Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont – Best Family Ski Resort

Smugglers’ Notch is one of the best family resorts in North America.

Ah, the glory of being Number One. For years, Smugglers’ Notch has taken home the prize for best family ski resort from scores of magazines. In fact, Smuggs (as it’s known) has won surveys for Best Family Programs in North America a total of seven times. As the accolades roll in, Smuggs just gets more family-friendly.

Treasures, the resort’s state-of-the-art child-care center, built alongside the bunny slope and surrounded by a 4,000-square-foot outdoor playground, is a beautiful facility with a staff trained in first aid, CPR, child development and behavior management. Smuggs understand small children—and their sometimes nervous parents—very well. Kid-level fish tanks, one-way viewing mirrors, radiant floor heating, and remote-access cameras are just a few special touches here. Treasures join a long list of family amenities at the resort that includes a tubing hill, outdoor ice rink, indoor pool, hot tubs, three fun centers with indoor miniature golf and organized dances for teens—even a weekly study hall for kids who need to keep up with their schoolwork.

Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont

At Smuggs, “family fun” means fun for every member of the family. In fact, the resort guarantees it: if any family member fails to have fun in one of the resort’s programs, Smuggs will refund the entire program portion of that family member’s stay. And how often does it have to make good on the deal? Rarely.

There’s plenty here for adults too, starting with the resort’s three mountains. The big one, Madonna, has a 2,610-foot vertical drop and has glades, bumps and really steep steeps. (Anyone with the mistaken impression that Smuggs is just for kids needs only to peer over the ledge of the trail named F.I.S. and take in the 41-percent gradient.) To the west, Sterling Mountain offers a wide range of terrain for skiers of all levels, while Morse, to the east, is more friendly for first-timers.

Some visitors may be discouraged to find that, in an age when many resorts are adding high-speed lifts that seat six, Smugglers’ still relies on slow double chairs to take riders to the top. Management says this is a deliberate choice designed to keep crowds off the top of the mountain and to preserve the resort’s “classic mountain feel.” For the skier, it’s a tradeoff: there are occasionally long waits at the lift loading area on weekends and holidays, but the trails are rarely crowded. The Madonna I lift has been reconditioned for a smoother ride, and the lift has been lowered below the treeline to screen the chairs from the wind, making for a somewhat warmer ride and fewer wind outages. It’s still a slow ascent. Just sit back and enjoy the prospect of the excellent downhill ride to come.

Smugglers’ Notch Ski Resort Facts

  • Summit elevation: 3,640 feet
  • Vertical drop: 2,610 feet
  • Base elevation: 1,030 feet
  • Expert: ++++
  • Advanced:++++
  • Intermediate:+++
  • Beginner: ++++
  • First-timer: +++++
  • Address: 4323 Vermont Rte. 108 South, Smugglers’ Notch, VT 05464
  • Ski area phone: 802-644-8851
  • Snow report: 644-1111
  • Toll-free reservations and information: (800) 451-8752
  • Internet:
  • Number and types of lifts: 8—6 double chairs, 2 surface lifts
  • Skiable acreage: 318 acres marked trails; access to 740 acres of woods
  • Snowmaking: 60 percent
  • Uphill capacity: 7,100 per hour
  • Parks & pipes: 4 parks, 1 pipe
  • Bed base: 2,800; 621 condominiums
  • Nearest lodging: Walking distance, condos
  • Resort child care: Yes, 6 weeks to 3 years

Smugglers’ Notch Skiing

Kids swarm over Morse Mountain, the center of ski school classes, apres-ski bonfires and hot chocolate, making it a magnet for those who revel in a family atmosphere. Almost all the condos are located on or near Morse.

Experts and advanced skiers should head to Madonna Mountain by car or shuttle. Intermediates can cruise down Sterling. Smugglers’ has no high-speed quads or triple chairs, which sometimes contributes to long waits at the lift loading area on weekends and holidays. The trade-off is that the trails are not congested.

If you’re a day visitor of intermediate skiing ability or better, don’t turn in to the main village. Continue up the hill to the top parking lot (#1). Here you’ll find fewer cars and a short walk to a point where you can ski to the lifts on Sterling and Madonna. Best of all, you can ski back to your car at day’s end.

Smugglers’ Notch Expert & Advanced Slopes

The real challenge is from the top of Madonna Mountain. Five double-black-diamond trails beckon. The Black Hole, which is between Liftline and Freefall, adds trees to the steeps. The icefalls, ledges, and stumps on Upper Liftline will make even true experts hold their breath. Freefall is just that: the turns come quickly and you drop 10 to 15 feet with each turn. Upper F.I.S. sports a 41-percent gradient, and with the addition of top-to-bottom snowmaking, it has become a tad more civilized than in the past.

