On my family’s first visit to Smuggler’s Notch Resort my husband and I were awakened each morning around 5:30 a.m. by our eager five- and eight-year-old who greeted the dark winter mornings with the kind of enthusiasm only the very young seem able to muster at that gray hour. After full days of skiing, followed by hot chocolate and maybe a sing-along with Rockin’ Ron the friendly pirate or a swim in the indoor pool, dinnertime was 5:30 and we were all in bed no later than 9.
Fast forward seven years and you have an entirely different scenario. Our lanky boys need to be woken in the morning and they ski right through hot chocolate time. They aren’t interested in sing-alongs and might sneak in a nap before a late dinner. But one thing that hasn’t changed at all is how much we all enjoyed spending a ski vacation at Smuggs.
Cozy Comfort for All
Smuggler’s Notch Resort is located near the famous notch after which it is named. In the winter, the very narrow and steep road that goes over the mountain and into the resort town of Stowe is closed to cars.
The closure means that during the winter months, Smuggs is accessible from only one direction and is isolated from Stowe’s restaurants and breweries (you can still get to Stowe, but it takes 45 minutes instead of 10). The town of Jeffersonville is just down the road, but it is much smaller than Stowe, with fewer dining options.
But here’s the beautiful thing: you can show up at Smuggs with a car full of groceries, ski gear and teenagers, park your car and unload it, and then forget that it’s even there. The resort has done a great job of creating its own self-sufficient village and offers free, on-demand shuttles that will take you wherever you need to go. And its condos are so large and comfortable that you and your teens may just want to move in permanently.
On all my visits to Smuggs – and I’ve been there once in the winter and twice in the summer – I’ve stayed in what the resort calls the North Hill Community, one of five different areas to stay. These condos are a bit farther away from the slopes than some of the others, but are large and light-filled with fully stocked kitchens and gas fireplaces. I’ve always loved these condos but appreciated the one we stayed in even more on this visit because it offered the key thing I’ve found that make traveling with teens more fun and relaxing: a generous amount of space.
Here are some of the things my teen boys (and my husband) loved about staying in our condo at the Owls:
Homemade breakfast sandwiches prepared hot and fresh to order.
Drying out our gear in front of the gas fireplace in the living room.
Plenty of places to relax and read.
Enjoying coffee with a view (and warmth from the gas fireplace) in the master suite.
Having our own bedrooms.
And no picture of this, but both of the boys made good use of the deep whirlpool tub in the master bathroom to soak their tired muscles after days on the mountain.
(One thing that parents of teens and their multiple devices should note is that there is a charge of $15 a day or $36 a week for wireless internet and a limit to the number of devices that can connect in a given condo. We found that the internet worked very well.)
Playing Like a Big Kid
We arrived at Smuggs on a Thursday evening, unloaded quickly, cooked and ate a pasta dinner with the intention of making it to the 9:00 dodge ball game that the Resort Information Guide had promised would take place in the Village Meetinghouse building that evening. My older son Tommy wasn’t feeling well – he had a fever and a cough that we would learn when we got home was the flu – so he opted to crawl into bed early. But Teddy, on the cusp of 13 and excited about the prospect of hanging with older kids, was eager to play.
At just before 9 the outside door to the meeting room was locked and the lights out. But we needn’t have feared – within minutes a pack of boys ranging in age from 13 to about 17 materialized, along with one of the ski school instructors who carried a bag of lightweight balls. Controlled mayhem ensued and Teddy, although he was on the younger end, was right in the mix. It was a great way for him to use up some energy after hours of sitting in the car
The ski instructor was there to make sure basic rules of dodge ball etiquette were followed and to enforce the fair selection of teams as well as judgments on who was out and who got to go back in to the game.
And the best part as far as I was concerned was that after we watched for a while, Matt and I decided to step next door to the Heart & Candle Restaurant where we chatted with the friendly bartender and enjoyed some handcrafted cocktails.
I loved that it felt safe enough to leave Teddy alone to have fun – he really enjoyed getting to play with kids older than him and when he met us, breathless, at the bar when the games ended he told us proudly that he had even gotten to be a team captain.
No Mom, Laser Tag Is Not for You
Our second night at Smuggs was the much-beloved Taco Night in our condo. Tommy once again had a date with his pillow, so Matt, Teddy and I headed down the hill to the FunZone 2.0. This indoor activity area was a highlight of our first visit. It’s been completely made over since then and now includes four distinct areas – The Ozone, with huge inflatable slides, mini golf and lots of ping-pong tables as well as a play area for younger children; the Go Zone, which has a warrior course, slot car racing, and a climbing wall; an arcade with lots of games including air hockey and a laser tag arena.
Teddy made short work of the warrior course, running through it repeatedly and thrilling to the fact that his name showed up on the leaderboard.
He also headed up to the top of the climbing wall before deciding that heights aren’t his thing (a new one on me, as I’d seen him climb all over the Smuggler’s Notch Arbortrek ropes course). Happily there were plenty of arcade games to divert him.
