I am a Smuggler. Actually the Schuck family are all Smugglers. This winter, we fell head over heels for Smugglers’ Notch, America’s Family Resort, Vermont, and are craving a return visit as soon as possible. Because winter is so much better when you are at Smugglers’ Notch doing ALL THE Fun Things Together as a Family.
This past month we had the pleasure of visiting Smugglers’ Notch in north Vermont. It’s so easy to see why Smugglers’ Notch (Smuggs) has been named Ski Magazine’s Number #1 Kid-Friendly Resort in the Eastern US and Canada. Smugglers’ Notch might get you there with the promise of great skiing, fun snowboarding, tubing and more, but they will have you coming back with their exceptional family friendly atmosphere and remarkable staff. Smuggs is simply one of the best family ski resorts in Eastern US and Canada.
We flew Porter Airlines to get to Vermont from our home in London, Ontario. Porter flies to Vermont twice a week for all of ski season (on Sundays and Thursdays) and it is pretty much the simplest way to travel. My family loves Porter. They are quieter than other airlines and Billy Bishop is much simpler to deal with than many other airports. Flights are effortless, or as effortless as flying with children, and teens, can be. The planes I have travelled on are rarely packed. We had enough space to relax. Plus service on Porter flights is typically great. Free drinks and snacks are not the standard on any other airlines I know of.
Flights to Burlington International Airport in Vermont are also affordable. I won two tickets back in October at a Ski event in Toronto and so we used those as adults, and we also had two free bags to check each so that was a money saver and a great help. The kid’s roundtrip flights together were about $500. We flew for about 55 minutes on a Sunday, cleared immigration and customs in 20 minutes, grabbed our new skis and ski bags and headed to Smugglers’ Notch by shuttle, which you can also book easily through SMUGGS. The shuttle takes about 50 minutes. Smugglers’ Notch gets a lot of Ontario travellers and many from Quebec area too. You could also drive if you wanted to save money. And in fact from Montreal, Quebec the drive is a mere two hours.
Traveler tip: ask to stop at the grocery store. Smugglers’ Notch has great accommodations that are really impressive and large. We could have fit two families in our Kestrel condominium. But once you are at the ski hill you will not want to leave and drive 30 minutes to the nearest grocery store. You can easily cook what you need and pack some lunches, breakfasts and snacks and be happily settled there for the week, or the few days you are visiting, in your home away from home in Vermont.
Smuggs is located in northern Vermont and the village itself is quite spread out. We stayed in the northern village called Kestrel. Many of the condominiums are named for birds which adds to atmosphere. There are three huge interconnected mountains at Smugglers’ Notch and a vast variety of runs for every level of skier. Believe me, that matters to me. I have one or two here who would gladly hit the Black Diamonds while I prefer the lovely meandering green runs like Garden Path. There’s no shame in that! I love that out of 78 trails and acres of glades there’s bound to be something for each type of skier.
The night we got in we decided to just explore and try to get the lay of the land so to speak. We checked in and were greeted with a cheery reception and given our lift passes, lesson passes and itinerary for the next day. The kids each got a welcome to Smuggs drawstring bag full of things that have become souvenirs of a great trip. There’s the usual activity book and crayons, stickers for your helmets or books and a really cute transformable ski scarf, or beanie or head wrap. There are about 30 different ways to wear that Smuggs item.
Smugglers’ Notch Accommodations
We were overwhelmed by how huge and clean Kestrel 1 was. It met all of our needs and then some. We took the resort shuttle to the Welcome Centre and walked around the square a bit. Then had we had dinner at Morse Mountain Grille. One of the great things about Smuggs, for our family, was the fact that there were kid’s meals available everywhere. So, the kids were happy and full after each meal. The kid’s meals were affordable. The adult meals can get pricey though, as at any ski lodge or resort.
Traveler Tip: Call the shuttle from your unit each time you need a ride, but be ready. They are rarely more than 2 minutes away.
There is a resort shuttle that will pick you up right outside your unit and take you wherever you need to go on the property. When my husband and I were preparing for this trip we noticed that detail and we were a bit apprehensive about how it would work. There’s nothing worse than wanting to ski and having to wait in the cold for a shuttle to pick you up to go. BUT, we never waited more than two minutes for a shuttle. The Smuggler’s Notch resort shuttle system, like everything there, was ridiculously efficient. There are phones located in many spots on the property and all shuttles are fast. Drivers are friendly. And you never know who you might meet on the shuttle.
