by Scott Wheeler
When locals looked up at Jay Peak in the 1950s and saw that a vertical swath of land had been cut from the side of the mountain, they realized that a small band of locals was following through on a dream to transform a forested mountainside into a ski area, a winter wonderland for both locals and visitors. While the idea had its supporters, others shook their heads and chuckled at what seemed like a half-baked idea. After all, at the time, just getting to this desolate, forested region of the Vermont proved a formidable challenge.
Few people could imagine—even some of the strongest advocates of the ski area—that 50 years later that mountainside ski area, with little more than a single ski trail, would expand into a 3,900 acre, four-season vacation destination resort, today known as Jay Peak Ski and Summer Resort. The resort that some people once scoffed at now attracts about 300,000 skiers to its slopes each year. Said to have the greatest snowfall of any other ski resort in the Eastern United States, the mountainside now hosts dozens of trails and numerous ski lifts. A 60-person tramway ferries skiers and other visitors to the top of the mountain. On a clear day the peak offers views of four states and the province of Quebec. During this entire ski season, the resort will be celebrating its 50th.
The group who spearheaded the movement to build the ski area was diverse. Among them were men such as state forester Perry Merrill, a man who helped develop other ski areas in the state. Father George St. Onge, a Catholic priest who provided people of the region with spiritual guidance, was a tireless promoter of the ski area.
Then there was Don McNally. A local businessman and entertainer, the former vaudevillian actor was the ski area’s first general manager. Roy Barnett, the vice president of Jay Peak Inc. and fellow corporation officer, Andy Pepin, also were some of the many people who played vital roles at organizing the ski area. Another visionary behind the ski area was Harold Haynes of North Troy, the president of the corporation. Now in his mid 80s, Haynes is a virtual historical icon in North Troy, a living reminder to the indomitable spirit of the men and women who worked to bring some of the finest skiing to the region. Selling the concept of building a ski area was a worthwhile endeavor, but was not an easy task for the early pioneers of this mission, especially in the early 1950s, in such a cash-strapped region of the state. Many of the locals had little time or money for leisure activities. While some people of the region supported the idea, others openly scoffed at turning a mountain in the middle of nowhere into a ski area. Jay Peak ski area was officially incorporated in 1955.
Fund-raising stock rallies were staged in local towns to sell shares of the new company. But money was only one problem that the group faced. Orleans County, where Jay Peak is located, is still to this day one of the most isolated regions of the state, but nothing in comparison to what it was in the early 1950s. Fifty years after the founding of Jay Peak Inc., the dream is now a four season, destination resort that offers some of the finest skiing in the Eastern United States. The resort is now putting the finishing touches on an 18-hole golf course. There are also plans in the works to expand the number of lifts and trails on the mountain to offer skiers and snowboarders more enjoyment for their dollar.
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