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Family fun on, off mountain

At Smuggler’s Notch, there’s something for everyone

By Brian Irwin
Globe Correspondent / November 6, 2011

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JEFFERSONVILLE, Vt. - “Like steep trees?’’ said Hugh Johnson, the venerable snow reporter for Vermont’s Smuggler’s Notch ski resort. At 45, the powder personality and resort fixture was my guide for the day. His job: Shatter the image that Smuggler’s Notch is a tame, family-oriented hill with little steep offerings for the advanced skier.

Within minutes I was in the back seat of my boots, rocketing down the hill after Johnson as he drifted over a steep pitch and shot off into the birch glades. I followed, bouncing between perfectly spaced hardwoods and floating over pillows of fresh snow. The drainage narrowed and steepened, requiring jump-turns on the 45-degree slope. We were skiing Attitude, an unmarked but open-to-the-public tree run. At the bottom we popped out onto Goat Path, an immaculately designed and maintained intermediate slope. After a few deep breaths that allowed my stomach to drop back out of my throat we slid back to the base village for another run.

But Smuggs can be tame when it needs to be. That’s why we brought our four kids there for the weekend. The youngest is 3, the oldest 8; we tested Smuggs’ reputation as one of the most family-friendly resorts in North America. With three mountains, almost 400 acres of terrain, and a base village unlike any in the East, Smuggs’ wild side is up high on triple black diamond runs like the Black Hole, not down at the mountain’s base, where families flourish.

While the 3,640-foot Madonna Mountain is the crown jewel of Smuggs’ advanced terrain, it’s at the base of Morse Mountain that Smuggs’ heart beats. Over 600 condo units dot the hillside, each either slopeside or within walking distance to the action. For those who would rather not stroll, or those couples like us with children, an on-demand shuttle will scoot you anywhere in town, almost any time.

The Tamarack Units were the perfect lodging option for us. With fireplace and deck, these prime pads are well appointed, and the private water park and hot tub facility were even more appreciated after a long day at Smuggs. Because days at Smuggs are long.

When the lifts close, the action begins in the village, so comprehensively structured that leaving for the amenities of nearby, idyllic Jeffersonville is unnecessary. While Smuggs’ village isn’t loaded with Vermont farmhouses and crimson barns, it is loaded with activities, in fact so many you need a plan. Ours: Ski until the science show starts at 2:30, then have a snack at the pub followed by Ben and Jerry’s. After, we would go to the FunZone, an indoor, 12,000-square-foot building with bouncy slides, mini golf, ping pong, and everything a kid could want. Then we would hit the waterpark, cook dinner, and do it again the next day.

We opted out of the moonlight snowshoe dinner, and the snowmachine tours, and the dog sledding. And our kids weren’t old enough for the Teen Alley. Nor did we invade the fine dining options in the village with our clan.

On our second day we awoke to a foot of fluffy powder. This was our family ski day; the day prior the kids had all attended Snow Sport University. Having never sent my kids to a ski camp or program before, my nerves were quickly calmed when I felt the organization of the instruction program. Every detail was tended to, right down to pancake lunches and GPS tracking anklets that record each child’s every move. There’s a schoolhouse you can ski through. And a bypass trail into the woods where you visit Mother Nature (she lives in a tepee and feeds birdseed to the animals). And an afternoon play to entertain the little shussers.

After laps on fresh snow, pool time, and FunZone slides, we packed up and walked under the sign that reads, “We want you back.’’ Within minutes of our departure all the children were fast asleep, only to wake three hours later at home. Just in time to log onto Smuggs’ online GPS tracking link, put in their GPS codes, and see the map of the mountain that shows everywhere they skied, complete with speed and vertical drop.

We will be back. Or my kids will never forgive me.

Brian Irwin can be reached at irwin08.bi@gmail.com.

If You Go

How to get there
Smuggler’s Notch is a four-hour drive from Boston. Take Interstate 93 to I-89 and follow VT 100 toward Stowe. Although Smuggs is just on the other side of the notch (pass) from Stowe, that road is closed in winter so you will need to drive around the pass to reach the mountain.
Where to stay
By far the best lodgings are the slopeside condos in Smuggs village. This is where the action is and they are delightful and affordable. Call 800-419-4615 to book.
Where to eat
The slopeside village has literally everything you need, from a general store to buy groceries, to pub food and pizza. The finer dining at the Hearth and Candle is particularly worth a try. Afterward, check out Ben and Jerry’s for a local Vermont treat.
What to do
This is where Smuggs really shines. From tubing to the Fun Zone, ice skating to dogsled or snowmobiling, Smuggs has it all. It is best to make reservations for most activities. Call 800-419-4615.