Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont has
hoarded the awards as the best family resort in New England for well
over a decade. As a family ski journalist, my mission was to revisit
this resort and see what was up in Northern Vermont. Were they
serving “the Kool Aid” at check in? Were they bribing kids at ski
camp with candy if they promised to tell mommy and daddy they had
Before I go further I should provide this disclaimer: I grew up skiing Smuggs’ as a teen and worked for several years at this ski resort located on the backside of Stowe. I met my husband here, so we returned with our two teens, a bit biased, jaded, critical even – like over protective parents.
At first glance Smuggs’ is a fifty year old resort snuggled in a beautiful part of Vermont, a very compact village - with a sprawling condo development that’s been built up over the years. The ski area is comprised of three scenic interconnected mountains, the tallest is Madonna at 3,640’, all served by fixed-grip double chairlifts. It’s no modern day Deer Valley, its more home spun with a huge heart.
As you enter this animated on snow community, you find that the fun factor is dialed up “a notch” particularly for young families. Smuggs’ has cheery signage, furry mascots, and a cruise ship caliber list of activities. Kids’ ski camp rules the day and is included in most lodging packages. Smugglers’ Snowsports University is one of the best in the biz with age specific ski and snowboard lessons, attention to the latest learning tricks, and an amped up attitude. Traditions like the Thursday cookie race, après ski science shows and bonfires with Billy Bob Bear and Mogul Mouse mascots give kids something to get excited about daily.
Smuggs’ continues to invest and innovate in family programming, if not high speed lifts, with every lesson imaginable from Night Boarding School, to “mom and me” where parents learn to ski side by side with their kids, to all day camps for every age (as young as 2 ½) and ability.
One of Smuggs’ latest innovations is providing each child in camp with a Flaik GPS that tracks their ski location throughout the day. At day’s end, mom and dad can go online with little Timmy and see his every run. How neat is this application? Imagine Timmy’s excitement explaining each fun run he made at camp, and then picture the comfort parents have knowing that a tracking device is strapped to their kids leg, a veritable GPS locator in the event Timmy takes the wrong trail and loses his group lesson - he can be quickly found.
Smuggs’ caters to the younger crowds, even babies with their expansive daycare “Treasures.” But don’t assume that their terrain is beginner oriented. The tamest, Morse Mountain, emanates conveniently from the Village for learning families.
Advanced skiers use Morse as a connector to the upper mountains, Madonna and Sterling, where the serious and super scenic terrain is. Our kids have grown beyond ski camp, furry mascots, and après ski games, but they were impressed by Smuggs’ 310-acres of classic runs, double and triple black diamonds, plus 750 acres of glades. Madonna and Sterling offer classic trail skiing, unique paths descending the scenic mountainside. Madonna’s signature Chilcoot features turn after turn on soft groomed snow with amazing views to Lake Champlain. While Drifter provides a peak at neighboring Stowe as you switch back and forth down over 2,100’ vertical. As my husband Greg said, “Smugglers’ downhill experience makes up for the slow uphill capacity.” Still our teens kept asking, “where’s the high speed quad?”
Peak. We ventured out of bounds to the Back Bowls as a family this time (note: experts only, go with a local), and bounced down some earthy snow covered tree lined chutes. After a lonWe rented the Flaik GPS ($19 a day) and took this technology to the next level as we tracked our speed on the lift (4 mph), in the glades, and on all of our runs, tabulating total miles and vertical covered.
Since we had cut our teeth on Smuggs’ terrain (sometimes literally), Greg and I knew where some stashes were. We found that Smuggs has really anteed up their glades recently to rival, if not surpass, Jayg exciting run, we popped out of the woods onto the Notch Road (closed to cars in winter – despite what the nav. system in your car indicates) and we were amid ice climbers, cool.
I remember from my youth that Smuggs’ prepared me for any steeps or crazy terrain that the West or Europe could throw at me. Today, Smuggs’ is teaching hundreds of kids to ski daily with its award winning camp programs. While Smuggs’ infrastructure hasn’t changed much in two decades, except for significant real estate development, the terrain also remains true and challenging. The people, Vermonters, are the real deal too.
We didn’t find the energy to go tubing at Sir Henry’s Hill or to hit the Fun Zone – an indoor inflatable arena full of games and slides – kid heaven. Our teens were tuckered after their day of alpine exploration. They turned in before Teen Alley cranked up. A weekend is not enough time to tackle all that Smuggs’ offers.
So is Smugglers’ Notch #1 for skiing families in the East? Well, the resort certainly rocks what it’s got. The lifts at Smugglers’ Notch are low capacity and slow, but that preserves the downhill experience and the snow on each interesting undulating trail. The friendly furry mascots are out pressing their furry flesh, giving little kids a Disney on snow experience. And the après ski scene is frankly exhausting between magic and science shows for the kids, family socials and sing-along’s, to adult happy hour and late night dancing with Good Time Charlie.
I don’t know of another resort that puts on such a show as Smugglers’ for their guests each week, except a cruise ship and they seriously lack vertical, snow and mountain scenery.