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.
Smugglers’ Notch Resort bills itself as America’s Family Resort, a well-justified title. In addition to three mountains for skiing and riding, the resort has all the things that children and their parents love including fantastic kid-friendly lesson programs; a full-service, accredited daycare facility; indoor pools; a nice tubing hill; and hot chocolate so copious that it seems to run from taps.
The last time I visited Smuggs in the winter with my family, my younger son Teddy, now almost 13, was 5 and my older son Tommy, now 15, was 8. I’ve written about our experience, especially about the fact that Teddy really learned to ski independently for the first time on Morse Mountain in Smuggs’ excellent all-day ski camps. The boys spent the entirety of that trip skiing the green trails and fun kids’ elements on Morse and enjoying singing along with Rockin’ Ron the Friendly Pirate.
But as we headed for Smuggs from Delaware over a Presidents’ Day long weekend with my two lanky, long-legged boys squeezed into the backseat of our Saab wagon, I knew that this visit would be different. Tommy’s backpack was full not of coloring and comic books for the car ride but all the materials he needed to complete a big AP History project that was due when we got home. Teddy was less excited about seeing Rockin’ Ron and Mogul Mouse than he was about arriving in time for the Friday evening dodgeball game. And I had loaded the back of the car with food, knowing that the two of them eat as constantly and voraciously as sharks.
Another difference from our first visit, which took place during a series of spectacular January snowstorms, was that the conditions were a bit dicey. The previous weekend Smuggs’ mountains had been covered in great natural snow, but a warm-up followed by cold temperatures had left many of the ungroomed, more challenging trails closed, while the snow on the open trails was what one might call “firm.” And to add a bit more challenge, the evening we arrived Tommy came down with a sudden fever and sore throat.
Would our skiing teens still find Smuggs magical, even if they didn’t ski the Magic Learning Trail on Morse Mountain? Would Tommy be able to muscle his way onto the mountain in spite of his illness? Could this ski weekend be saved?
(Spoiler alert: Smugglers’ Notch Resort is so such a great place to ski – no matter what age your kids are – that our fun was never in any real jeopardy.)
Lessons at Smuggs Aren’t Just for Littles
One big difference on this visit was that we would spend virtually all our time on Smuggs’ two higher mountains, Madonna and Sterling. With seven seasons of skiing under their belts, my boys (and husband Matt, who learned to ski at the same time they did) now qualified as experts and were eager to explore the harder trails they had only dreamed about on our first visit.
Friday morning as we all took our warm-up runs, it wasn’t looking promising. The day had started off with warm air that created a thick fog it was hard to see through. Adding to the challenge of poor visibility was the scratchy, bare conditions from the previous week’s warm up and freeze. I was glad that Tommy and I had a lesson scheduled for that afternoon, as I wasn’t really sure where the best skiing was to be found.
That’s where Tommy and my two-hour private lesson with coach Glen came to the rescue. First of all, he brought the colder air and snow with him – both started almost at the same time as our lesson immediately after lunch. He also brought a flexible attitude – we had hoped for a clinic on mogul skiing, which wasn’t going to happen given the day’s conditions. So instead he focused on finding the best snow – which, happily, as it turns out, was on the gladed trails off the Sterling lift. We spent a happy few hours dipping into Highlander Glades, practicing keeping the fronts of our legs in contact with our boots and maintaining our weight properly over our skis as we turned around the trees.
Tommy and I weren’t the only ones who benefited from the Smugglers’ Notch Snow Sport University (as they call their ski and ride school). Teddy remembered that Smuggs was the place he had really learned to ski and was eager to spend two days in the all-day ski camp. Because he was a high level skier (he went into the lesson ranked as 7/8 – the top level is 9) his lessons started not over on Morse Mountain but at the base of the Sterling Lift.
