Learning to ski or snowboard at an early age is the perfect way to help young children instill a love for winter. Exploring the slopes helps kids build self-confidence, meet new friends and develop a lifelong affinity for the outdoors.
Smuggs holds a special place in my family’s collective memory because it is where my younger son Teddy really learned to ski. It was 2011, and his brother Tommy, then eight, couldn’t get enough time on the mountain. My husband Matt had also just learned to ski and was also loving it, while I had returned to the Green Mountains with great joy after a nearly 20-year absence.
But five-year-old Teddy was our holdout – he just wasn’t enjoying downhill skiing like the rest of us and preferred to spend his time indoors while we were out on the mountain. So even though I knew Smuggler’s Notch had really great lesson programs for kids, I didn’t hold out great hope for our January visit, which would be our first visit to the resort. As he cheerfully allowed us to drop him off, I’m sure he was expecting that he would get the instructors to let him hang out inside as he had done in the past.
It only took three days of Smuggler’s Notch all-day ski camp before we could barely keep up with Teddy, who never once went to the daycare. In fact, after his lesson on the third day he insisted on showing Matt his new skills and managed somehow to not only zip ahead on the trail but to jump on the lift by himself. He never looked back – not then, not ever.
That’s why I’m so excited that my family will be returning to Smuggs, as it is affectionately known, in February of 2018. It’s sure to be a different experience this time around. For one thing, 15-year-old Tommy’s skiing skills officially surpassed mine last season. He and 12-year-old Teddy love nothing better than heading into the trees, with me in hot pursuit (well, maybe they don’t love that last part, but it’s their cross to bear). I know that they are going to be all over the great terrain and will also enjoy all the other fun on offer at this family-friendly resort.
What exactly are we looking forward to on our family visit to Smuggler’s Notch Resort?
Lots and Lots of Skiing (With Perhaps a Lesson or Two)
I love the terrain at Smuggler’s Notch and waxed rhapsodic about it after our last visit there. With three mountains and 78 trails, there’s really something for everyone, including numerous glades as well as the kind of long, intermediate trails that Matt loves. Because both my kids were new to skiing when we were at Smuggs in 2011, they spent almost all their time on the easier terrain and kid-friendly elements on Morse Mountain. I know they are going to really enjoy exploring Madonna and Sterling Mountains – and that they will both be stoked to ski the triple black diamond called The Black Hole. And one thing I really like about Smuggs is that not all of their terrain is groomed, so skiers like me who like bumps can definitely find them.
And don’t tell Teddy, but I do worry a bit about his skiing skills. He works pretty hard to keep up with his brother who has almost a foot of height and 30 pounds on him, which means he is often just pointing his tips down the hill and racing after Tommy without worrying too much about his form. I know that the Smuggs Notch Squad program will get him out on the black diamond trails that he enjoys but maybe at a slightly more deliberate pace while the instructors work on his form.
Once his skiing form is a bit cleaned up he can show it off on the race course. Starting in January Smuggs will offer free family racing on weekends, complete with gates and timekeeping, just like the pros. Will he beat his brother? Will I be able to even come close to either of them? We’ll have to wait and see.
Got younger kids? Check out our post on lessons for kids of all ages.
Spending time in the enormous indoor play area known as the FunZone was a highlight of our trip when we visited Smuggs in the winter of 2011. Since then Smuggs has made this space even more appealing with a major renovation. FunZone 2.0, as the 26,000-square-foot space is now called, has two different areas, one aimed specifically at the middle- and high-school set.
The Go Zone not only has laser tag but a climbing wall, something called the “Leap of Faith”, a Lazer Maze and two ninja-worthy warrior courses that I know my boys will race through.
All that new stuff will be fun of course, but I know that Tommy and Teddy will be happy that Smuggs still has the mini golf, ping-pong and giant slides in what they call the Ozone (there’s also a play area here designed just for younger kids). I’m sure that we’ll be hanging out here as well, if only for old-time’s sake.
