Just Chute Me | Outdoors & Recreation | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Just Chute Me

Free falling into Jay Peak's new Pump House water park


Published November 23, 2011 at 8:59 a.m.

Let’s get one thing straight. You will — if you have wheels, some money ($35, to be precise) and sufficient élan — go to Jay Peak’s brand-spanking-new indoor water park, the Pump House. Because it’s the wildest thing to happen to Vermont’s ski resort scene since the Civilian Conservation Corps cut trails on Mount Mansfield in 1933. Because it’s already given a boost to Vermont’s economy, providing 500 people with jobs and promising even more work by winter’s end, when the Hotel Jay & Conference Center becomes fully operational. Because Jay Peak’s president and chief operating officer, Bill Stenger, was just named Citizen of the Year by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. Because, c’mon, it’ll be freaking cold soon.

Modeled on the gnarliest water parks around the world and infused with Jay Peak’s own ballsy brand, the Pump House has two signature features: a tangle of translucent, colored fiberglass slides — the red one is called La Chute — and a surf machine.

Recently, I got to be one of the human guinea pigs that tested these features before the surprise sneak-peek weekend that begins this Friday, November 25. (The official grand opening is on December 12.) Now that the whiplash has subsided, I thought I’d share what I learned.

Do bring sunscreen. The 50,000-square-foot Pump House has a retractable roof with UV-permissible glass that’s designed to keep air fresh and not block sunlight. So, while your pals are freezing their butts on Bushwacker or Buckaroo Bonzai, you can be tanning your cheeks on one of the chaises. (Jay officials brag of inventing the weather-proof ski vacation, and they might just be right, even if it is a little Truman Show-esque.) After the snow melts, the roof peels back in just nine minutes to reveal the sky.

Don’t wear your ski boots — or your ski jacket, or anything else with Gore-Tex, down or polypropylene. It’s 86 degrees in here year-round. (The water is 84 degrees.) As director of marketing and communications JJ Toland told me, “You can’t come in here with a seven-layer system after skiing.” I was sweating even before I climbed to the top of La Chute.

Do La Chute first. Then everything else will seem easy. This is the pièce de résistance of the Pump House, the only indoor AquaLoop in the Western hemisphere. You climb six flights of stairs, step into a launch capsule and undergo a 60-foot free fall at some 40 miles per hour. It’s so forceful it’ll push you back upward through a loop-de-loop before you emerge, shell-shocked, at the run-out. You’ll get a wedgie, but wear a swimsuit — as one staff member informed me, other testers got stuck when they wore T-shirts or rash guards. And, if you do get stuck, you’ll have to find the nearest emergency exit in the tube and climb out. Eek.

Don’t look down. Not at the trap door beneath your feet and not at the nearly vertical drop below that. And don’t look at the diabolical grin of La Chute’s operator as he locks you into the launch capsule with an oversize key and then turns the switch that is about to release you into three seconds and 282 feet of pure, swirling, red-tinged terror. Look at the view of the West Bowl mountains, the steel-gray sky. Listen to the ominous, recorded space-age voice of a woman saying, “Three … two … one.” Then feel the world drop out from under you.

Do, once you have emerged from La Chute, picked out your wedgie and let loose whatever expletives come to mind, catch your breath and look for the bodies of the next people flying through La Chute. You won’t believe you just did that. Then climb back up the tower for another ride — or grab a yellow inflatable tube for a much mellower trip down the Green or Blue slides.

Don’t be afraid of the dark on the Green and Blue slides. That’s just the part that goes outside. When you reach the bottom, you can bob along the 750-foot river that circles the park. Though this feature is known as a “lazy river” at other water parks, Jay calls it an “activity river,” and it can produce Class III rapids when running at full force.

Don’t wear your G-string bikini or Speedo in the Double Barrel FlowRider surf wave. Pull on a form-fitting T-shirt and shorts that will not, under any circumstances, ride up or get ripped off when you fall off your board, and 260 horses of power shoot you back up to the launch area. On a shortened version of a surfboard, I learned to ride quickly, but just as quickly I lost my balance and fell into the wardrobe-malfunction-generating froth. Instead of hanging 10, I’m pretty sure I was hanging 1 — the wave a Justin Timberlake to my Janet Jackson — until I pulled back down the left side of my bikini top and rash guard.

Do look ahead, at a fixed point, when you are attempting to surf the FlowRider. Perhaps stare at the 2000-square-foot arcade with 63 games waiting on the other side of the water.

Don’t leave the little kids at home. You need to be at least 88 pounds for La Chute, and the other slides and the Double Barrel have height and weight minimums. But even the smallest water babies will have fun here, thanks to minislides, a climbing wall, basketball hoops and a giant sap bucket with the Jay Peak logo that dumps out 400 gallons of water. (Or, if you’re staying at the mountain, daycare for ages 2 to 7 is included. Sweet.)

Do get thirsty. In good news for nerves jangled by adrenaline, a massive bar called — what else? — Drink dominates an upper balcony overlooking the insanity below. (It was busy with workers in hard hats drilling in electric plates during my test ride, but it could get even busier when it opens, with a max occupancy of 900.) Or you can order a piña colada to go — there’s drink service throughout the park, along with flat-screen TVs and changing cabanas. A JumboTron is scheduled to be installed above the FlowRider.

Don’t think that this plush playground softens Jay. Yeah, it’s kind of sad to see the high-tech glass-and-steel structure take over the delightfully retro Tyrolean base area, and to think that panini may replace greasy poutine on the cafeteria menu. The price tag on the Pump House is $25 million, part of a quarter-billion-dollar investment made possible through the EB-5 visa investment program.

But keep in mind that Pump House revenue will actually be pumped back into the snow-covered trails that wriggle down the mountainside above you. “The most important thing about this whole project is keeping the spirit of Jay Peak,” said Toland during my visit. “It’s still all about the snow, the powder.”