by Steve Jermanok
On the back side of Stowe’s Spruce Peak, Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch Resort was designed solely with the family in mind. Indeed, heading here without children would be like honeymooning in Legoland. Their fully-equipped condos cater exclusively to families and their line-up of activities for children is longer than a kid’s wish list for Santa. They have three of their own Green Mountains to ski on including a magic learning trail where young children ski up to exhibit panels and learn about winter animals. Then there are indoor pools, outdoor skating rinks, a lighted tube-sliding hill, 34 km of cross-country trails, and nightly family entertainment. Junior won’t get bored here, nor will his parents.
With instructors who specialize in teaching young children the sport of skiing, Smugglers’ Notch is often rated by Ski and Skiing publications as one of the best skiing resorts in the country for families. We certainly rate it high on our list after they taught our youngest to ski here at the age of two. I’ll always remember skiing with Melanie inside my wedge as she did her snow plows on a snowy winter day. We also used ropes and stood behind her, guiding her to the left and to the right. Fortunately, we videotaped all of it, including watching her race with her 4-year-old brother.
The three-mountain ski area caters to all levels. Morse is gentle, Sterling’s trails are good for intermediates, while Madonna Mountain is for experts only (Madonna’s always had a complex personality). The view of Mount Mansfield atop Madonna is staggering. But Smuggs is more than mere skiing. Summer and fall are sublime times to hike in the notch, where the wall of rock drops down dramatically, grab a canoe and paddle through farmland where cows linger by shoreline, and bike on lonely backcountry roads with mountains always in view. With little distraction except unadulterated fun, rural Vermont is the perfect place to unwind with the family and spend quality time together.
Our Editor Loves
- Consistently great family skiing
- Eight heated pools and four waterslides
- Separate teen center
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Onsite Dining
Rooms & Rates
Smugglers' Notch accommodations are split into five different regions near the base lodge. This being a major ski resort in Vermont, most of the lodgings have ski-in/ski-out capability. They are all condominiums with studio to five bedrooms, offering far more space than the average hotel room.
On our last jaunt to Smuggs, we chose a two-bedroom condo in the West Hill Community, with an easy ski or walk down to the Village Center and the Village Lift. The rooms came with a large kitchen, refrigerator, dishwasher, and all cooking utensils, glasses, and dishes. There was a dining area for eating and each of the bedrooms feature a television. The units also had their own exercise room and game room, which offered a degree of entertainment if we didn't feel like moving. This can happen after a day of skiing.
This is our 33rd year. It started with our young family, but now is with our kids and their kids. Consistently great service. Best family place we have been. Definitely a family centred resort. Any slight problem (e.g. noisy refrigerator) fixed immediately. High praises.
Great place to come for a ski vacation with the whole family. Something to do for everybody. Great resort staff takes care of your needs. Great ski school, my kids really learned to ski at Smuggs.
Coming here for many years now and will be back next year again.
Skiing & Snowboarding
There's so much going on at this resort that it's not so easy to pin down, but let's start with winter recreation. From the age of 2 1/2 years-old, Smuggs will teach the kids the art of skiing and starting at age 3, how to snowboard. Children must be out of diapers to tackle the slopes with an instructor. The full day camp includes on-mountain instruction by some of the best teachers in the business, lunch, down time, even other fun games for kids to play. It's not meant to be a drill session, where kids ski and only ski. They want children to relax and have fun. "Mom & Me" or "Dad & Me" are semi-private lessons for families with children between ages 3 and 5. This experience is for first-time children skiers and adults of an intermediate level.
Adults can also get ski or snowboard lessons every morning for 2 1/2 hours and I can't emphasize enough the quality time you'll share together going up the lifts and skiing together as a couple. This is especially true if the kids are young like ours were when we first came to Smuggs. Leave a 2 and 4 year-old at the Ski School and it could be the first time you've had more than a dinner together in years!
Children from 6 weeks to 3 years old can be dropped off at the large child-care center called Treasures. With almost 10,000 square feet of space, indoors and out, they have more than enough room to keep the youngins entertained while you and your loved one are on the slopes carving those perfect turns. They'll spend time crawling, climbing, singing, doing arts and crafts, playing in a ball pit, and resting during story time.
Kids' and Teen's Clubs
Kids 2 1/2 years or older can opt for the Little Rascals on Snow program which can get the tykes out on the Magic Carpet -- an closely supervised skiing class -- at an early age. More ski and snowboard programs keep kids busy in two age-appropriate children's groups of 3 to 5 years and 6 to 10 years. More kids' groups allow kids to feel less crowded and develop more camaraderie with new friends. Additionally, two teen's clubs group kids into 11 to 15 year olds and 16 to 17 year olds. Located in the Village, the two teen centers for 13 to 18 year olds are off-limits to parents. The Teen Alley Club features Nintendo Wii, Xbox, cards, Ping Pong, pool table, and a healthy supply of popcorn. Also check out their nightly events like dodgeball, airboard slaloms, and dance parties.
