East Beats West, Free At Last

If you love tree skiing, there's no better place to do it...even in an ice storm

Nov 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Jay Peak Resort

If you're looking for powder east of the Mississippi, Jay Peak is your place. Last year, storms whacked this remote resort, eight miles from the Canadian border, with 571 inches of white stuff. That happened to be a record, but the five-year average is still 428 inches, a figure that many resorts in Colorado can't match. Thanks to minimal crowds and numerous hidden glades, untracked snow is as common in-bounds here as it is out-of-bounds at other places in New England.

Like the 22 glades and chutes elsewhere at Jay, one-and-a-quarter-mile-long Everglade, the mountain's longest run, wasn't carved out to match some developer's master plan. It was thinned according to the angle of the fall line and the natural paths between trees. Jay's resort boundary has also been changed to make the most of local timber; it was recently stretched to embrace backcountry favorite Beyond Beaver Pond, an enclave of birch, spruce, and maple trees. And this winter Deliverance, a 20-acre glade, opens.

Outside the boundary, Jay boasts atypically rugged terrain and offers guided tours into the most accessible swatch of backcountry— the Dip, a roughly 1,300-vertical-foot backside run down to Vermont 242. Locals leave their salt-corroded pickups here for the shuttle back to the base area. They're happy to give you a lift, especially on a powder day.—P.O.


Mix seven decades of skiing tradition, the tallest mountain in Vermont (4,395-foot Mount Mansfield), and locals who surreptitiously brush-cut new lines in the summertime, and you've got some of the best glade skiing in the world. Skiers accustomed to unobstructed slopes should warm up on a run like Tres Amigos, a moderately steep forest with trees spaced like slalom gates. Then, if you're lucky, some chainsawer will steer you to his or her private line (perhaps around Chin Clip, near the summit, or the Kitchen Wall, above Nose Dive).

But what really makes Stowe special are the steep and narrow chutes on the east face of the Chin. These runs are accessible only after a 35-minute grunt to the top, and few places in the East serve up so many obstacles—everything from stubbled trees to wind-scoured ice to cliffs—or threaten such drastic consequences. Navigating the tight quarters and obstacles off the Chin—like those of the perfectly named Hourglass and Hell Brook— demands technical finesse, precise turns, and line selection that separates tree skiers from open-bowl cruisers.—P.O.

Sugarbush Resort

Ski Sugarbush's Castlerock and you can ski anything in the East—or, for that matter, almost anything anywhere. The Rock's ten narrow trails all weave through patches of granite and ice, and drop 1,669 vertical feet. Some chutes, like Middle Earth and Coutillion, fall as much as 40 degrees and are skied only by a handful of kamikaze experts. One trail, the infamous Rumble, snakes through a patch ofoverhanging branches so dense that, when seen from below, it looks like virgin forest. When you're ready to dull your edges elsewhere, duck the boundary rope near Lincoln Peak and continue up the mile-long ridge—a section of Vermont's Long Trail—to great unpatrolled out-of-bounds terrain. There, the Saddle follows a gully through the trees, while a rocky outcropping known as the Church features a number of lines that require air time. Finally, hit Lincoln Peak's Paradise glade, often a powder cache, or hire a Sugarbush guide to lead you through Slide Brook, an out-of-bounds National Forest Service basin north of Castlerock with scores of tree lines.—P.O.


Vacation brochures justifiably brag about the unique thrills of Sugarloaf's above-timberline skiing. But more significant was Sugarloaf's quiet decision to adopt a "boundary-to-boundary" policy in the mid-1990s. With that, everything within the resort—all the unfenced glades and thick forests between trails—became fair game. Now, when midwinter wind blows snow off the peak and makes the summit Snowfields an ice rink, you can ski the spruce glades below, where all that snow ends up. Snowboarders especially love these tight spaces; unlike skiers, they don't catch their tips on exposed saplings, and they can turn easily to slough speed as openings disappear. Down below, the brush thickens into an impenetrable forest.

So, a standout Sugarloaf run goes like this: Start on the Snowfields, pick a line through the trees for another 400 vertical feet, and then connect with Rip Saw, a rough-cut trail in the King Pine area, for a final 1,000 vertical feet to the bottom. It's off-piste and on-trail merged seamlessly in a single descent.—P.O.