Child’s play has a whole new meaning on Smuggs’ 3 mountains
by Karen Rubin, David Leiberman & Eric Leiberman
Smugglers’ Notch in northern Vermont has done such a great job defining what it is to be a family resort – consistently winning awards as a Top Family Resort, in fact – that people may have the wrong impression that skiing and snowboarding from its three mountain peaks is namby pamby, mere child’s play. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Smugglers’ Notch offers some of the best ski/snowboarding in the East – in fact, the biggest vertical drop in northern Vermont, at 2,610 feet and the only triple diamond trail in the East. Two of the three interconnected mountains, Madonna and Sterling, offer challenging trails that challenge and excite intermediate and expert skiers. The panoramic views from the summits of Madonna and Sterling are very possibly the best in the Northeast and its 78 trails – 310 acres of skiable terrain – are magnificently carved to be scenic, interesting, provide varied terrain and sufficient challenge to pump up your skill level.
Altogether, Smugglers’ Notch offers some 1,000 acres of skiing – including 310 acres of trails and another 700 or so of glades.
The 78 trails give long rides- even for the beginners, who find a web of green trails exclusively on Morse Mountain, in sufficient number to be interesting and bump up skills.
Morse Mountain, a haven for beginners with a web of interesting trails, rises directly out of Smugglers’ Notch Resort Village and from there, you can take the Midway trail to Madonna and Sterling. Sterling Mountain’s terrain appeals especially to intermediates, while Madonna Mountain is the expert skiers’ dream. In all, 19% of the trails are classed as “easier” (green), 50% are intermediate (blue), 25% expert (black), and 6% extreme – that breakout alone tells you that Smugglers’ is formidable.
The longest run in an intermediate trail that winds three miles down from the Madonna summit to the Village. Popular trails include the green Garden Path on Morse, and Chilcoot (blue), FIS (black), Rumrunner (blue – my favorite), Treasure and Black Snake on Madonna and Sterling. Black Hole on Madonna Mountain is the only triple black diamond trail in the East.
Snow is key, though, and Smugglers gets a ton of it, averaging 316 feet a season. And snowmaking and good grooming make up the difference, though late in the day you can expect a certain amount of ice anywhere in New England.
Morse Mountain is ideal for beginners – almost all the trails are “green” with a couple of blues. Beginners who are not ready to take the trail from the summit can get off the lift at mid-mountain and practice before taking the ride up to the top, at 2,250 feet. From Morse’s summit, you can take Garden Path down for a long cruising run, or pop into the Morse Highlands for a variety of green trails with their own lift.
Intermediates love Sterling Mountain, where there are long blue cruisers. From Sterling’s summit, at 3,040 feet, the view is utterly breathtaking . The day we arrived, the peak was actually above the clouds, so that from the base it looks like a cloudy day, but at the summit, the sun cast this gorgeous light on the world below looking rather other-earthly. The easiest way down from here is also the most scenic: a blue trail, Upper Rumrunner(like Smugglers’ Notch, named for Prohibition-era scofflaws). Upper Rumrunner, 2700 feet long and with only a couple of steep sections, has been reconfigured this year for an even better experience and is regularly groomed; it leads to Lower Rumrunner, which goes another 5300 feet down to the Sterling lift.
From the summit of Madonna, intermediates love taking Upper Chilcoot, 4500 feet from the top, leading to Lower Chilcoot, 5000 feet more, which features pleasant, surprising twists and turns and terrain variations and panoramic views.
But Madonna is a haven for advanced and expert skiers, including the only triple diamond trail in the East: Open is 1800-foot long with a pitch greater than a 50-degrees (not for the faint of heart). Another challenge is Upper F.I.S., which offers 3800 feet of moguls.
The dining options on the mountain is surprisingly wonderful (not merely good) – we stopped for lunch in a window-enclosed porch at Snow’s Chowder Pot, for Buffalo chicken wrap, a Nor’easter (a turkey panini), moderately priced compared to most mountain dining.
You can get accurate snow reports, get details about each of the trails on the interactive trail map atsmuggs.com, and even get webcam real-time views.
Learning & Fun Parks
With its premium on catering to families, Smugglers’ Notch has always been in the forefront on incorporating fun into teaching techniques and creating learning environments.
At the base of Morse Mountain, Sir Henry’s Learning and Fun Park offers a comfortable five-acre learning environment served by a magic carpet. In this area there is also Night School for Boarding on selected evenings, and a tube-sliding area.
The Jib and Jump Park on the Log Jam Trail on Morse Highlands offers more space for beginner features such as rolls, a table, a box, and a sculpted trail, perfect for those new to parks.
