Golf Wars – at Jay Peak – in a Kingdom Far, Far Away

11:00 AM

Stenger is leading me at a fast pace through the busy lobby of Hotel Jay, stopping briefly at the desk, before heading out to the kitchen, where he has to speak to the chef. As we’re leaving a young man from the kitchen staff approaches him. He’s moving on and asks if he can use Stenger as a reference. He gets a positive response. Then we’re in motion again, this time to Reservations where I meet a smiling Peggy Loux, who, I find out, I will likely most likely be talking to if I call 1-800-451-4449 for a room.

11:15 AM

Now I’m somewhere below ground level in the food-preparation area of the Tram Haus complex, amidst large coolers and heavily-laden food tray dollies, being introduced to Howie Johnson, Director of Food and Beverages, and his capable Assistant, Cheryl Ward. Stenger is saying how they’re a very complementary team, each one picking up the ball when necessary. Johnson, an ex-football-scholarship athlete, and who picked-up his grounding in the culinary arts at college out West, smiles at this description. Ward is balancing her inventory and too pressed right now to meet with me. Johnson takes me back to his office, where the walls are covered with photos of family fishing trips to remote Northern lakes. I find out he’s been involved with the Jay Peak area since 1968: grilling T-bone steaks with Barry Anderson (the late, and much-missed, Jay Ski School Co-Director) at the Jay Barn Village, for Johnny Sicotte’s hungry dance crowds; as assistant-manager of the Schnee-Hutte; editor-cum-reporter-cum-adman for the ‘Jay Times,’ a local newspaper for the mountain and the lodging association… I’ve caught Johnson at a brief lull between storms. He will leave shortly to coach a new chef (they just lost one just the day before).

11:45 AM

0 deg. F – I’m going to meet Stenger for lunch in the International Room. On the way I stop to say hello to Mickey Dohney and Dana Kennison, currently Co-Directors of the (Jay Peak) Ski School. The outdoor temperature has cooled the normal fever pitch these two have to operate at during the holiday season. Dohney, from Montgomery Center, has a moment to describe to me how the profession has changed since he joined the Jay organization in the 60’s. “We look don’t try to teach all the students in one class the same way. There are at least four types of learners, and we adapt our approach to help each get the most of what they’re looking to take from the lesson.” This Eastern PSIA Ski School keeps its instructors up to date by sending them to yearly upgrading courses, in teaching theory and demonstration techniques. And the school can provide ski instruction in at least four languages. Kennison, from Enosburg Falls, a veteran ski instructor since the 70’s, has just come in from an outdoor shift (his brush mustache is white with frost, his cheeks pink, his smile glowing). He invites me to attend next week’s torch-light parade (that he traditionally organizes) – wherein a group of ski instructors, holding aloft lighted flares, skis down the Interstate Trail to the Hotel Jay.


The International Room – Stenger has just come in, and Johnson and his pupil, in white chef’s hats, are preparing us some delicious-smelling pasta on small gas grills. We retire to our table, where lunch is served by our Hostess, the very pleasant and long-time Jay employee, Juna Emrich from the Town of Jay, just down the road. The room is filling up fast with red-faced skiers, clomping in with open ski boots and jackets. “In August ’97, our Summer Master Plan was approved by the state. This environmental plan provides for the introduction of 1200 additional dwellings,” Stenger is telling me. “The Golf course and Golf Academy are also part of this plan. They are integral components of the destination resort we are building, which is based on the availability of on-mountain four-season activities, and on-mountain accommodations.”

It’s been an action-packed half day. Stenger has very graciously allowed me a view of a side of Jay I’d not seen before. I have gained surprising insights into the workings of a resort, and have developed a considerable respect for the talents required to orchestrate it all. As well, I find that since 1986 under Stenger’s leadership and guidance, Jay has seen skier traffic increase from 75,000 to 200,000 per annum, and the rental bed-base grow by more than 100 units, or more than 250%. It is a very good track record. “Due to the tax law changes in 1989,” he continues, “it is no longer possible to sell real estate on the basis of tax deductibility of interest and depreciation alone. A condo owner is looking for an aggressive rental stream, and beyond winter, you have to offer an active summer amenities program. We have hiking, nature trails, fishing, tennis, swimming, mountain biking – but Golf will drive the non-winter seasons. It will provide a fundamental drawing card for business seminars, group functions, and family getaways. ”

“With the start-up of the town of Jay’s new water treatment facility, and the completion of the environmental impact studies for wet-lands and stream buffers, wildlife habitat protection, etc., the way was paved to proceed. With our proposed Hotel, Recreation-Center, and Retail expansion, and the new High-Speed Quad and continuing trail and glade improvements, we feel the future is very bright. The opportunities are staggering. ”

Stenger and I both agree that Jay Peak, the surrounding counties and, in fact, the whole ‘Northeast Kingdom’ (of Vermont), with its wealth of untouched natural resources, are positioned better than most places in New England, to welcome the opportunities of the new century.