There are also some ski in and ski out accommodations and timeshare properties at Smuggler’s Notch. We enjoyed being where we were because it was quiet, fast to get to by shuttle and really centrally located to many other activities such as snowshoeing, and tubing. On the north end of the community there was also a community pool and spray pad, with hot tubs too. We walked one night because it is literally just across the road from Kestrel 1. Fitness equipment is in the building too so if that’s your thing you can stay super fit on this vacation too.
Traveler Tip: Don’t forget your towels! We had to send Dad back to get some for us. It’s cold out there you know!
The Welcome Centre area has several family friendly restaurants to choose from. Inside the Welcome Centre there is also a check in area, an information are for signing kids up to do ski lessons, an Outfitters store for all the things you might have forgotten to pack and a Country Store for food and coffee.
For the little people there’s a rideshare program that made us chuckle. Basically everything that might make your life easier while traveling as a parent has been thought of here at Smugglers’ Notch.
Family Fun Zone is a space with numerous fun bouncy castle and bouncy house kinds of things for children to climb on and play in. We spent a little bit of time here but our kids are older and active and they really mostly wanted to be kept busy doing activities like snowshoeing, tubing, Cat Trax and skiing.
As for Ski University and Snow Sports University I was blown away by the calibre of instructors here. The girls both signed up for ski school and did numerous lessons. Lunch is included and kids return to a meeting area indoors with adult supervision then they go back out skiing or snowboarding again and in the afternoons there were science shows, magic shows and various fun activities for kids of all ages.
Both of our girls enjoyed their lessons immensely every day with Martha. In the afternoons they went skiing again and then they took part in the magic shows and other activities the ski school put on for the kids each day. There was a science show one day and so many fun things offered after skiing for the kids. They were also well fed. We popped in a couple of times to check in on the kids and there was always a salad option offered with the kid’s buffet style lunch.
Traveler Tip: Drop your child’s boots or shoes off there also in the morning if they don’t want to spend all afternoon walking around in ski boots after their lessons are done.
Do you see that band around Ainsley’s leg? That was one of the coolest things I have ever seen at a ski hill. Basically that’s a GPS. It’s called Flaik. So after your child checks in each morning they assign a number and a GPS tracker to each little skier or snowboarder. That GPS tracks all of the runs and the distance that they covered. It also told you the speeds they were travelling at and so forth. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed seeing that every single night. I screamed a couple of times: “What? You skied for five and a half hours? That is awesome!!” Another reason this is one of the best family ski resorts you will find. When you pick your little ones up and leave for the day to put your feet up back in your condominium or apartment unit, you will get an email from Smugglers’ Notch.
The email says –
Thanks for taking a Morse Alpine Camp lesson today @ Smugglers’ Notch Resort.
Click Re-Live Your Day to see the 5 trails and 4 downhill runs that you completed.
If you could also complete the brief survey on the lesson and your experience at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, it would be greatly appreciated.
This is like the best pedometer/ GPS ever!! I wished I’d had one on my leg to show all my exercise too. Amazing!!
The adult ski lessons were every bit as worth it as the children’s ski school. I had a truly wonderful instructor and so did my husband Jim. We were split up, which worked well for me. I was paired with Glen and Jim had Randy. Randy was able to push Jim a bit because Jim has more experience at this than I do. Glen was extremely patient and smart at the business of calming height phobic ladies like me down when getting on the lift. He read me pretty well and as a result I felt calmer challenging myself. Honestly I lucked out there! He kept me talking on the lift (which is my least favourite part of skiing) I am afraid of heights but I really am trying hard to get over that because I enjoy skiing that much and because 45 years is long enough to be afraid of heights. Anyways, one thing I found interesting about these instructors is that every time I asked: Where do you ski when you aren’t working? They would respond with BC. This year especially American tourists are finding Canadian travel worth their money. The Canadian dollar has been low for months.
When we arrived in Vermont, none of us had been out on skis yet this season because we just haven’t had any snow at home to make skiing work. So it was our first time back on skis. We learned how to ski just in March of 2015 so we haven’t even been skiing for one year yet. My stops and turns were super rusty. But they improved a lot and honestly getting to do Garden Path and Meadowlark runs confidently with support from Glen was fantastic and more progress than I might have hoped for. By the end of our three lessons together I felt good about taking the lift, jumping off, balancing (I often fall on my butt during that part) and skiing down the challenging (for me) Morse Mountain with Jim.