Broomball and Other Outdoor Fun
Tommy never met a ball game he didn’t like and I expect Broomball to be no exception, especially since he won’t need skating skills to enjoy the game, which is played in boots. With games at the Smuggler’s Notch ice rink in the middle of most afternoons, I expect we will find time for this as well as other family activities like the Airboard family fun race. Just trying out Airboarding, a cross between tubing and boogie boarding, would be a new one for us. And Teddy is our little engineer, so I know he will enjoy the I-Did-A-Sled where contestants build a sled with supplied materials and then race them on the tubing hill.
And I’m not sure if we’ll find time for the Arbortrek ziplining tour, but I definitely recommend this fun, year-round adventure for families. We enjoyed this activity in the summer, but I’m sure the views in winter are absolutely gorgeous.
Comfortable and Relaxing Condos
Although this will be only our second winter visit, I’ve stayed at Smuggler’s Notch Resort with my family on two other occasions in the summer. Our accommodations were a highlight of every visit, offering a truly comfortable and peaceful place to spend time as a family in between our activities. Gas fireplaces make condos cozy in the winter and amenities like washer/dryer units (perfect for wet ski pants) and fully stocked kitchens mean you can prepare your own breakfasts before hitting the slopes. Some condos have whirlpool bathtubs.
And for even more relaxation, Smuggs offers an indoor heated pool with two hot tubs – we will be sure to pack our bathing suits, as there is nothing quite like a hot soak on a cold night.
Smuggs offers a variety of condos in different areas of the resort; check out our post on lodging at Smuggler’s Notch Resort to learn more about choosing where to stay.
And Just Maybe, a Grown Up Night Out
One of the revelations about traveling with older kids is that they are more independent. And one of the joys of Smuggler’s Notch Resort is that it is self-contained and has a great shuttle system for getting around.
I can totally picture myself sipping a drink at the resort’s upscale restaurant Hearth & Candle in the company of only my husband while the boys engage in endless rounds of laser tag followed by equally endless pieces of pizza and some time hanging out in Teen Alley where they can play pool or ping-pong with other kids their age. Or perhaps Matt and I will try one of the adults only Snowshoe Adventure Dinners at the top of Sterling Mountain.
And last, but certainly not least, one final thing I’m looking forward to at Smuggler’s Notch Resort is once again seeing Rockin’ Ron the friendly singing pirate who still performs around the resort. I don’t expect the boys to respond quite so enthusiastically as they did when they were younger, but I’m really hoping that they aren’t so cool that they won’t let me get a photo or two.
A few more things for families to like about Smuggs
- Although its northern Vermont location makes Smuggs a bit more of a trek for mid-Atlantic families like mine, we probably won’t get into our car after we park and unload it upon arrival. That’s because the resort has a convenient system of shuttles that will take you anywhere you need to go, skis and all. Since it snowed the almost the entire time we were last there in the winter, we really appreciated not having to continually clean off the car or drive on slippery roads.
- Smuggler’s Notch Got Kids?® lessons and childcare programs have won awards and praise for years. As I mentioned, it was their fantastic lesson programs that first ignited my four-year-old’s passion for skiing and he hasn’t looked back since. If your child is too young to ski, the Treasures Child Care Center offers exceptional (and state-licensed) services for kids from 6 months to 3 years of age. They also offer Kids’ Night Out at the FunZone for kids aged 3 to 11.
- Sign your children up for the free Kids’ Club and your children will enjoy daily specials like free hot chocolate, discounts on products like helmets, outerwear, games and puzzles, stuffed animals and much more. Kids’ Club members also get exclusive access to special meet and greets with Rockin’ Ron and Mogul Mouse.
- Smuggs has switched to a card access system for all its lifts, offering hands-free boarding. Parents can just zip their kids cards into the pocket of their ski jacket – no fumbling with tickets or passes.
- Smuggler’s Notch offers a variety of packages throughout the winter season to help make your vacation more affordable as well as special offers like free group lessons and rental equipment for beginning skiers staying three nights or more from January 19 through the 28.