you might think. There are a number of tricky sections coming out of each clearing and things get steep fast fast as you approach the Big Jay climb.

You'll spot more than a few good lines off to your left as you traverse, but don't give in too early. The payout for push-push-push is extremely high, although you won't be disappointed by any of the runs you'll take after about the .5 mile mark. As for those first peeks... I've never skied them, but from the sat view they look... OK. Biggest concern being you'd be dumped out on the wrong side of the main drainage, making it extremely hard to get back to road.

I've marked some of the quality runs you can take off Big Jay. Make note here. Ski LEFT off the Saddle Trail. Right has decent spacing but will dump you out in the middle of East Bumble@uck and you may never be heard from again. As for the left options, there are at least three noteworthy cuts to follow that will lead you down through an initial thicket of dense spruce but eventually open up into carefully spaced hardwood glades - see 1, 2, and 3 on sat image to right.
Heading up to Big Jay from the saddle.

"Carefully spaced" is the operative word here. I'm not sure how natural the Big Jay tree skiing really is. I know there's been a lot of logging on Big Jay over the years, most noteworthy being the illegal cut made in 2007 by a few ski elites that are now professional jailbirds. Depending on your perspective, the Jailbird Chutes, furthest out on the Saddle Trail, offers some of the best skiing in the Jay backcountry. Although a horrifying ecological disaster, this is a steep hairy chute and you'll have a hell of a good time if you push that far.

View of the bowl and options on Big Jay.
Jumping in from 2 and 3 offers an excellent chance to test your mettle while skiing the kind of terrain that most people only dream about from the chairlift. You know the kind of run I'm talking about. Steep, steep steep, with only broken spruce tops poking through windslab snow and an endless descent into an unknown abyss. There are plenty of bonus features on Big Jay too. If you do make it all the way to Jailbird, schwak your way around the back of the summit and you'll find yourself above a series of rock drops that have inspired more than one outstanding photo opp by the Famous Internet Skier crew (yellow circle).

Make note of the important features on the sat image. The yellow line demarcates the creek bed that you should always keep on your left while heading out to the car. There are a number of shelves that will step you down to the old Catamount Trail (white line below red arrow). Some uphill may be required. If you keep pushing right, eventually you'll hit the last plateau that will drop you down onto the logging road exit (Note: This is a derelict section of the Catamount Trail. There are markers, but they are few and far between. Never fear. Like pornography, you'll know it when you see it. Trust me.)

Your exits are here here here here and here.
Back on the Saddle Trail, it was nearing 1 pm and definitely time to ski. While I could have stuck it out a little longer, I was acutely aware that, with all the fresh snow, the runout back the car was going to be nothing short of hellish. 

Akbar and I spied a tasty little chute near point 2 on the sat image for our freshies. As I slid in over the tops of the ridge line spruce guard, my mind raced through the unknown hazards that awaited me below. First and foremost, tree tops. Second, tree bottoms. Surprise surprise! My first turn had me careening at top speed towards what looked like a tiny thicket of punji sticks. Cutting hard right, I came to a stop eyeball-to-treetop with a broken, spintry spruce tip that had almost been my final destination. Me, the gruesome holiday tree-topper straight out of Nightmare Before Christmas.

Ok. So today is going to be that kind of powder day. Careful as she goes.

Opening up a bit.
Four quick turns later, I was entering one of Big Jay's more spacious wooded tunnels. My tunnel of choice ended in an abrupt funnel between two massive old spruce. From my vantage point on top, I watched an endless stream of slough from my last turn slide down into darkness below the right-side spruce. It was hard to shake the feeling that I was trapped in the top bulb of a giant hour glass watching all the sand slide out. Surely that trap it will fill up eventually? Right?

And surely it did. When the entire treetop of the spruce at left collapsed into it. A few more turns of mine and I would have been right in the choke point, underneath the falling canopy and below a stream of my own oncoming slough. The first course had been tasty powder. A frosty death at the bottom of a spruce pit would have been my just deserts.