Skiing is a gift to all of us as a family so I really appreciated the instructors help growing my confidence and my skills. Take a lesson because there’s always something new to learn or practice. The instructors are all super friendly. (Even my youngest daughter commented on that.) I get frustrated easily when my body or my head doesn’t obey what I am telling myself to do as I am learning a new skill like fixing my turns, but each time that I would curse in my head and stop myself, Glen helped me focus again. Randy also kept reminding Jim that he hadn’t even been skiing yet this season so he was doing really well. I loved that supportive atmosphere.
For families, a key feature of Smugglers’ Notch also is Treasures Nursery. Treasures, is a licensed child care centre, and it puts this resort head and shoulders into the best family ski resorts category. Treasures Nursery is located just off the ski hill at the base of Morse Mountain just near the lower Morse liftline. Treasures is a great day care space to leave your children ages newborn to 3 years old. My oldest daughter and I toured the facility one afternoon. It’s spacious, clean and the ratio is 4 to 1. In the baby area, the ratio is 3 to 1. Treasures can also recommend some of their caregivers for night time babysitting, if you call in advance.
Traveler Tip: If you think you are headed to Smugglers’ Notch and might need care for an infant or toddler under 3 you should call and advise the resort at least 1-2 weeks before you arrive. They can arrange care with less time but the more notice the better.
Connect with Treasures as soon as you book your stay. Planning can make a difference so that staff is always available for your stay.
Treasures was super easy to access and extremely secure. No runners escaping here. There’s a trail that leads to one of the back doors. SO, think about that…you could ski for a couple hours if you wanted and then ski into Treasures, breastfeed and ski out again knowing that your baby is well cared for and you are also having some fun.
There is a covered porch area for the summer months as well. The views are lovely and there’s a tiny mini magic carpet for the tots who are ready to start getting familiar with the concept of skiing. Every single day the kids go outside to get exercise. I LOVE that as a parent. I want my kids outside as much as possible. Dress them warmly and they get as much activity as you do. There are dozens of miniature skis, boots and helmets ready for those who are beginning too.
One of the lovely ladies working there told me she had been working at Treasures for so long that she was now often caring for the children of the kids that she started out watching 25 to 30 years ago. To me little things like that speak to how highly families think of this ski resort.
My 14-year-old was thrilled to be able to tour Treasures with me. The infant room was buzzing with babies waking from naps and the cutest little gal who did her best to try and crawl out the door when we walked in. Little did she know there were another three or four doors past that before she could get to a ski hill. There is an observation window and a schedule posted for every room. I heard several parents say they loved being able to check in by phone or in person. Kids are grouped according to ages. The kitchen is also super clean and allergen-free. After touring Treasures I was kicking myself for not learning to ski when the kids were younger and not even knowing about this gem in Vermont.
The Smugglers’ Notch Resort schedule is as busy as any cruise line I have ever been on. There’s pretty much something going on at any hour of the day for families. One afternoon after skiing we picked up the kids and raced over to the Nordic Centre and did the cider walk, basically a big hike through the Vermont Woods on showshoes. The one we did lasted just over an hour and then that was followed by apple cider in the centre at the end. There’s normally a skating rink and rental skates right nearby as well. But the week we were there the temperatures were mild and the rink was not yet open. Some cross country activities were not open yet either. They had been open at Christmas and then El Nino weather patterns meant the frozen ground thawed too much for either of those sports. They are now open for the rest of the season though.
One night we also did the I-DID-A-Sled event. Many of these things are included and you can check the schedule outside the Welcome Centre every day as well in the event that you lose your activity schedule. There’s a fire and hot chocolate at the base of the hill every afternoon just around 4:30 when skiers start to come in off the slopes.
Basically the I-Did-a-sled was a family activity that was free where teams each competed to build a sled that would then be raced down Sir Henry’s Learning area practice hill. I thought ours was pretty great but it stalled after the first couple of bumps.
BEST Family Ski Resorts – Smugglers’ Notch
Smugglers’ Notch Facts at a Glance:
Canadian money at par which essentially means Canadians save 30 % off the cost of a family vacation here.
6 progression parks
3 big mountains – Madonna, Morse and Sterling
2610 feet vertical rise
The only triple black diamond in the east
Roughly 300 inches or 25 feet annual snowfall
We were guests of Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont. Stay tuned for more stories from our stay at Smuggs. Next up – Cat Trax.. And more about where we stayed…We loved every minute of being Smugglers and we hope to return because the staff were so great.