Birch Run Park is 1,000 feet of park on the lengthened Birch Run trail on Sterling Mountain. This trail is peppered with modified table tops, rolls, and spines for entry and intermediate level skiers and riders – the learning place for those aspiring to big air at Prohibition Park.
The Zone: Located on the Practice Slope on Sterling with the biggest hits and rails for expert and championship riders.
The Zone is the site for Altitude Adjustment events in which intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders can show their stuff with freestyle stunts. Music, prizes and product giveaways add to the fun.
Smugglers’ offers one of the best, most comprehensive ski/snowboard school programs, anywhere. Its Snow Sports University offers age and skill-level appropriate groupings, and some novel programs, like Mom & Me and Dad & Me ski or snowboard classes, where parents get to tag along and pick up the teaching techniques of professional instructors, so they can continue their child’s progress ($75 for two).
For children 2 1/2-3 years who are ready to try the slopes, Little Rascals on Snow program gets them used to the ski equipment and to the sensation of gliding; 3 year old skiers and snowboarders who are potty trained can join the Discovery Dynamos all-day program. (It is adorable to see the kids arriving at Morse Mountain in a cart pulled by a tractor like a hayride.)
Smuggs has won awards for its age- and activity appropriate children’s programs, broken down into Dynamos (ages 3-5); Adventure Rangers (ages 6-10); The Notch Squad (11-15); and Mountain Explorers (cool enough for ages 16 and 17).
Smuggs added spice to its schools by giving all the kids in the full-day ski and snowboard programs a FLAIK GPS, so they can capture their on-mountain experience by tracking the miles, vertical feet and trails skied each day, cumulatively over the course of the stay. After, kids can log-on to review the data. The day use of the GPS is included in the all-day children’s ski or snowboard programs (and is available for rental for others).
This winter, Smuggs lowered its entry age for all-day snowboarding camp to age 3 (from age 4). “Thanks to the capabilities of our instructors combined with use of beginner-friendly Burton Learn To Ride equipment we felt that youngsters could begin to learn snowboarding skills at a slightly younger age than previously,” says Karen Boushie, Public Relations manager. Practice on balance boards indoors helps the tykes get a feel prior to getting on the snow.
How clever to offer a Night School for Boarding – a 2 1/2 hour program for the entire family to (ages 6 and up) to learn snowboarding. The program includes 1 1/2 hour lesson, equipment and Sir Henry’s Wonder Carpet Lift. It also offers a Night School for Jibbing, an introduction to terrain park features for skiers and snowboarders.
Of course, there are superb programs for adult skiers and snowboarders.
Smuggs’ Snow Sport University even offer a Family Fun Guarantee! where Smuggs guarantees that each member of the family will learn to ski or snowboard or will improve technique, regardless of ability level – or the entire lesson portion of that person’s vacation package will be refunded.
We take for granted today that ski resorts offer a nursery and child-care program for non-skiers, but Smugglers was one of the first to offer an extensive program, and one that was state-licensed. Treasures is a cheery child-care center which enthralls the little ones, from 6 weeks to 3 years old, with age-appropriate music , crafts, active play, quiet time, stories. It also offers Kids Night Out evening programs for ages 4-11 giving parents freedom to have the evening to themselves (such as to do the Snowshoe Adventure Dinner or enjoy the adult entertainment programs (private babysitting in the condo is also available).
The base for Morse Mountain is the Village at Smugglers Notch – quite literally a resort village. To get to Madonna and Sterling Mountains, you can either hop a shuttle bus or ride the lift up to the top of Morse and take a connector trail. For the return to the village, you can ride the bus again or take another connector trail.
The biggest rental facility is at Morse Mountain (well stocked and efficient service), but there is also a base area at the base of Madonna and at the parking lot beside Sterling that has equipment rental and food service.
If there is anything to complain about in this era of high-speed detachable quads, it is that there is no lift fancier than a double and it can take 15 to 20 minutes to reach the summit. But the long runs from the top are well worth it and the stunning views going up make you forget time altogether.
New Zipline Adventure
As tempting as it is to focus solely on the skiing and snowboarding at Smugglers’, you almost cannot ignore the plethora of activities and facilities that make up Smugglers’ such a unique resort and the fact that Smugglers’ Notch is constantly innovating and improving its family resort experience.
This season, Smugglers’ became the first in Vermont to offer a zipline canopy tour. Developed by ArborTrek Canopy Adventures, it is located in a scenic valley near the Resort Village.
Participants on the 2 1/2-3-hour tour, which is offered year-round, ride more than 4,000 feet of cable on eight sections of zip line, cross suspension bridges, and rappel from trees. You are treated to stunning views of the resort, Mount Mansfield and the Green Mountains from scenic lookout and tree platforms in a mature forest consisting of stands of hemlock, white birch and sugar maple. In keeping with Smugglers’ commitment to environmental stewardship through nature-focused programs that combine learning and fun, canopy tour guides highlight local ecology and natural history.
