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Monday, April 10, 2017

Smugglers Notch Resort, Vermont

The annual "Smuggs Brewfest Trip" was always an event we looked forward to.  Twice a year,  about mid December and early April in the non-peak skiing season, a group of friends would make the 4 to 5 hour drive up North to spend a weekend up at Smugglers Notch.  Of all the Vermont ski resorts, this is one you don't hear a lot about.  Smugglers Notch is up there.  Every time I drive up to the resort I am reminded of the fact that we are basically driving up to Canada.  Smugglers is on the other side of Stowe, and is basically the last resort in the state besides Jay Peak which is nearly on the border.   The drive feels even longer in the winter when you can't cut through the historic Smugglers Notch Pass (Route 108) that connects Smugglers Notch and Stowe.  Instead, you have to go up around and cut back to get to Smuggs.  Add in the fact that we drove up on a Friday night in a heavy snow storm with speeds limited to 35 mph and it turns into the drive from hell.  But I digress.  Smuggler's Notch isn't the easiest mountain to get to but there are a few reasons (charm, variety, condos) and one big reason we make the journey when there are so many mountains closer.... the price.     

Smugglers Notch Trail Map

Group Trip 

The trip is planned by a friend who started organizing the trip for a ski club in college.  For $165/person you get 3 days of lift tickets (Fri-Sun), 2 nights mountainside condos (Fri and Sat night) and entrance to Sat night's BrewFest with 8-10 sampling tickets.  For that price, it's hard to say no, even if it means driving 5+ hours in a blizzard to get there.  Like I said, this deal happens twice a year, in December and April when the conditions can be really hit or miss and the New England snow very unpredictable.  I have been there for years where there is fresh snow on the ground, and I have also been there when the temperatures hit 70+ degrees and after skiing patchy snow in tank tops we throw on bikinis to catch some sun on the back deck.

View from the balcony 

Mountain View Cono Desk/Balcony

The Condos 

Our tickets come with lodging at one of the condos at the base of the mountain.  The condos are typically four bedrooms (two masters with king size beds, two bedrooms with twin beds and a third single with a trundle), four bathrooms, a kitchen and living room.  It is split to three levels with two bedrooms two bathrooms below, the kitchen/living space in the middle floor, and the other two bedrooms and two bathrooms on the third floor.  The kitchen comes with everything you need to cook, and there is wood stacked outside for the fireplace.  I brought premade entrees to heat up in the oven for dinners, and various supplies for breakfast each morning. The condos are by no means fancy, but they are big with plenty of space to fit a crowd and all their gear and the kitchen is perfect for late night meals and breakfast before grabbing first chair.  The decks overlook the mountain and technically, through an awful flat green trail, the condo is "ski in, ski out". 

Mountain View Condo 


Every time I droved up to Smuggs, I wondered about the name... why Smuggler's Notch? Ten years later I finally googled it and loved reading all about the history of the resort and how it got its name. "In the early 1800s, the U.S. Congress placed an embargo on the imports of all English goods. In order to circumvent that embargo, the British shipped their food stuff, clothing and medical supplies to Canada and smuggled the materials down the Long Trail and through what is now called Smugglers' Notch Pass. Since the large caves in the Notch could be used to store supplies, it became an ideal focal point for much of the smuggling from Canada to the United States prior to the War of 1812. More than 100 years later, the Notch was again used for smuggling when the U.S. Congress passed the law prohibiting the sale of alcohol. Alcohol was smuggled through Smugglers’ Notch Pass and down to central and southern New England. The caves and caverns in the Notch were ideal for storing alcohol at approximately room temperature, while the smugglers were avoiding the revenue agents. " Read all about the history here.

The Mountains 

Smugglers Notch covers three peaks:  Sterling, Madonna, and Morse.  The condos are at the base of Morse Mountain (2,250') which covers the beginner/easier terrain (all green and blue trails).  Morse connects over to the other two peaks Madonna (3,640') and Sterling (3,040').  We skip Morse altogether and take the shuttle over to Sterling and Madonna where the more advanced terrain and the lodge is located (all blue, black and double black diamonds). Smugglers Notch is by no means a huge mountain but instead, has that older simpler New England charm.  Their lifts are slow, their lodge outdated but for the price and the vibe of the place, it all works out.  Smugglers Notch doesn't try to impress with newer facilities but instead, really gears towards being a family friendly resort.  

Yellow Cat in the kiddie ski area by the condos 

America's Family Resort 

In fact, Smugglers Notch prides themselves in being America's Family Resort.  Smuggs was even rated the #1 Family Resort in the U.S. (by  As far as families go, there is everything you need and so much more here at Smuggs. There is a FUNZONE family complex including lazer tag, a climbing wall, and classics like ping pong and mini golf.  The pool is also covered and heated to be an indoor pool in the winter with two large hot tubs.  Morse Mountain also features a little kiddo park/ski area right outside the condos.  In the summer, there are 8 pools, 4 waterslides, zip lining, mountain biking, canoeing, and "dogsledding on wheels".  There is even something called a llama trek where you can walk a llama around the woods.  Oh, and did I mention they are carrying a picnic basket, ben and jerrys ice cream included?  Yes, you just read that right, you can rent a lama for the day to walk it around the woods with your picnic.