The wealth of activities continues in the summer, when children ages 3 to 17 can participate in summer camps from mid-June to early September. Every day from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., kids take advantage of the surroundings to hike, bike, paddle, get involved in theater, arts & crafts, and music, and learn to swim in Red Cross-accredited lessons. Teenagers will have fun with the high ropes climbing course and climbing walls.
Now let's head indoors. After skiing, kids love a good dip in the heated pool while mom and dad soak their weary muscles in the hot tub. On property, there are eight heated pools and four waterslides including the aptly named Twister.
FunZone & Arcade
The FunZone is a place where kids can go down an indoor slide, climb the Kids Wall, try their luck at an obstacle course, jump in the bouncy house, play a couple holes of miniature golf, shoot hoops, and play ping pong. More games await in the arcade located in the Village Lodge. After playing pinball, you can grab an ice cream cone at the Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop, just down the hall.
Parents will want to know about the Artists in the Mountains course, where local artists teach digital photography, painting, beading, sculpture and other art courses on the mountain; the yoga classes at the Mountain Massage Center, where you can also get those muscles worked on; and nightly entertainment shows for everyone over 21 at the Bootlegger Lounge featuring karaoke, magic shows, and an 80's Dance Party.
On the Grounds
There are fitness walks in the morning, guided hikes to Sterling Pond, to the top of Mt. Mansfield, Jay Peak and many more. Tennis players will want to know about the eight outdoor clay courts and two outdoor and two indoor hard courts. There's also a tennis camp for kids ages 10 to 17 in summer and two-hour tennis clinics for their parents as well.
For golfers, there's a driving range on site and instruction for kids ages 8 and older at a nearby country club, like the one in Stowe, twenty minutes away. A miniature golf course is located behind the tennis center. There's also an 18-hole Frisbee golf game in the woods.
Other outdoor possibilities include canoeing on the Lamoille River past the cows and silos, skateboarding at the new skateboard park (there's even a skateboard camp for kids ages 10 to 17), rock climbing on the Raven's Roost wall, geocaching at the bottom of Morse Mountain, fly-fishing clinics, biking up and down the surrounding hills on paved or unpaved roads, exploring Smugglers' Notch Village on a motorized Segway, taking a three-hour lunch and llama trek, dogsledding on wheels tours, and, of course, mountain boarding, digglering, and bike boarding, a trio of new wheel-based activities on the mountain that combine the skills of skateboarding, snowboarding, and biking.
If you don't want to grab breakfast in your condo, the slopeside Morse Mountain Grill offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can have your choice of eggs, pancakes, cereals, fruits, and yogurt in the morning hours. There's also the Green Mountain Deli for a cup of Joe, muffin, and bagel.
At the Base Lodge, you can grab a bowl of chili, soup, or a panini sandwich at Green Peppers. Located right next to Ben & Jerry's in the Village Lodge is Riga Bello's, which can deliver pizzas, pastas, salads, and calzones directly to your condo. Call up ahead of time on the slopes and it will arrive when you do. For more upscale fare, head to Hearth and Candle, smack dab in the middle of the Village. They have a good selection of seafood, steaks, lamb, duck, chicken, and more.
Planning & Tips
Getting There and Around
Most visitors to Smuggs will be traveling through Stowe to get here, especially in the summer when the notch is open. Just off the I-89 exit to Stowe, you'll find three family-friendly stops. The first is the Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory, where you can tour the facility and then try the samples they're creating that day. Next up is the Vermont Cabot Creamery, for their vast selection of cheeses. Wash it down with cider at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill just up the road. They also feature fresh homemade donuts.
The Art of Smart Timing
Avoid Christmas Week, Martin Luther King's Three-Day Weekend, and Presidents Week in February if you can. As you can imagine, these are the busiest times on the slopes. Any other time is fine. Summer and fall are ideal since most people associate ski resorts with winter, leaving the lucky few in the know to play to their heart's content in the warm-weather months.
There are many night time events for kids of all ages and those same folks who work at Treasures Child Care in the daytime can babysit at night, so you can get away to enjoy the nightly entertainment for adults only at Bootleggers Lounge. You might also want to look into the Snowshoe Adventure Dinner, an adults-only venture where the Sterling lift takes you to The Top of The Notch for a candle-lit dinner in a mountain cabin. Afterwards, you can work off those calories with a 40-minute snowshoe back down to the Base Lodge.