Hiking up Big Jay

Elie Jordi skiing up the mountain in the early morning. Photo Courtesy of Elie Jordi

For the past three years, The MV Times has asked four recent Vineyard high school graduates to share their experiences during their first year after graduation. Elie Jordi is a 2015 Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduate who was also a newsroom intern with The Times during the second semester last year. He writes from Burlington, Vt., where he is attending the University of Vermont.

Winter has arrived in Vermont. Real winter. For five days the temperature outside didn’t go above zero, and dropped down to a freezing -20°. My eyeballs hurt just from being outside. During that week, venturing outside became a chore; several layers, boots, and gloves were necessary to combat the frigid cold.
The cold has also brought snow to the barren mountains. I have been skiing at Stowe most Saturdays, depending on the conditions. This past weekend, I went to Jay Peak with my family, and got some of the best runs I have had all season. With 13 inches of snowfall over the course of the weekend, there was plenty of fresh snow to go around.

While resort skiing can be exciting, I have a passion for backcountry skiing. Vermont has many great trails that can be hiked up and skied down in the winter.

Big Jay is a peak behind Jay Peak Resort, and it is known for its phenomenal glade skiing. To access the trails typically involves a two-hour hike along the ridge from peak to peak. I have been thinking about doing this hike all season long, but was hesitant to go because of the lack of snow. After last week’s storm, however, some friends and I decided to do the hike. But instead of traversing the peaks, we decided to hike up from the road adjacent. I have hiked throughout the backcountry of Vermont; however, you should always plan and prepare for anything. My judgment was blinded by the fact that Big Jay was so close to Jay Peak; I thought it would be an easy half-day hike up and ski down. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We left at 4:50 am from Burlington, arriving at the trailhead an hour and a half later with backpacks packed and skis skinned. Climbing skins are strips of fabric that attach to the bottom of a ski that allow you to ascend backcountry slopes.

The conditions were gorgeous: bluebird sky and no wind. After an hour of hiking, we made it to the base of the peak. The snow was deep, waist-deep in some spots, making it hard to climb. As we began hiking up the steeper section, the trees were spread apart, yet as we climbed higher they became closer and closer together. Around 11 we made it to the crest of the ridge, exhausted from climbing through the waist-deep snow. There was no trail along the ridge, forcing us to bushwhack through the trees. The trees were so tight that at points it was hard to fit through. I finished my water and last Clif Bar. Anxiety began to set in. We all started to question whether it was worth it to push on or just turn back.

Finally, after six hours of hiking, we hit the trail; I could hardly believe that we made it. The cleared glade trail went from the top of Big Jay all the way back to the road. Taking off our skins and locking into our skis, we prepared to make the anticipated ski down. The slope was steep, and there was plenty of snow to rip. We were the first to ski the trail, weaving around trees and jumping off rocks with pace. After the long hike up, every turn was appreciated and it took about 20 minutes ski down to the car.

Hiking for that long just to ski one trail might seem pointless. Earning your own turns offers a different perspective on skiing, one that focuses on the way up as well as the way down the mountain.