But again, we are getting off-topic and I am posting all about Smugglers Notch in its winter charm.   Long story short, Smugglers Notch works hard to be a family resort with everything from skiing to waterslide, dog carting to llama treks.  Last side note: there will be a summer post about these llama treks. 

Entrance to the resort 

Varoius buildings at the resort 

New Waiting Area - shuttle pick up for Madonna and Sterline 

While the resort isn't huge they do have everything (read even a llama trek) at their campus.  There are several restaurants and bars, a general store with a cafe, alcohol, gifts and groceries, ski and sports shops at the base lodge and at the main campus, and even a Ben & Jerry's.. a local/Vermont staple.  The resort has a relaxed vibe with a heavy emphasis on family.  With that being said, it isn't just for families and the resort still has that relaxed easy going "bars open at 10" personality to it.  The resort even hosts a brewfest where about 10-20 different local breweries and cideries bring some of their beer to sample.  Admission into the brewfest (which comes with our package) gets you 8-10 sampling tickets, a glass, a ton of fried appetizers, and the awesome entertainment that is "Good Time Charlie".  Good Time Charlie DJs the event, hosting dance competitions, hula hooping contests, limbo, and various awkward/drunken forms of group dancing.  There is usually a wide range of breweries and the evening is about as fun as you make it.  

Chairs and firepit outside of The Village Lodge

The Skiing

Usually, when we come up, the conditions are very spotty, with sunny days and just a few trails open as the season comes to a close.  This trip was the complete opposite.  We drove up in a snowstorm that persisted overnight, leaving the mountain with nearly a foot of fresh snow.  Skiing Smuggler's Notch in fresh snow was certainly a new experience.  Although wetter with the warmer temperatures, we did get to ski some fresh untouched Vermont snow.  Although we didn't ski Friday, I heard the conditions were pretty grim and a little icey for most of the day.  Saturday, the snow was wet and soft with all the fresh snowfall.  Sunday, it was a perfect groomer day with sunny skies and freshly groomed trails.  I joked we went through all the cycles of Vermont skiing in one weekend.  Ice, powder, groomers. 

The terrain itself is your typical Vermont mountain with a variety of Green (Morse Only), blues, black and double black (even one triple black, the only one on the East!).  You can also find some moguls, decent tree skiing, and two terrain parks.  They recently upgraded their snow making capabilities when Mother Nature isn't playing along.  I would say don't come here looking for big trails and fast lifts.  The trails aren't very wide and all the lifts are only doubles (and slooooooow doubles) but it all sets a tone that's more about having fun and going slow.  You don't feel pressured to ski a fill day because of a big resort or expensive lift ticket.  You can ski a few runs, grab a bloody mary at 10, and go out for a few runs after lunch guilt free.

Main Lodge at Madonna/Sterling

"Top of the Notch" at the top of Madonna 

Trail/Resort Stats

3 Big Interconnected Mountains - Madonna, Sterling & Morse (including Morse Highlands) - all 3 mountains are interconnected by lifts and trails for your convenience. 

Over 1,000 acres of terrain including trails and wooded glades, from gentle novice slopes to groomed cruisers, bump runs, steeps, terrain parks, and race courses. 

2,610 foot vertical rise - Among the biggest in the East. 

78 Trails - Over 27 miles of fun with a variety of learning terrain (19%) primarily on Morse, intermediate trails and glades (50%) on all three mountains and expert runs on Madonna and Sterling (31%) that challenge the best including: The Fab Five - Five of the most pulse-pounding Black Diamonds in the East and The Black Hole - The only Triple Black Diamond in the East! 

Cross-country and snowshoe trails - Nordic Center features kilometers of cross-country trails and dedicated snowshoe trails through woods and fields. 

Average annual snowfall of 23 feet - Seasonal average for snow accumulation is nearly 280 inches. 

62% Snowmaking Coverage - Firepower to blanket all 3 mountains from top to bottom. 

Two person chairs at Madonna and Sterling 

View of the ountains from the lift 

Lots of snow below the skis 
When people talk about skiing Vermont, you usually hear the big names like Mount Snow, Killington and Okemo.  Smuggler's Notch is sometimes the forgotten family mountain way up north.  While the drive is far, the price and variety at Smuggs makes every group trip to Smugglers Notch an awesome weekend/  I have been coming to this resort on and off since 2010 with friends to ski on these really inexpensive brewfest weekends.  From ice to fresh snow to 70 degree spring skiing, I think we have officially seen all that Vermont has to offer.  While the resort is by no means fancy, it has everything you need and more as far as skiing, housing and resorts go. Some years we ski all day and go to Brew Fest in a group of 20 in togas, and other years we spend more time soaking up the sun than skiing.  This year was the first year I actually walked around the resort and researched into the various activities (like Llama treks).  I am already planning a trip back for the summer to do some mountain biking, hiking and play on the waterslides. 

Thanks for a great weekend Smuggs and check back in later in the week for a post about Lost Nation, an awesome brewery stop on our way back to Connecticut. 

 Smugglers' Notch Resort
1 Morse Drive
Jeffersonville, VT 05464 

Note: When using an online trip planner or an onboard navigational system, using the above street address for Smugglers' Notch Resort will route you through Smugglers' Notch Pass in the Winter when the pass is closed to all traffic. Please use our driving directions from points South for Winter travel.

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