All in all, the going was extremely routine for folks who experience mindblowing powder days 100% of the time. I don't personally have that kind of luck, and this was obviously a top 1 day in my life (although I'm told I'm still young).

Not wanting to peak too early, I did reign things in a bit after my near-death experience, only to be reminded, after partial burial following a rock drop, that there was a shitload of snow all around me and no one could predict exactly what it was going to do. Even the most organized day in the backcountry can quickly turn into a long lonely night.

Before I knew it (ahem, 1.5 miles and 2.5 hours later) I had shoveled my way to the road. A large, open field marks the end of your descent from Big Jay. It's a blessing in disguise of course if you're one of those brave souls who relies on the kindness of strangers to return you to your car. Today, I only waited a few minutes before being picked up by two kids who were heading up to work the night shift at the water park. We literally parked RIGHT BEHIND my Honda. Top notch trail to door service.

The real thrill of Big Jay isn't just that it's accessible, or frequently recieves some of the deepest overnight snowfall in all of New England. What makes the Big Jay amazing is that you can cut your teeth off the Tram, learning your way out to Big Jay and down to the road, and then come back time and again to skin it from below. 
You'll only need to buy a lift ticket once to learn how easy it is to earn every turn from the bottom up.

So, next time it's puking snow, don't be afraid to tell your drinking buddies that the Dip is for Frenchies and Fatties. Find a real friend, and make good use of the top secret knowledge Akbar and I have given you. While it's hard to leave the hoots and hollers of a resort powder day behind, the peace, quiet and endless powder of the real Jay backcountry could be the best day of your life.

A little peek through the trees at the best day of your life.


  1. Sick! You would have seen a few other tracks up there on Big Jay if it weren't for a school work overload that kept me in Troy instead of VT. Are you going back for more tomorrow? I have a partner that is thinking of making a solo trip but isn't sure if its a smart idea.

    1. Bill, I'll be up there again tomorrow. Drop me a line at and hopefully we can meet up for a run or two.

      Solo on Sunday won't be as bad an idea as solo on Thursday was. Always safer to bring a real live ski buddy though.

  2. Was there some redemption here? Great story.

    1. A first step towards ultimate redemption. Like Magwa wiping the seed of White Beard from the Earth, I'm going to blow up every top secret TGR powder stash in New England. Mark my words, basement dwelling ski elitists of the world. Your secret snow is mine

    2. you'll have to be more specific Greg.

    3. I just don't quite understand your MO. You seem to imply a lofty mission of democratizing powder stashes. That's fine. I think there are good ways and bad ways to do that. Ideally good ways are educational, responsible and respectful in nature to the new comers, the old guard and the forest; teach a man to fish type of stuff. But the vibe I'm getting from you isn't that; your tone is to give a man a fish, and is full of vitriol amusingly similar to what I heard out if Occupy last summer. Consequently, I'd like to hear you expand on what it is you're all about in as much detail as possible. I feel like I'm getting the wrong impression from you.

    4. Sorry Greg, it's just a Last of the Mohicans quote I've had on my mind for a long time.

      You and Andy have certainly reached a respectful understanding on the MO of this site, and my position doesn't differ greatly from his. I'm probably a bit more reactionary than he is when it comes to the backlash we've received by posting what I do consider pretty tame fishing instructions for future backcountry junkies, woven into a good story that people who've been there can appreciate too.

      Frankly I'd just like to get good content out to people who enjoy it. In the process of doing so folks on TGR have offered to slash my tires, provide me with complementary medivac service if they caught me in their stash, and generally flung a lot of poo my way. Which just keeps driving the thread up to the top, and folks keep reading our posts. And I can't believe they'd all offer to spit in my face if they met me in person.

