Major renovations have awakened once-sleepy Jay Peak ResortBY WAYNE MILLS
Vermont’s fabled Northeast Kingdom is often referred to as “the real Vermont” by many old-time natives. The sparsely populated area is a collection of rolling dairy farms and sleepy small towns that has changed little over the past 50 years.
But rising from its midst like some sort of mythical civilization is Jay Peak Resort.
For many years Jay Peak was a bare-bones, hardcore skiers’ destination known for the largest annual snowfall totals in the east and some rugged advanced terrain. Now it has been transformed into an impressive year-round resort. With a mountaintop at nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, Jay Peak straddles the towns of Jay (population 426) and Westfield (pop. 503) and is only four miles south of the Canadian border and the Province of Quebec.
The resort was founded in the late 1950s by Walter Foeger, an Austrian ski racer and former Olympic coach. With the completion of the Interstate highway system in the 1960s, including nearby I-91 and I-93 that connected Northern New England to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, Jay Peak was bought out by Weyerhauser Corporation, which built a rudimentary 48-room hotel and base lodge.
Weyerhauser sold to a Quebec company, Mont Saint-Sauveur International, in 1978, whose main improvement to the property was an 18-hole Graham Cooke-designed golf course that opened in 2006.
In 2008, with the resort market soft, Mont Saint-Sauveur sold Jay Peak to Bill Stenger, who had been managing the property. Stenger, along with his sons, Jaime, 39, and Andrew, 41, have transformed the resort.
Stenger has taken advantage of the Federal EB-5 program that allows foreign nationals to obtain United States visas. To obtain the visa, individuals must invest at least $500,000 in a high-unemployment or rural area, and create or preserve at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers, excluding the investor and their immediate family. Since the Northeast Kingdom is a high-unemployment rural area, the program has been a boon to Jay Peak.
Because of the EB-5 program and other financial assistance from sources provided by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Jay Peak has invested nearly $250 million in the property since 2008.
“Patrick Leahy has been very helpful with all this,” Jaime Stenger said. “He’s been a great champion for Jay Peak.”
Jay Peak has delivered on producing employment for the region and has become an economic juggernaut. In the past, there were approximately 300 winter employees and only 30 to 40 in the summer. Now there are 2,000 in winter and 500 in summer.
Improvements include a new clubhouse that features a 90-seat restaurant, locker rooms and three hotels. The Tramhouse has 58 suites, the massive Hotel Jay includes 170, and the Stateside Hotel, opened in 2013, has 60 traditional skier-type accommodations. Also sprinkled about are 300 privately owned condo units, with most available to rent.
One of the main summer activities is the highly rated Jay Peak Golf Club, an 18-hole championship caliber layout designed by Montreal-based Graham Cooke. A large scale course befitting a big mountain resort, it has wide fairways rolling up, down and over the varied terrain, large strategic bunkering and a set of par 3’s that are as good as any in New England.
Golfweek magazine has rated Jay Peak the No. 1 course in Vermont for three consecutive years with ample reason.
But the biggest change to the resort is the 60,000-square-foot indoor water park, the Pump House, with a retractable glass roof and a NHL-sized indoor ice arena. The Pump House attracted more than 250,000 visitors in 2013, while the ice arena is booked for 48 weeks a year with hockey tournaments and figure skating events.
Yes, Jay Peak Resort is a hike to get to, at least from the American side, but it is more than worth the trip. And once you arrive there will be no reason to leave.