If you’re hooked on glades, you’ll want to check out Doc Dempsey’s. Another quick adrenaline rush is Highlander Glades on Sterling Mountain. Tree skiers will be awed by the amount of uncut terrain within the resort’s boundaries: Keep an eye out for locals who might share their secret stashes. An unofficial easy glade that makes for a great first foray into the woods for kids is off the top of the Practice Slope Extension.

The best bump runs are F.I.S., the middle portion of Upper Liftline, Smugglers’ Alley and Exhibition. The snow on Madonna Mountain takes longer to soften, so warm up on Sterling and head to the Madonna 1 chair after 11:30 a.m. or so.

Smugglers’ Notch Intermediate Slopes

Fifty-five percent of the trails are rated intermediate, and many are well suited to recent ski-school grads. Intermediate runs are concentrated on Madonna and Sterling peaks. Two favorite routes for lower intermediates who want to get a sense of big-mountain skiing are off Sterling: Upper Rumrunner to Lower Rumrunner and Upper Rumrunner to Black Snake to the bottom of Treasure Run to Lower Exhibition. The views are spectacular in both ways.

For advanced-intermediates who want to test their mettle, try Chute on Sterling Mountain. It’s a short advanced run that’s steep with some bumps and stumps, especially in the spring. But it’s only 15 to 20 turns long, in case you decide you’re in over your head.

Smugglers’ Notch Beginner & First-timer Slopes

The third mountain at Smugglers’ is Morse, with 17 trails ranging from beginner to expert. It is the ski schooler’s mountain.

You won’t find any hotshots here. Morse also is home to Mogul Mouse’s Magic Lift, a half-speed double chair especially kind to beginners and young children. From the top of the lift begins the Magic Learning Trail, with nature stations, exploration paths, and ski-through “caves.”

Morse Bowl is served by the Highlands double chair and has five trails for beginners and advanced beginners and a separate base lodge.


Madonna and Sterling both offer great runs on the steeps and in the trees. Running Madonna Lift Line shack to shack is a favorite when the snow is fresh and deep enough for the entire line to open. Once that gets tracked out, it’s off to the woods, where the snow can stay good for days. When things aren’t dumping, you’ll find a lot of riders in the parks and at the pipe (especially if they have just been cut).

One drawback for boarders is occasional difficulty riding back to Morse Mountain (and your condo) from Madonna and Sterling. Meadowlark trail from the upper base lodge back to the Village has a gentle grade. If the snow is fast, it’s fine; if it’s spring and sticky, take the shuttle bus. The same goes for visitors staying in the condos around Morse Highlands, whose ski-in/ski-out access is too flat for boarding home. Fortunately, the shuttlebus operation is excellent. Just make sure everyone keeps a map and schedule handy. (Smuggs runs a shuttle bus every 20 minutes between the resort village and the upper mountain. An on-demand shuttle is available within the village.)

Parks and pipes

Beginners stick to the two Children’s Terrain Gardens on Morse, and at Morse Highlands, then graduate to Birch Run Park on Sterling Mountain, which offers 1,000 feet of small thrills. Intermediate and expert riders looking for bigger air, head to Prohibition Park on Madonna. It connects to a 425-foot superpipe with a 16.5-foot radius and has piped-in music and multiple hits, including tabletops, hips and spines. A Bombardier Super HalfPipe Grinder and the Zaugg Groomer keep the pipe, jumps, rails and jibs in tip-top shape. The Zone on Sterling offers the biggest hits and is the site for the open-to-anyone Superpipe Jam and Altitude Adjustment events, which alternate every Saturday throughout the season.

Smugglers’ Night School of Boarding meets twice a week at Sir Henry’s Hill & Fun Park at the base of Morse Mountain. The three-hour sessions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are open to novices ages 6 and older, with students taking advice from coaches positioned strategically on the hill.

Cross-Country and Snowshoeing Smugglers’

Notch has 34 km. of scenic, groomed and tracked, cross-country skiing trails, plus 24 km. of snowshoe trails. The Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Adventure Center offers rentals, lessons, backcountry and night tours as well as snowshoe rentals and tours, including kids’ rentals and tours for the whole family. Winter walking tours are also offered.

Smugglers’ Notch Lodging

To book lodging at Smugglers’ Notch, call (800) 451-8752. All accommodations in the Resort Village are condos and are a short walk to the lifts. Prices start at $495 per adult and $425 per youth for a five-day Club Smugglers’ package, which includes lifts and lessons (packages for fewer days can be arranged). Children ages 6 and younger ski and stay free. Free off-slope activities such as a welcome party, use of the pool and hot tub, family game nights, outdoor ice skating, family sledding parties, a weekly torchlight parade with a fireworks finale and a party will keep most everyone entertained. Showtime Theatre (the resort’s variety show), nightly teen activities and entertainment are also available.

