Traveling With Kids: Smugglers’ Notch
Even though this year represents our fourth season of skiing, our first couple of years of exposure were pretty limited and we’re still what I would call beginners (well, maybe Laurel not so much!). Specifically, Season 1 we skied once with friends to try it out and rented gear the weekend before. Season 2 we started doing seasonal rentals and went skiing twice. Season 3 we went skiing three times. And this past weekend, we kicked off Season 4 at Smugglers’ Notch, and man, what a way to start! The trip proved to be a pivotal moment for our family, where we actually became a ski family—in terms of being able to actually all ski together!
I get it, there are a lot of barriers to entry to skiing; one of the big ones being figuring out gear. Please let me know if you have questions on that; I’m thinking about doing a basics post to try to make it all less scary for people! Meanwhile, I want to share about why Smuggs is a fantastic destination for families of all ability levels, specific recommendations that will be helpful for beginner/early intermediate families, and general property recommendations.
1. Sign your kids up for lessons!
Listen, I used to teach private + group violin lessons. Assuming you have a student with a modicum of interest in learning, instruction from people who know what they’re doing will help a student improve! Smuggs has lots of programming options for kids (including day camps and adaptive) but given Laurel and Violet’s personalities, we opted for morning lessons after which we could meet up and ski together.
Both of my kids get nervous about lessons; even with a few lessons under her belt, Laurel was nervous before we started at Smuggs, and Violet has always asked me and Jon to teach her so she doesn’t have to do lessons. Per my above point, my response has always been, “Kid, you are going to learn a lot faster from someone who actually knows what they are doing!” Laurel ended up with a perfect teacher in Nancy Spier, who was friendly, super knowledgeable, and a perfect conversational match for Laurel. Laurel has already surpassed Jon and me in ability!
Our trip to Smuggs was HUGE for Violet. She had only had two lessons before and when we asked her if she thought she would try a lift for the first time, she said very definitively, “No, I think that will be next year.” Well, thanks to Violet’s amazing teacher Brennan Foley (who I noticed was repeatedly popping down onto his knees so he could communicate with Violet at eye level #applause), Violet went on the lift to mid-station (part way up Morse Mountain) and wanted to keep going around and around! And by the final run of our trip (she was going to hop off at mid-station with Jon while I continued to the top of the mountain with Laurel), I turned around to see that she decided to head to the top of the mountain! I could. not. believe. it.
It’s worth mentioning that Morse Mountain’s Mogul Mouse’s Magic Lift is so perfect for kids. The seats are a little lower so it’s easier for small people to get on and Vi totally loved spotting all the animals along the way! It was totally fun for all of us to ski to and from mid-station repeatedly!
2. Sign yourself up for adult lessons
Jon and I have both taken a few lessons, but our lessons with Randy Draper—a seasoned instructor who grew up skiing at Smuggs as a kid—were a total game changer. I had some major breakthroughs with Randy and finally figured out how to shift my weight so I could feel the rhythm and flow of skiing (I describe this further in this Instagram post) and by our final day, the steeper pitches I was panicking my way through at the beginning were totally happy and comfortable. Again, I could. not. believe. it.
3. Sign up for back to back lessons if you can
For the first time ever, Jon, Laurel, Violet, and I had back to back lessons across two days (we did our two-hour lessons in the morning all at the same time), which proved enormously helpful. All of my breakthroughs came on Day 2, and Violet definitely gained the confidence to go to the top of the mountain during her Day 2 lesson. Our third day at Smuggs we opted to ski as a family to practice what we learned. And the cool thing was that since we were all taking our lessons on Morse Mountain, we would run into one another at times, which was really fun!
4. Enjoy all manner of trails
Smuggs is a property that can accommodate all levels. SERIOUSLY. The resort includes three mountains; the larger ones (Sterling and Madonna) offering plenty of challenging skiing (go look at the trail map). And this actually was one of the fabulous things about the smaller Morse Mountain being its own entity. Morse Mountain is almost all green trails, which was fantastic because it meant we did not have pros whizzing around us. There also were a couple of fun side cut away paths that the kids loved (you can see one of these in the next photo below).
5. Opt for ski in/out lodging if you can
We stayed at Falcons at Smuggs and it was SO AWESOME because it is a ski in/out property. You literally walk down a short little path and ski right onto the mountain (Magic Learning Trail). Our first day, Violet was not confident to go on skis to the base and ended up walking down, which was totally doable. But after her first lesson she was skiing in and out to the property like a pro! The Smuggs condos are so great; they’re spacious and include all the amenities you need, even including little details like step stools in the bathrooms so little people can reach the sink!
6. Play hooky if you can
OK, this is probably a questionable recommendation and now with a high schooler it’s not something we can do all the time, but given that Smuggs is a bit farther (about 4 hours from Boston) we played hooky for the first time ever and it was FABULOUS. Leaving Boston Thursday after school (I recommend The Worthy Burger in Royalton as a dinner stop en route!) allowed us to ski 3 full days for the first time ever, which was amazing. I literally had to peel my kids off the mountain on day 3 to get ready to go home.
7. Visit the ice formations up the road
So one good thing to know if you’re traveling to Smuggs is that Route 108/Mountain Road (your typical exit if coming in off 89) is closed because it’s too treacherous to pass (snowy single-lane sections). So, you will need to go around (Google maps totally instructed us to do this). HOWEVER, this makes for an awesome little hike. From Smuggs, we drove up to the gate closure on Mountain Road and then hiked up the closed road to see some spectacular ice formations and CRAWL INTO A CAVE. It was unreal.
8. Explore the property
The village at the base of Morse Mountain has everything you need—restaurants, coffee, gear store, country store, etc.—and I have to give mad props to the Hearth and Table restaurant for offering 3 menu options. Given that Laurel is 14 we have an ongoing joke about whether or not she gets offered a kids’ menu (she hates when this happens!) and our waitress at Hearth and Table gave Violet a kids menu, gave me and Jon the regular menu, and then astutely said to Laurel, “I think you’ll enjoy our young diners menu.” We couldn’t believe it; it’s basically a menu for teens. #brilliant #noeyeroll
9. Head to the Fun Zone
If you’re looking for a little break from skiing, the Fun Zone is open year round. I could not believe the kids had more energy to burn after skiing all day but after our experience last summer at Smuggs, the girls were SO EXCITED to go back to the ninja course. And I couldn’t believe it, Laurel won two Mario dolls out of the claw game!
10. Consider bringing your swimsuit
I totally forgot to bring our swimsuits but if you are into being in your swimsuit surrounded by snow, the property includes outdoor heated pools and there was a hot tub behind our property.
11. Build in time for local cuteness
We actually did not have time for local cuteness other than stopping in for a meal at 158 Main Restaurant and Bakery, but I definitely want to make time next go around to explore local goods in Jeffersonville and beyond. As we were driving out we had several moments where we said, “Shoot, I wish we had time to stop here!”
In a nutshell, Smugglers’ Notch is a fantastic ski property for skiers of all abilities. As Laurel and I were riding up the lift on our last day, I sighed and said, “You know, Laurel, this is going to sound so cheesy but it’s so fitting that the tagline of this place is ‘America’s Family Resort’ because on this trip, I really feel like we finally evolved into a ski family.” She laughed and said, “Yeah, Mom, that is totally cheesy but it’s also totally true! I’m so happy here and I never want us to leave!” And on the way home, Violet said, “Mom, I think that was my favorite family vacation ever.”
There you have it, folks. From the mouths of babes.
Disclosure: Smugglers’ Notch kindly hosted my family while I explored the property for editorial consideration. All opinions and experiences are, of course, my own.