      To simplify this: 1.) I don't like to be cyberbullied by your buddies and have a natural tendency to push back. And 2.) I do like to write stories about skiing and have people read them and enjoy them too. So it's a double edged sword and I'm not entirely sure how to wield it.

    5. "Frankly I'd just like to get good content out to people who enjoy it."

      But you can do that withOUT giving away all the details. Then you'd still be putting good content out there and NOT pissing off a huge chunk of the BC skiing crowd. Greg's posts on FIS are a prefect example of this. Good pics, good story, and he's no pissing lots of people off (most of the time ;) )

      That is what I don't get about your MO.

    6. First, the cyber-bullying and threats are not OK. I suspect it's all talk. I messaged you on T4T, but I'll reiterate here in public that if anything were to ever come of that, please contact me and I'm happy to help you respond in any way I can.

      Second, in response to this: "I don't like to be cyberbullied by your buddies"... None of those folks are my buddies.

      This clearly isn't something we can solve in a day, or with a comment on a blog, but nevertheless I will continue to bring up the issue in what I hope is a respectful (albeit firm) voice in the comments here on NEBackcountry and wherever else we may interact. And I hope you will continue to approve my comments as long as I keep it civil.

      To me "show don't tell" and "teach a man to fish" are great mantras for all types of ski-stoke (blogs, movies, magazines, etc). I like that you guys have a great time, and I enjoy reading the TRs. It is great content, and you are accomplishing your mission on that front 100%.

      But I have to tell you every time I read any kinda treasure-map on here, I cringe. What's the point besides blog hits, I ask?

      In my mind I put it on par it with a rape of a natural resource, and I think a lot of others do too, hence the fierce blowback.

      Anyway... in this country you of course can write and say whatever you want. But by the same token, if people want to hate you for it, that's their right too. But assault or damage of property is the line. If that's crossed, it's unlawful and uncool. Keep bloggin!

    7. Do you cringe in the same manner every time you read a book on climbing routes, a book on places to go kayaking, or a hiking map? I suspect not.

      The raping natural resources comment just underlines the illogical hyperbole that we've been confronting.

      We put location information in the posts because people want that information... and as you noted they come to read it. So why shouldn't they be allowed to have it?

      I think a lot of folks who have a problem with this have it backwards. I write my pieces the way I want, with the information I want to put into them. If they don't want that information then they don't have to read the piece. But those folks are on a mission to keep all information about bc sites secret... so not reading the piece is not enough for them- They feel the need to harass, intimidate, and otherwise get all bent out of shape when anyone talks about sites other than the Goodman sites.(And by the way, if you go look at the map on our website of the places we've posted about- none of them are peoples' private "secret" stashes. None.)

      To those that think the information we've posted must be kept secret: Why shouldn't others have access to the location information we've provided? Why should it be kept secret?

      The folks who need to explain themselves are the ones telling us "how it is" and what we should be writing about.

      And they need to lighten up. After all, it's just skiing.

    8. "Do you cringe in the same manner every time you read a book on climbing routes, a book on places to go kayaking, or a hiking map? I suspect not."

      Swing and a miss, again. You continue to equate bc skiing with climbing, hiking and kayaking, but I really don't believe any of these to be apt analogies.

      Let's start with climbing. How many people can climb, oh, let's say Jolt (at Rumney) in a weekend? It's an amazing line, and one that's not too technical or difficult, so assuming no tom-foolery, I bet you could get more than 30 people up and down that route in a weekend. Now if I show up monday, will I have any idea that any of them were there? The route would be just the same as if none of those folks had showed up over the weekend.

      Now, let's take hiking. How many people do you think go over Franconia ridge in a busy weekend in the summer with nice weather? Let's say, 4th of July weekend. I bet it would be over 500 folks who end up crossing that ridge in a weekend. Now if I show up on wednesday after that weekend, would my experience be in any way diminished by any of those 500 folks? I don't think so.

