This Vermont ski resort promises more with three mountains and lots of off-slope family adventures.
As soon as you pull off of the winding mountain road and into the parking lot, you’ll see why Smugglers’ Notch is billed as “America’s Family Resort.” Compared to other resorts in New England, “Smuggs” has a welcoming, non-intimidating feel, especially well-suited for families traveling with young kids. The resort has a campus vibe, where all the buildings are well-marked and accessible, shuttle busses are buzzing, and guests can be seen out and about, walking in the village center or sitting by the two roaring firepits right at the base of the mountain. Go ahead and park your car in one of the lots or in front of your condo; you won’t need it again until you leave.
There are two things that make Smugglers’ Notch unique. First, the resort is made up of three distinct peaks, and Morse Mountain, the smallest one, is devoted entirely to beginners with Green Circles and a learning hill with a conveyer-belt style lift, so new skiers and boarders in the family can learn in a safe and slow-paced manner. The second thing that makes Smuggs such a special place for families is the abundance of other activities besides skiing and snowboarding. Whether you need a break from the mountain or just want to extend your days with entertainment in the evenings, you have so many choices: playing in FunZone 2.0, ice skating, tubing, snowshoeing, swimming in the indoor pool, or eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!
KidTripster Tip: Consider purchasing your vacation through the resort online (rather than booking a condo through an independent owner), so that you can roll your lift tickets and accommodations into one deal.
KidTripster Tip: Kids (5 and under) ski free at Smuggs; half-day discounted tickets are also available for skiers of all ages.
Photo Courtesy: Smugglers' Notch
What to do on the slopes?
Smugglers’ Notch has 78 trails and six terrain parks and covers 750 acres. As I mentioned, there are three peaks: one for beginners (Morse Mountain) and two with intermediate and advanced terrain (Madonna and Sterling Mountains). I recommend that you start on The Village Lift, an easy walk from the main parking lot and shuttle stop. Once at the top, turn right and ski on the Midway Trail all the way to the base of other two mountains. You also can take a shuttle to the other base lodge, but you have to switch from the resort shuttle to a yellow school bus; we found it more enjoyable to ski over instead. At the base of Madonna and Sterling, where you’ll spend most of your day if you ski anything other than green beginner trails, you’ll find the Base Lodge and the Waffle Cabin.
KidTripster Tip: For beginners (and their parents) who won’t be tackling more advanced terrain, you can buy a discounted lift ticket for just Morse Mountain.
My kids, ages 10 and 12, loved the terrain and the longer trails from the top of Madonna and Sterling. Our very favorite run included Smugglers’ Alley to Treasure Run to the Birch Run Terrain Park. We skied this route over a dozen times.
I was impressed with the lesson programs through Snow Sport University (SSU) for kids at Smugglers’ Notch. The groups are divided into small age increments to allow for a more specialized experience: 2-1/2 to 3 years, 3 to 4 years, 5 to 6 years, 7 to 10 years, and 11 to15 years. All kids in the SSU all-day program will wear a GPS monitor for safety; the device also tracks how many miles and vertical feet they cover during the day. Young kids (under 2-1/2 years old) can spend the day at the child care center, Treasures.
My 10-year old son is a pretty good snowboarder already, but I love to enroll him a group lesson on a new mountain, so he can get some tips and find the best terrain parks. I signed him up for a lesson through SSU. That morning, it was zero degrees, but he couldn't be deterred. After I dropped him off with his snowboard coach (he was the only one, so it ended up being a private lesson), I became concerned about the wind chill and wondered if it was safe for him to even be out on the slopes. After the two-hour lesson was over, I found my son with his coach at the meeting spot. The instructor had insisted that they go into the lodge at the top of the mountain to warm up between each run and had even bought him a hot chocolate. I was very impressed.
KidTripster Tip: The snowboarding instructor told me that not many kids in the more advanced levels sign up for group lessons, so often you’ll end up with a private lesson at the reduced group lesson rate.
Photo courtesy: Smugglers' Notch
What to do off the slopes?
