Ski Resorts don't get any better: Slope-side condos with whirlpool tubs, beautifully groomed trails for all levels of skiers, attentive child care, plenty of off-slope recreation, a special teen center and ski lessons for the whole family.
Our annual trip to Smugglers' Notch Resort, near Burlington, Vermont, has become the highlight of our winter, a mini family reunion that brings together three households and three generations for a few days of luxury and outdoor sports.
Most of us ski, and we never find better snow conditions anywhere in the east. Smuggs (everyone calls the resort by its nickname, except our six-year-old Mary, who calls it Snugglies) is known for its state-of-the-art grooming, as well as for the natural snow that covers its three mountains. And when nature takes a winter vacation, the snowmaking crew takes over to keep the surfaces perfect.
I like the fact that there is enough terrain in all categories (50% is blue, or intermediate level) so that everyone can have plenty of variety. Even beginner level skiers can get a top-of-the-mountain experience on a beautiful green-marked trail. The little kids have their own separate area with a Magic Carpet lift, and a Thursday afternoon Cookie Race down their own slalom course to show off their newly perfected turns.
Ski lesson programs for kids begin with four-year-olds, and even younger kids can get a taste of it with Little Rascals at the day care center. This multi-day program was created for 2 1/12 to 3-year-olds, and along with plenty of play in the snow, they also learn the basics of turning and stopping on skis. And yes, the Smuggs rental center has skis and boots and helmets to fit them.
From four on, children can enroll in the all-day lessons, which include plenty of on-slope time, lunch and après-ski activities from 2:30 in the afternoon until parents gather them when the lift close. (One suggestion: if enrolling a four-year-old first-timer, it might be a good idea to stay close – but out of sight – until you’re sure the child takes well to skiing.)
New this year was the Max-5 lesson, a 2 ½-hour lesson with a group of no more than 5 others. My husband took this option, and had an almost private lesson that took him on a tour of Smuggs ample expert terrain. Boarders have dedicated classes.
For non-skiers and after the lifts close for the day, there is a big indoor pool, a play area for children and a teens-only center. The Fun Zone has a full menu of activities, from hair braiding to foot reflexology sessions. In the Artists in the mountains room are midweek classes in painting, sculpture, knitting, digital photography and beading.
Few ski areas give much attention to snowshoeing, but Smuggs offers lessons and a variety of guided walks (equipment is provided) into the wilderness areas that surround the resort.
This is not a ski resort filled with mosh-pit and bar-crawl apres-ski and night life, and with all the other activities, no one misses it. Our condo this year was in the new Tamarack area, which has its own recreation building with an indoor pool and fitness center. With a fully-equipped kitchen and the Smugglers' Country Store for provisions, we enjoyed family dinners “at home” and lunches in the Morse Mountain Grille.
It’s nice to have a real restaurant right at the base lodge, for a relaxing break instead of a bowl of chili from a cafeteria line. Burgers are made from Angus or Kobe beef, and the Bistro chicken sandwiches are delicious. We could have eaten dinner there – the menu is varied, with dishes like walnut Dijon salmon and Tuscan chicken, fish & chips or Mediterranean shrimps and scallops – but enjoyed the fun of sitting around the big table in our condo.
Smugglers’ Notch, although best known for skiing and winter sports, is a year-round resort. We’re always so focused on the great skiing that we don’t have time to sample many of the other activities, even the year-round ones. So we’ve agreed to make thisa semi-annual tradition and all go back in the summer.