cat trax express
active family travel,  Travel

Riding The Cat Trax Express Up Madonna Mountain at Smugglers’ Notch

We are climbing up the side of Madonna Mountain. It feels like we are hanging pretty much vertically inside the cabin of a decommissioned trail groomer, defying gravity. My brain tells me this is impossible, but I am willing to give it a try.

The kids are vibrating with anticipation. Fingers crossed, I am hoping that this ride rewards me with the most spectacular view at the top of the mountain. I plan to try to capture some of the Cat Trax evening Upper Mountain Tour experience in pictures that will last me long after we have left Smugglers’ Notch family ski resort, Vermont.


Riding The Cat Trax Express

The Cat Trax Express ride is hands down one of the coolest family excursions we’ve done together in a longtime. We booked this the second we saw it in the activities calendar for Smugglers’ Notch resort, or the RIG, as they call it at the resort. The Resort Information Guide (RIG) should be your family activity guidebook for your stay.

Traveler Tip: Refer to your RIG often to see what activities are happening at what time throughout the resort.

Prowl the mountain in a Cat Trax Express? Let me think…um…yes. This is a ride I have not yet encountered on any of our other trips. So Smugglers’ Notch seemed like a great chance to give it a try. There are many fun family activities to do here for kids of all ages. You can’t help but find a little something for everyone. Cider walks, tubing, air boarding, snowshoe walks, Kid’s Night Out, pirate dinners, and fun family competitions like I-Did-A-Sled are all part of the adventure here.

Cat trax Express Ride

The Scoop About Cat Trax Express

Twice a week the Cat Trax Express climbs vertically up the mountain all the way to the very top. It’s a heated ride up the side of the mountain. There is room for 12 inside the cab. The Cat Trax Express is relatively new at Smuggs. It took its inaugural trip around 2014.

Cat Trax Express

After a quick dinner we grabbed a resort shuttle from our room in Kestrel 1. We advise the driver we are heading to Madonna and Sterling Base Lodge. A short drive up hill and we have arrived at the base. The weather has cooled off significantly and we are expecting snow. There is a group already waiting with a tour guide outside the Lodge. A quick introduction and we all climb into the back of the Cat Trax Express.

We are in relatively warm seats. We do a round of introductions. What brings you to Smugglers’ Notch? Have you been here before? Where are you from? We are all getting comfortable  when the kids are asked by the driver if they want to ride right up front. Both of our girls are ecstatic to have front row seats beside the driver. They have one of the best views on the trip up.

cat trax express

There are 12 of us seated inside the cab. My family and an entire extended family from Long Island. Long time skiers, they’ve been up Mount Madonna before and are able to identify all the drops and pitches as we climb the face of the mountain. We are creeping slowly up the highest one of the three mountains that make up Smugglers’ Notch family ski resort, Vermont. But the side of the mountain is steep and narrow at certain parts.

It’s been a rainy, icy weather system since we arrived. There’s enough snow to make this work but there’s a lot of ice right on top of the snow. It makes walking treacherous, so I can hardly imagine how a vehicle this size can physically be traveling up a mountain.


First Trax?

The Cat Trax Express ride runs a Saturday morning First Trax excursion too. You can bring your gear and leave with the Cat Trax driver before the sun rises over the stunning Vermont mountains, and then have first crack at first tracks on Madonna Mountain. You must be at least six years old. There are some excellent black diamonds, double black diamonds and even one triple black diamond run on Madonna. The triple black diamond called Black Hole has some serious swagger.

Our Trip UpHill

Tonight though we are doing the trip up and down inside the Cat Trax Express. We are in fact exhausted from our day spent skiing and couldn’t make it down Madonna on skis if we tried right now. One day soon I will make it to first tracks somewhere. Skiing has given me a new appreciation for snow. There are a zillion different types of snow and you get to know them every time you go out because skiers pay attention to things like that. Each type of snow feels different underneath your skis. I’ve never really given snow that much thought. Now I admire how magical this force of nature really is. Every snowflake is different as is every run down the mountains or trails.

cat trax express


Are We There Yet?

The journey up the mountain takes about 45 minutes and every time we turn a curve or pass by a beautiful forested area I think this is as far as we will go. This must be the top of the mountain. I think that at least half a dozen times and still the Cat Trax Express keeps chugging through, one corner after the next.

The View From The Top

Finally at the top of Madonna Mountain, the tallest of the trio of Smuggler’s Notch mountains we stop to look around and take pictures. The 360 degree view from the top of Madonna is stunning. Below is Quebec. On a clear night you can see straight through to Montreal. Tonight is a clear night. If you look closely, you can see Montreal lights just past the horizon. The sunset is magical shades of pink, purple and the deepest greyish blue ombre.

cat tax ride

The view alone is worth the trip to the top. Skiing down this stunning mountain must be magnificent. I tell myself that if I practice for the next five years I might improve enough to return just to tackle Madonna in the morning for First Trax. My instructor for our stay at Smuggs would say: It’s simple. If you want to be great at this sport you have to move to Vermont and ski every day. I consider his words and weigh them carefully. It is tempting.



Do This Once at Least

The Cat Trax Express Ride is something everyone should try at least once if they visit Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch. Children are able to do this ride as long as they are over the age of 6. Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

The Times and Details

On Thursday nights there is a TOP of Morse Cat Trax Express fireworks show. The price is the same and so are many of the details but the meeting spot is Morse Mountain and you need to book in advance. Weather permitting. The Cat Trax Express runs night time trips Monday and Thursday each week. Saturday mornings there’s first tracks that leaves at 7 a.m. and then Saturday night and Monday night there are early evening night tours.

We took the night tour. It departs at 4:30. Don’t be late!

Traveler Tip: Wear all your warm clothing. At the top of Madonna Mountain it is excruciatingly cold. I could barely take pictures my hands were so cold.

The Cat Trax Express is extra and will cost about $49 each. Book through the Guest Service Desk. Many programs at Smuggs require pre-registration. Be safe and check so you don’t miss any of the fun.

Stay tuned for more about Smuggs. We loved every minute of being at Smugglers and we hope to return because the staff were so great. You can read my Overview of Smugglers’ Notch and why I agree that it is one of the best family ski resorts in the US and Canada.

If you are a beginner it wouldn’t hurt to read this one as well Five Ski Gear Tips.

Smugglers’ Notch is also on TwitterInstagram and Facebook. Follow hashtag #SMUGGS or #SMUGGSLOVE to read up on current conditions if you plan to go.

We were media guests recently at Smugglers’ Notch and received accommodations, lift tickets, admission to extra excursions such as this one and some other perks. My opinion is all my own. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and look forward to returning one day. 

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.