The question at Smuggs isn’t really “what is there to do besides skiing?” but instead “what is there not to do?” Upon checking in, you’ll receive an activity guide that lists all of the options by day. The resort offers everything from story time to arts and crafts, broomball, and family karaoke. And everyday, there are fun options like ice skating, snow tubing, airboarding (inflatable sleds), and swimming in the indoor heated pool and hot tubs at Courtside Pool. You can reserve an evening ride to the top of the mountain in a snow cat. Tour cost: $49/person; recommended for kids 6 and older. Or you can go ziplining on Vermont’s first all-season course. 1-2 hour tour cost: $65/person.
FunZone 2.0 is a huge, new family fun center that’s every kid’s dream come true. Under one roof, you can rock climb, rappel, cruise through a ninja-warrior course, jump on inflatables, play laser tag, and race slot cars. Toddlers have their own smaller section upstairs with a pirate ship, inflatable obstacle courses, life-size LEGO blocks, and even a play-sized Vermont Country Store, where little ones can shop with tiny shopping carts. This complex has it all, including couches and cocktails for tired parents.
KidTripster Tip: If you want an adult-only evening, the Treasures Child Care Center can arrange a babysitter. Or drop the kids off for Kids’ Night Out (ages 3 to 11) on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Cost: $35/child; includes dinner and activities.
Photo courtesy: Smugglers' Notch
Where to stay?
There are a variety of condos right on the mountain; some are ski-in/ ski-out, while others require a shuttle ride. My family was traveling with some friends for this trip, and we needed a condo that could accommodate eight people, so we ended up staying in the Kestrels, a beautiful and roomy condo development on the left side of the mountain. At first, I was disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to ski-in/ski-out, but I was assured that the shuttle system was super easy. When I saw our condo with a hot tub right outside of our front door, the bright, sunny living room and kitchen, and the huge master suite, I was sold. We enjoyed the well-stocked kitchen and ate most of our meals at the condo.
While I am generally against having to schlep ski gear on and off of a shuttle, the system is, indeed, very easy. Keep your skis, poles, and snowboards in the storage room outside of the condo, dial #7000 from your condo, go outside, and board the waiting shuttle to the mountain.
Condos range from one- to-four-bedrooms. Rates vary greatly depending on the time of year, but packages start at around $99 per child per night and $129 per adult per night.
Photo courtesy: Smugglers' Notch
Where to eat?
When traveling with kids, one of the biggest perks of staying on the mountain in a condo, in my opinion, is that you can eat your meals at “home.” The shuttle system is so efficient that it even makes sense to take the shuttle back to your condo for lunch. I find this to be, by far, the most affordable and convenient way to ski with a family.
On the mountain, we did enjoy buying lunch one day at the Madonna/Sterling Base Lodge. Prices are expectedly high, but the food was very quick and good. Even at noon, the lines were manageable, and maybe we were just extra cold and tired, but those curly fries were seriously amazing.
Nestled right between the two lifts for Madonna Mountain, the Waffle Cabin is a must; just follow your nose. My kids and I have a family rule that if we come across a shack making fresh waffles, we stop. Hot off the griddle, the waffles are dipped in a sugary coating and then drizzled with melted chocolate. I mean, how can you resist?
For dinner, Smugglers’ Notch offers two sit-down family dinner options: the Morse Mountain Grille & Pub and Riga-Bello's Pizzeria. If you’re dining without kids, The Hearth & Candle makes a perfect date night destination.
You also can grab breakfast or lunch on the go at Green Mountain Deli. And you’re in Vermont after all, so don’t leave Smuggs without getting ice cream from Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop.
The route to Smugglers’ Notch is a beautiful rolling drive through the Green Mountains. On a mix of major highways and two-lane roads, the drive takes 45 minutes from Burlington and four hours from Boston.
KidTripster Tip: In the winter (from mid-October through mid-May), you must access Smugglers’ Notch from Route 108 North, because Route 108 South is closed. If you’re relying on GPS, make sure to route through Jeffersonville and not Stowe in order to avoid the road closure.
Emilie Brand Throckmorton has lived in Maine for 18 years, during which time she has learned to enjoy the long winters by skiing as much as possible with her kids.