Smugglers’ newest snow toy is Airboard, an inflated sled similar in size to a water raft and A-shaped. You can carve perfect turns as you cruise down the mountain. Airboards are fun and fast and one of the greatest Winter sporting inventions. Similar to an inflatable sled or boogie board, they are about 48 inches long, weigh about six pounds and easy to maneuver. Certain trails at the Morse Highlands area are designated for Airboard use from 2- 4 pm Monday thru Friday ($20 includes rental; guests must have a valid lift ticket). Users must be at least 10 years old, 48″ tall and wear a helmet. The rider and Airboard are easily transported on the Highlands Lift. All first timers must take a clinic (offered 2-4 pm, $25 for instruction, rental and one hour free ride). Space is limited so advance sign-up for Airboarding is required at the Guest Service Desk or Nordic Center. Weather permitting Airboarding is available through April 3.
For those seeking an adventure by dogsled, teams from Eden Mountain Dogsledding transport novice mushers through picturesque snow-covered trails in the woods and meadows in nearby Eden.
Snowmobile tours run on the hour from 5 to 8 pm, and take the group up into the rugged pass for which the Resort is named. The snowmobiles access the pass via Vermont Route 108, which is closed to cars and trucks in the winter and offers spectacular views of the rocky outcroppings and icy formations for which the Notch is famous. Tours at 10 am and 1 pm are customized to a customer’s interest and run on the trail network that connects to nearby Sterling Ridge Cabins. Snowmobiles can accommodate two adults or an adult and a child.
Other winter outdoor sports available include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and, in Smuggs’ tradition, special programs are incorporated.
The Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Adventure Center stays open until 9 pm weekdays and until 11 pm weekends;. The Nordic Trail system, accessible until 4 p.m., borders the Village on the north side encompasses hundreds of acres of forest and gentle hilly terrain and 30 kilometers of groomed and tracked terrain for cross-country skiing and 24-kilometers of dedicated snowshoe trails (rentals and lessons available). The center also offers ice skating under the lights.
Special programs include a Family Snowshoe Walk (one hour, $25/adult, $15/child, equipment provided); Family Snowshoe Cider Walk; Snowshoe Notch Night Tour (Wednesday, Saturday, 7 pm, a 1 1/2-hour moonlight snowshoe trip to the Notch with the Nordic staff and enjoy the serenity of the Winter woods, $35 pp, equipment provided); High Elevation Snowshoe Tour on Morse Mountain (Tuesday, Thursday at noon; ride to the top of the Morse lift with a guide for a trek on the mountain for a 2 1/2-hour trek, $45/pp, equipment and lift access provided); Beaver Pond Back Country Tour (Sunday, Monday & Wednesday, noon to 2 pm, where you take a seldom-used trail that leads to an undisturbed beaver pond, while enjoying the rugged beauty of Smugglers’ Notch. $45 p, equipment provided). Also, Snowshoe Fitness…Exercise in Winter, available by appointment, where you join an instructor for a personalized one-hour workout on snowshoes, $60 pp equipment provided.
A wonderful novelty is a Snowshoe Adventure Dinner, a dramatic weekly entertainment and dining feature atop Sterling Mountain for adults. The Sterling Lift transports guests to the Top of the Notch, a mountain cabin lit only by candles, where The Heath & Candle Restaurant serves a gourmet meal with appetizer, choice of main course, and dessert. After dinner, work off the calories with a 40-minute snowshoe down to the Base Lodge (offered Tuesday, 4:30 pm – 8:30 pm, $69 pp).
Finally, “We’ve developed a new cross country skiing class for youth that uses our Nordic ‘terrain park,’ a series of roller bumps that teach balance and ski skills in a fun way,” Boushie says.
“We tinker with our programming to respond to families’ interests and it’s fun to see new favorites develop, like our Family Fun Race that gives families a taste of airboarding on inflated sleds.”
The website offers superb planning tools – even weather forecast, you can look trail by trail at the snow report (just as if you were at the mountain), see webcam views, use an interactive map
You can even engage your kids in their vacation before they arrive: from the site, the kids can download free coloring books, riddles and journal, and access on-line games, movies and information about Smuggs, skiing and snowboarding.
Smugglers’ Notch is a little longer to get to – especially since in winter, you have to come around so you come down from the north on 108 because the Notch pass (from Stowe) is closed. But Smugglers’ is definitely worth the trip (check the website for travel directions).
Friday, 14 January, 2011
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