Condos at Smugglers are spacious, clean and family-furnished. Condos closer to the Village tend to be older; condos up the road in the West Hill and Highlands Hill communities, as well as North Hill between Morse and Madonna Mountains, are newer but less conveniently located. Kitchens in all units are well equipped, and the newer condos have some excellent amenities, including very good music and video systems. Daily housekeeping and Internet access through a local provider are both available for an extra fee.

Smugglers’ central check-in area is designed around the concept that once you check-in, you have everything you need—lift tickets, instruction vouchers, rentals, and child-care arrangements. Computers at the front desk are tied to key areas such as the rental shop to make the resort very guest-friendly. We give Smuggs credit for continuing to improve the check-in system. The lines in the check-in area have been greatly alleviated thanks to online pre-registration for many activities and the addition of a second desk for property owners, which takes them out of the line for the general public.

Apres-Ski / Nightlife in Smugglers’ Notch

Smugglers’ has lots to do once the slopes close down. It’s a family-oriented activity, but even our childless staffers who have visited here end up having more fun than they expected. Activities provide fun for all ages; for example, tubing on lighted Sir Henry’s Hill, ice skating, evening snowmobile tours, weekly torchlight parade and fireworks display, bingo blast and a pizza-and-ice-cream-sundae party.

Even very young children flock to the FunZone, an indoor play area for guests of all ages that offers inflatable attractions such as bouncing platforms, crawl-through spaces, a 22-foot giant double-lane slide, and a padded jousting ring. There is also a giant Twister game, a basketball corner and a kid-size climbing wall. Sometimes a DJ turns up and gets the crowd going with feel-good music.

Even though they will adamantly deny that they are not kids anymore, teens will like Smugglers’ too. The resort has two teen centers, and while both are supervised, there is a strict No Parents Allowed policy, which pleases the kids. Teens 16 and older have the Outer Limits Teen Center, with music videos, Internet access, Xbox, DVDs, a pool table, ping-pong, and the like. Younger teens (13–15) have Teen Alley, with similar amenities; video games and pool are especially popular. Evening activities include a Saturday night dance and FunZone party just for teens. Thursdays at 9 p.m., teens age 16 and older get the FunZone to themselves; on Fridays at 9 p.m., it’s reserved for ages 13-15.

Recent efforts to entertain adults more fully have been very successful in the summer and have carried over to winter with a nightly roster of events in the adult-only Bootlegger’s Lounge: Comedy Night, Live Music Jam, Marko’s Magical Mystery Show, Adult Karaoke Party, dancing, and more.

Nearby, at family ski resort —a ski-bum fave—bands play music, the beer flows, the pool tables beckon and kids and family activities can be left behind. The Boyden Valley Winery, 8 miles down the road in Cambridge, can be a type of apres-ski adventure if you go for the bargain wine tasting.

Smugglers’ Notch Activities

Book a stay at Smugglers’ Notch and an entire compendium of resort activities soon arrives in the mail. There are so many off-slope activities that it feels like a summer camp—or a cruise with snow—for everyone from kids to grown-ups. Smugglers’ has a sample week-at-a-glance calendar that will provide visitors with an idea of the range of activities.

Kids’ parties, karaoke, snowshoeing, sledding, a swimming pool, hot tubs, ice skating, and snowmobiling keep kids off the couch. The adventure-minded may want to try air boarding or dog sledding. The FunZone is filled with inflatable slides, an obstacle course, miniature golf, a bouncy house, and basketball hoops. In an inflatable dome, the FunZone can be chilly inside, so bring a warm sweater and wear warm socks (no shoes allowed). Older kids will like the video arcade in the Village Lodge.

Adults can sign up for a variety of workshops in the Artists in the Mountains program. Pick from glass etching, fabric stenciling, digital photography, sculpting, painting, or beading. The classes include materials and cost $10 – $48. The Mountain Massage Center not only offers yoga classes and massages, it holds a massage class to teach you the basics.

Don’t miss a visit to the Boyden Valley Winery, 8 miles down the road from Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Cambridge. This fourth-generation Vermont farmer makes award-winning wines using Vermont apples and berries and his own grapes and maple syrup. Tours and wine tastings will convince you to buy a case of each and you’ll find Vermont specialty products, kitchen items, handcrafted gifts and gift baskets.

The area also has antique galleries, artisan galleries, art galleries and shops selling Vermont-made products. The resort provides itineraries to those wishing to head out to local attractions.

Getting to Smugglers’ Notch

By air: Burlington International Airport is 40 minutes away. Shuttles are available (24-hour notice required; book it when you book lodging).

By car: Smugglers’ Notch is on Rte. 108 near Jeffersonville in northwest Vermont. Note: The stretch of Rte. 108 between Stowe and Smugglers’ is closed in winter. If you are coming from the south, you must drive around the mountain and come in from the north.

Getting around: The resort has a free shuttle linking the mountain condos with the village. There are several older condo complexes within walking distance of the village. If you want to visit some of the restaurants in or on the way to Jeffersonville, you’ll need a car. A local taxi service also is available.

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