      And finally, kayaking. How many people can drop the falls on the New Haven when it's rolling in peak runoff? Maybe not a lot of people have the cojones to do so, but I would hope that you're starting to see my point. If I show up at a later point in time, my experience will in no way, shape or form be diminished by all of those who did drop the falls.

      Now, let's look at bc skiing. And let's look at that here, in the NE, with the kind of winter we've had. A winter that I hate to admit (to myself), is probably a fairly typical winter. Some snow, some rain, some... lack of weather altogether.
      Especially given lower snow amounts, there are many lines out there that can only support very minimal traffic. There are a few beautiful lines that I love that I was only able to ski once this year, lines that can only take a few tracks before being too thrashed to ski (both in terms of fun and in terms of safety)

      So the existence of those sort of lines coupled with not great amounts of snow make folks uneasy when you publish maps. Sure, you might claim that only very few folks are seeing your maps, but let's be realistic - your page comes up in the first page of results on a Google search for skiing LG. I'm sure you can see the analytics of folks coming into your pages and what they searched for too... I'd bet that a number of folks who are doing that search would otherwise have had no idea about the specifics of the terrain in there, UNLESS they chose to spend a day checking things out for THEMSELVES. Now, you may ask, what's so bad about that? Well, that takes us back to the point that especially with lower snowfall totals, many areas simply can't sustain such large volumes of folks, large volumes that would show up following your maps (as opposed to the many fewer that would show up with the intent of exploring and checking things out for themselves). And mind you, when I say "large volumes," I don't mean hundreds. I mean dozens, if that. It doesn't take much to ruin a nice bc zone, especially a terrain feature like a nice drainage / brook. Given a brook about 10-15 feet wide and fairly steep, how many people do you realistically think can ski down it before it's done until the next storm? And given a year like what we've had this year, who knows when that brook will be back in. Maybe you skied it back in early Jan, and with a location in central VT, it has not yet come back into play....

      [..continued below..]

    9. [..continued..]

      So where does that leave us? Great terrain that's all tracked out. Nobody goes into the backcountry to ski bumps. It all comes back to the general NE motto "show, don't tell." Hell, I'd be even ok with you talking about skiing in LG (although personally I would never do that online), but maps? If you ask me, that's simply taking it too far. Unless of course your sole motive is making the big bucks off affiliate links, etc ;) (In case it's not clear, that last sentence is said completely in jest).

      Now I know that ya'll will continue to do what you do, and as Greg pointed out, that's all fine and fair, but at recognize that skiing is NOT equivalent to hiking, climbing or kayaking.

    10. I'm glad we've found someone who finally understands the economics of affiliate links. :)

      As the bc community grows the limited number of known bc sites is bound to get strained by increased traffic. When you talk about great terrain getting tracked out... that's one of the main reasons why information on additional bc sites should be available.

      To continue with the hiking, kayaking and climbing analogies: If only twenty sites were known for each of these sports, then folks would flock to them ruining everyone's experience. But in those sports there are hundreds- if not thousands- of options for each. Traffic gets spread out, and people are happy for the most part.

      I think you far overestimate the amount of bc traffic in a given weekend. Heck, you can still pretty easily score first tracks on most of the Goodman sites. But assuming for a second that there are indeed hordes of folks breaking into the sport then they need places to go. They want places to go. Why shouldn't we provide them with the information that they are seeking?

    11. What?! Are we really having this conversation about Big Jay? The world's worst kept powder stash secret. This is the same Big Jay that has made the 6 o'clock news for illegal cutting and is highlighted in detail in AMC books.

      I love Andy's ethos but I have been following him for years and have mostly seen only Goodman sites and crazy a$$ bushwhack hikes into remote and steep slides that nobody but him is crazy enough to suffer through once every few years. I haven't seen alot secret stashes handed out. Don't get my wrong I am still hoping too and will stay tuned.

      Well done on Big Jay. Reminds me of Mansfield on a choice day last Feb.

