WORDS: Tim Fater
It's 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday, 19 degrees outside, and I'm standing next to my car in a blizzard. The winds are strong and I can barely see the base of the mountain a few hundred feet away. Damn, it's cold, I think to myself. The lifts at Jay Peak, Vermont hang still. The ski resort isn't slated to open for another two weeks. My friend Rob Fox, Jay Peak local Ashley Maxfield, and I slap on our skins and a few minutes later we're trudging through the deep snow, alone in our ascent.
Flash back to the day before in Boston—my email inbox and cell phone lit up all day long with rumors of snow piling up in Vermont. I checked the weather for the hundredth time. Same story: temperatures in the teens, wind, mountain snow showers. This wasn't a Nor'easter, no blockbuster storm. Feet? In early November? My phone rings. A friend-of-a-friend who just finished skiing Stowe says two feet. He heard there's even more at Jay Peak.
It's not unusual for a storm to drop a foot or so before the lifts start spinning here in New England. Over the past ten years, I've chased many early-season storms and have had a handful of decent days, but this one would prove to be different. Northerly winds, moisture, and cold temperatures mixed to create this system. Unlike the typical headline-grabbing early season storms, this one came with little fanfare. Just like that, winter arrived.
Snow started accumulating the weekend prior, with Northern Vermont seeing five to 10 inches a day. No mountain fared better than Jay Peak, an infamous over-achiever during these weather patterns. When the blizzard finally receded on Wednesday morning, the mountain was covered with three feet of fresh.
We climbed through heavy snow and biting wind. All signs of autumn were gone. Because the snow came slow and steady over six days, each layer had time to settle. A firm base covered all the brown and green and the storm left two feet of windblown powder in its wake.
An hour later, Rob, Ashley, and I reached the entrance to Valhalla, a gladed trail draping the shoulder of Jay Peak's craggy summit. We crossed the rope and passed a dangling closed sign to reach a chute-like entrance to a trail chock full of untouched snow. I slid down the first few hundred feet conservatively and sank thigh-deep into the snow without hitting bottom.
We looked at each other in disbelief. Mid-February is leaner than this. Is it really November? I set up with my camera and took photos of Ashley skiing her first line. With each turn, snow billowed over her shoulder. And so began an all-time November day.