I like everything about the way Smuggs handles lessons – the fact that the instructors watch the kids carefully and work to make sure they are placed in the correct group (Teddy switched between his first and second day to ski with kids who could handle more challenging terrain), the way they use the entirety of both mountains to teach the kids who are proficient skiers, and the way that they alternate runs where they work on skills with zippier runs where the kids just get to open it up.
I got a good sense of just where Teddy skied because kids in these group lessons each wear a GPS device that tracks where and how quickly they ski. At the end of the day parents receive an email that shows all the runs they took with an interactive trail map and trail-by-trail list. Even over a week later Teddy enjoyed looking at this and remembering specific runs. And I liked seeing how much terrain he covered – his group was all over just about every open part of the mountain,
The kids in the group camp are given the option of being picked up by their parents at the Madonna Base Lodge at 2:30 or going to the Meeting House in the Village at the base of Morse Mountain with the other kids for snacks and indoor activities.
Teddy wanted to get in extra runs both days. In fact, on day two he and Tommy disappeared before I could even finish getting the full report from Teddy’s teacher. It turns out that he was so eager to show Tommy all the glades where he had skied that he couldn’t be bothered to wait for me to find out that he had finally learned to start using his poles (Hallelujah!). I know that this was so because his instructor showed me a video of him doing so beautifully.
Terrain That’s Built for Adventurous Skiing Teens
All of our instructors at Smugglers’ Notch were justifiably proud of the mountain they call home. “This is real, classic, New England skiing,” Glen told me, “No ifs, ands, or buts.”
Smuggs qualifies as a classic mountain on many fronts; it does have snowmaking and the team there does groom – but with a judicious hand, especially on the black diamond trails. The blue trails are true intermediate terrain, often steep and sometimes bumpy. The lifts are all double chairs, not high-speed quads, which means that even when the mountain is busy, the trails aren’t crowded. And they also have some of the best tree skiing you’ll find anywhere in Vermont, not all of it marked on the trail map.
One of these slightly hidden gems is Mustache Glades off of Upper Chilcoot at the top of Madonna Mountain. Tommy and I got the tip to look for the marked birch tree on the right and before we knew it were sailing through lovely woods, the occasional green ‘stache marker telling us where to go. The glade runs most of the way down Madonna Mountain, one of the longer tree runs I’ve skied in Vermont.
We also enjoyed skiing the extremely steep, tight and challenging woods off of Smugglers Alley on Sterling Mountain. Or rather, he and his 15-year-old knees skied them, while I skidded behind him, cursing both my age and caution. All of these gladed trails offer fantastic views and the kind of deep, snowy beauty one only finds when skiing through frosted pine trees.
And for teens who are just learning to be more adventurous, there are also lots of easier woods for skiers just beginning to ski in the glades. The pitch and open trees in Moonshiner’s and Three Mountain Glades make these perfect places to learn or practice tree skiing. And Tommy especially enjoyed finishing his runs on both Madonna and Sterling by dipping into the Knight’s Revenge, a gladed terrain park where the elements have been constructed using logs, boulders and other natural elements.
A word of warning: If your teen is an explorer like mine is, and you let him ride the lift without you at Smuggs, he’s likely to encounter a friendly, enthusiastic someone with backcountry skis who is heading off-piste into the Notch. And if your kid is also friendly and enthusiastic, he or she may just be invited to go along. Happily Tommy knew that I might notice if he disappeared on me at the top, but I have a feeling that if I weren’t there, he would have skied all the way to Stowe and hitched a ride back on someone’s snowmobile.
We were really lucky on our visit to Smugglers’ Notch Resort – despite the questionable conditions our first morning, we got enough snow on both Friday and Saturday night to enjoy two and half days of great skiing. It also got colder and cleared off, which made for some spectacular views.
It was so much fun that Tommy didn’t really reveal quite how sick he was until Monday on our car ride home. Tuesday he was diagnosed with the flu – but when the doctor questioned the wisdom skiing for three days while he was sick, Tommy just smiled and said, “It was worth it.” I didn’t argue with him.
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