One of the best places to find snow in Vermont is in the northern Green Mountains, way up there by the Canadian border. The area feels pretty wild and remote, and it’s worth the drive. Past the seemingly endless expanse of trees, hills, and mountains, you’ll find plenty of snowshoeing and apres activities in the Jay Peak area.
First of all, a micro-climate affects the area called the “Jay Cloud,” which often helps create an excellent snow cover when other sites go lacking. The Jay Cloud is a frequent weather pattern in which moist winds from the northwest rise up the slopes of Jay Peak and nearby ridgelines. The rising air forms a localized cloud which can sometimes drop tremendous amounts of snow on the area. In fact, Jay Peak Resort gets an average of 359″ (912 cm) a year! Thus, Jay Peak will sometimes get a foot of snow while other sections of northern Vermont get less than six inches.
Where to Go Snowshoeing
Denis Desjarlais, an avid snowshoer, lives in the town of Jay and had many suggestions about where to go and do in the area. He’s my unofficial tour guide for Jay, and many of his tips are here in this review.
Desjarlais is a board member for the town of Jay Land Trust, and his group has been working to secure areas in the lightly populated but sprawling town to enjoy. The group has already set aside about 300 acres for public recreation. The largest parcel is on Cross Road, just off Route 242 in the town of Jay.
Desjarlais said a good place to start is the Catamount Trail – Section 31, the northernmost extent that goes through the Jay Peak area near the Canadian border. According to the Catamount Trail Association, the terrain on the 12.3-mile (19.8 km) section of the trail is nice and varied.
Heading north, the first half of the trail features a 1,000-foot descent through woods between Jay Pass and the small village of Jay, which can be pretty strenuous in deep snow. The second half mostly follows snowmobile trails on flat, open, and scenic terrain from Jay village to the Canadian border.
Hazen’s Notch Association Winter Trails
The Hazen’s Notch Association in Montgomery has 25 trails (over 30 miles / 48 km) reserved for wintertime cross country skiing and snowshoeing, both groomed and ungroomed. The terrain is varied, and the association says people often spend up to four hours on the trails, gawking at the scenery.
Snowshoers can summit Sugar Hill (1,700 feet) for views of the Trout River valley and the village of Montgomery. The trek is 2 miles (3.2 km) roundtrip from the Welcome Center. There is no fee to access the trails at Hazen’s Notch Association, though donations are welcome.
Jay Peak Resort Nordic Trails
Jay Peak Resort is a mecca for daring tree skiers, but the resort has some trails for us snowshoe enthusiasts, too. For example, the Nordic Center has seven short snowshoe trails up to 1.7 miles (2.7 km). Or, the resort offers guided snowshoe tours from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, including equipment, guide serviced, and hot beverages around an outdoor fire pit. Call 802-988-4653 for rates or to make reservations.
Activities at Jay Peak Resort
Stay at the Jay Peak Resort for your after snowshoe fun, too. The resort is massive with multiple hotels, quality restaurants, and perhaps their biggest non-winter attraction, a giant indoor water park.
The Pump House Indoor Water Park features several slides, a kids’ area, a climbing wall, a waterfall, a Big River (definitely not lazy), and hot tubs. But, maybe the most exciting feature in the water park is something called the La Chute. At 45 miles per hour, you’ll rotate 360 degrees and land at the bottom in 6 seconds! Or, perhaps try the Flowrider, a mix between skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding. The waterpark is pretty popular all year round. So to ensure access, you can purchase passes in advance.
Jay Peak Resort also has an indoor ice center, the Ice Haus, including an NHL-size rink. Typically, quite a few hockey teams use the rink for practice and games. But Jay Peak has built plenty of time for public skating, clinics, lessons, and special programs. However, schedules have changed due to impacts from COVID. So to ensure the Ice Haus is open, call 802-988-2727.
After a long day out in the snow (and water or ice), you can book a massage or spa treatment at the Taiga Spa, located on the 2nd floor of the Tram Haus Lodge.
Jay Peak Resort offers a plethora of lodging options, nearly all of which are ski-in and out. Some possibilities include Hotel Jay, the Tram Haus Lodge, the Stateside Hotel and Baselodge, and a wide variation of condominiums.
As an alternative to the resort, the Jay Village Inn offers a good base for your adventure. Room rates are modest throughout the year. Plus, a comfortable restaurant in the inn can start your day off with a hearty breakfast or basic but filling lunch and dinner offerings.
Food and Drink
If shopping malls, endless, wild nightlife, and gleaming, towering buildings are your thing, far northern Vermont is not the place to go. But the food and restaurants are surprisingly good, the little villages near Jay Peak trend toward the charming.
Jay Country Store
The Jay Country Store is across the street from the Jay Village Inn and is one of those great hodgepodge general stores scattered across Vermont. Large wood carving statues guard the front door of the store. You can eat soups and quick meals at the lunch counter or order a big sandwich to go. When I’ve been there, the best bets have always been the soups or the panini. Explore the store a bit for some interesting finds. The last time I was there, I bought some great pine soap, and there was a roomful of surprisingly good deals on Carhartt clothing.
Owl’s Bread Bakery
If you’ve got your passport or other ID that would get you into Canada, head northeast from Jay to the Owl’s Bread Bakery. This delicious bakery is located just over the Canadian border in Mansonville, Quebec. It’s not more than ten or 15 minutes from Jay village. I can’t recommend anything in particular because all the bread and pastries I’ve tried there are among the best I’ve ever eaten. Warning: You’ll have to snowshoe your tail off afterward to work off the calories accumulated in the bakery.
Or, head west over the hill and past Jay Peak to the Montgomery. This town has the feel of a classic Vermont village but with a quirky personality. On the way to Montgomery is the Belfry, a restaurant on Route 242 closest to a local institution. The place attracts a mix of tourists and locals. Its decor is not fancy-pants. Instead, there’s lots of wood that’s seen its share of wear and tear.
Jay Peak Resort’s Restaurants
If you’d rather rub elbows with the skiers, head back up to the Jay Peak Resort and try the restaurant Alice’s Table (or one of the other dozen restaurants on-site at the resort. The restaurant is named for Alice Lewis, a revered woman, jill-of-all-trades type who worked at the resort in the 1950s and 1960s. The restaurant keeps one table open each night at which people can randomly sit and meet new people and swap outdoor adventure stories. Since the schedules change in the winter, be sure to check with the resort about availability.
As you head to this remote yet beautiful part of Vermont, Denis and I will see you either on the snowshoe trails or at one of the pubs.
What snowshoeing trails and activities do you recommend in Jay Peak, Vermont? Have you experienced any of those listed above? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
This article was first published on February 3, 2012, and most recently updated on November 3, 2021.