The resort schedule said that at 9 p.m. on Friday nights there are laser tag competitions for teens. I had thought that Matt and I might join Teddy for the laser tag but was told on no uncertain terms that I really shouldn’t even hang out with him while he waited his turn in line. How could I have forgotten that cardinal rule of teen life – moms are really not cool.
Teddy played one round of the tag and then seemed eager to leave; we learned on the shuttle ride back to the condo that this was an instance where the older kids did tend to dominate, making it less fun for him as he had no chance of scoring very much. We realized that Teddy might have been on the young end for the more rowdy mix of older kids who came down to play laser tag in the later evening and decided to give it a try at a different time. Two nights later Teddy arranged to meet some of his similarly aged friends from his all-day ski lesson at 7 p.m. before the older teens showed up and took over. He treated them all to some arcade games and then they played laser tag as a team – and won. More importantly, he had a really wonderful time.
I loved that Teddy was able to extend the friendships he made in ski school at the FunZone – if we had stayed more nights I’m certain he would have been there with his pals, and probably in the nearby indoor pool, multiple times.
Having a sick kid did change our experience at the FunZone a bit – Teddy is a bit less adventurous and competitive than his brother, and prefers arcade games over the more active challenges. Without question Tommy would have started a ping-pong tournament, raced Teddy on the warrior course, climbed the climbing wall multiple times and challenged his brother at laser tag. An energetic teen will find loads to do here and lots of kids to do it with and families who like to play together can have a great time too.
Kids under 12 must be accompanied by an adult and anyone who is playing in The Go Zone needs to wear close-toed indoor shoes. The Notch Card you receive for staying at the resort will get you into The Ozone. Laser tag, the activities in the Go Zone, and the arcade games all cost extra.
Parents’ Night Out – Teens’ Night In
My boys love to eat, but aren’t always excited for a restaurant meal with their parents. On this trip, this was especially true for Tommy, who genuinely wasn’t feeling well during the evenings (perhaps the fact that he skied without stopping during the day had something to do with this). I had packed food to cook two of our dinners in our condo but did want a few evenings off during our four-night stay.
Happily, it was easy to give everyone their way. On one evening we shopped in the resort’s own Country Store in the Village Center. There the boys were able to stock up on just the kinds of things they enjoy for what they call a “kids’ dinner.”
That night Matt and I discovered that the Resort Shuttle would be willing to take us off the property and about five minutes down the road to the Brewster River Pub where we enjoyed some of the best smoked chicken wings I’ve ever eaten anywhere as well as a crazy good burger called the BBQ Addiction because it came topped with pulled pork, beef brisket, bacon, smoked gouda, tobacco onions and maple BBQ sauce. All of this was accompanied by local craft beer – what I call a “parents’ dinner”.
The next night the boys had leftover tacos and pasta in front of the condo’s fireplace while we ate a late dinner at the Hearth & Candle – reservations a must on weekends and during holiday periods – sampling braised wild boar over gnocchi and lobster tagiatelle, all with a nice bottle of Bordeaux from the restaurants well-curated wine list. It was a rare treat for us to have two date nights in a row and made the weekend feel like even more of a vacation.
And the kids certainly didn’t have to spend the night at home while Matt and I galavanted. If Tommy had been feeling better, I’m sure that he and Teddy might have gone down to the special Teen Alley Center in the Village together to play pool, ping-pong or on the XBox.
A Few Bonus Things For Every Family With Teens to Love About Smuggs
They have gear for growing teens. When we arrived at the Madonna/Sterling Base Lodge to ski on our first morning we discovered that Teddy’s helmet, which had fit him a mere four weeks before, was too small – maybe it was all those breakfast sandwiches. He squeezed into it for the day, but after we were finished in the evening we headed down to the 3 Mountain Equipment Shop in the Village Center (stopping first for an ice-cream snack at the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop right across the way). They had a great selection of helmets in a range of prices as well as a knowledgeable staff who helped Teddy make the right choice.
Downhill skiing is only part of the picture. From airboarding to tubing to ice skating there are loads of activities to try at Smuggler’s Notch – with a short visit and a sick kid, we didn’t even touch on them all. The Resort Information Guide lists them all by day.
It may be winter, but there’s plenty of swimming. There are lots of opportunities for swimming at Smuggs as well – in the North Hill Community we had access to a year-round heated outdoor pool, as well as an Indoor Aquatic & Exercise Center with a splash playground for younger kids and two hot tubs. Anyone who is staying at the resort is welcome to swim indoors at the Courtside Indoor Pool, which is close to the FunZone. Other condo communities at Smuggs have pools as well.
As much I love the amenities and activities at Smuggler’s Notch Resort, what really makes it the perfect place for families with teens to enjoy both togetherness and independence. Smuggs makes it easy for kids this age, and their parents, to have some precious freedom and flexibility – something to cherish as much as the family time.
Learn more about skiing and staying at Smugglers’ Notch Resort
- Is It Winter Yet? Looking Forward to Family Fun at Smuggs
- Five Amazing Things Your Teen Can Do at Smugglers’ Notch
- Zip Lining with Arbor Trek Tours at Smugglers’ Notch
- Plan Your Accommodations at Smugglers’ Notch
- Smuggs for Young Families: A Perfect Ski Trip with Baby
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.