    12. Slow Cyclist, thanks for picking up on the irony inherent in this post. When you get right down to it, NoreasterBC isn't in the business of "blowing up" secret powder stashes, of which Big Jay is most certainly not.

      Yours is the best comment in this thread so far. What we're doing is running a 4 season adventure sports journal that aims to catalog the journey out and back from ambitious goals like North Twin, Magalloway, etc. The places we like to go are not the top secret backdoor clearcuts maintained by some of the anonymous posters on this site.

      No doubt we will turn up some of those along the way. And at that point, they'll be OUR secret powder stashes. Ours to enjoy, and ours to share as we see fit.

      Randoneeisforsissies, make note here. We're not a group of hacks pretending to enjoy the pursuit of great skiing simply to piss you and your buddies off. We've been doing this for years, love being out there, and love spinning the experience into a narrative that others can enjoy.

      But thank you for forgoing the usual anonymous dump and insult post. It's good to put a thoughtful name to a thoughtful comment. Hopefully we can put a face to it sooner or later too.

  3. Nice TR!
    I was there on Friday, rode the resort for 3 runs, got irritated by the crowds and then escaped to Big Jay. Best decision all season.
    It was as good as powder skiing gets, so I had to do a second run.

  4. As a "frenchie" who has been riding this terrain for a decade, I am disappointed that you repeat a few times that this tour is so easy to perform. Maybe for an expert yes, but this kind of terrain is not be taken lightly. You get a few miles away from the resort and the valley bottom is easy to get lost into if there isn't any tracks. Lastly, lucky for you it was that good. Since the illegal cut, this run used to be wide enough is now mostly a mogul run or wind blasted. Quality of this terrain ain't anymore that it used to be.

    1. Sorry, no offense to our bada@@ brothers to the north. Sometimes things just rhyme right and I need something to go with fatty.

      You make a very good point about the degree of difficulty of this particular tour. This is a very challenging tour with extremely technical terrain. In a way, the illegal cut makes things simpler and is what most people use as a landmark. Any other line and you have to make a lot of good choices. And there's a huge danger in just following tracks because you assume the person ahead of you knows what they're doing.

      The out route you refer to is nasty, and was at it's nastiest on Thursday. With the temp, I had a heck of a time getting skins on to get some grip and shovel my way back to the road. No water, no food, no headlight, and you're in for a nasty surprise on Big Jay. Plan accordingly.

  5. Give it away, Give it away, Give it away now!

    I have a word for those tight-lipped people - Selfish.

    There are UNLIMITED lines through the trees/woods/mountains, and not actually that many of us out there who love these places & go regularly.

    So sad we cannot get together & share more, but "Me! Me! Mine!" is often the way people behave when they find something good.

    Give it away, I tell you! It shall return to you & then some!!!

    Share, not Horde. Resist your selfish urges, and learn to spread the love...

    1. Seconded. Born and raised here and the provincial attitude of the Northeast is ridiculous. I share what I know wehenever I get there before me on a pow day? Good on ya for being up at the crack and motivated!

      I travel out west (UT, CO, CA, OR, BC) every year with some buds to tour, ski and connect...folks out there make us New Englanders look like whiney losers.

      Every trip random people give us some great dope on a "secret" stash, line or pocket. They also warn, advise and teach when they can...sometimes over beers, sometimes at a boundry gate, soemtimes on a skin track.

      They aren't afraid to share because they get's all bigger than we are. We don't own the trees, slopes, lines or any of all that beautiful stuff out there. We just get to experience it for the measley few years we exist on this rock.

      Think about it...what's the more enlightened way? Being a know-it-all, "I earned this", holier than thou prick or a pass-it-on, show the way, cultivator of peace?

      Walk the nobel path...share it...because bad karma sucks!

  6. I was one of the "kids" who picked you up! Just found the business card you gave me. Been creeping your blog, its pretty solid!