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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Twitter, Instagram 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.
Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle
That looks like so much fun! I would love to do this with the family We live in Georgia, so we don’t get to do very much with snow.
Stacie: I love Atlanta! I would be happy to live there.
What an awesome adventure! This looks like something my girls and I would love to do! Looks like you guys had a great time.
Robin (Masshole Mommy)
That sounds like a fun experience. We love skiing there 🙂
I would love to do that with my family. What a fun experience for everybody there. And you get to see your beautiful view from the top.
This is something I would love to experience. Up in the mountains, the sunrise and sunset views would have been stunning! I’d have to do Cat Trax experience if and when we are in Vermont in the winter time.
It is lovely and I think you would really enjoy it!
Looks like you guys had an awesome day. I want to go to the Snowy places
What a fun adventure. I will keep this in mind when I get the chance to visit Vermont.
How fun! Bet the view from up there was amazing! I would love for us to experience something like that. Soooon! 🙂
Vermont looks beautiful! Love to see such fresh, beautiful snow!
It looks so cold over there but it looks like a very beautiful place to spend some time with family. You sure look like you had a wonderful time!
Wow – that is pretty awesome! I would like to give the cat tax express a try! I love Vermont. It is so beautiful!
Whata great experience for your family! Looking down from up top must have felt so good.
I can’t believe I haven’t heard about this before. You all look like you’re having a heckuva great time up there! I’m not one for snow, but seeing this, I could be convinced!
This looks like a lot of fun. I would love to take a family winter vacation and see snow for the first time.
What a wonderful experience to share with your kids. It sounds like you had a great time! Looks like you had gorgeous scenery!
Kelli @ 3 Boys and a Dog
It looks like everyone had a wonderful time and could not stop smiling! We will definitely have to keep this destination in mind if we are ever in the Vermont area! It looks like so much fun!
This looks a cool ride up a mountain!! I would love to go skiing one day!!
This looks like it was a great way to spend the day. I would love to go to Madonna Mountain with the kids.
Seattle Travel Blogger
This looks like it was a fun trip for your family.
That Cat Trax alone seems like a lot of fun!
That’s an incredible view. Taking the Cat Trax Express up sounds like such an exciting experience!
Omg what a cool experience!!! This must of been a total blast. I need to do this!
What an amazing and adventurous experience! IT would be amazing to go with my family too and sounds like such an interesting place to visit!
VERY creative name for a mountain – but it looks like you guys had a BLAST!
What a beautiful vantage point from the top! You got some great photos that really capture how much fun you had!
We live close to the mountains but I have never seen one of those. It looks like a lot of fun. Glad you had a chance to experience that with your family.
That looks like a lot of fun. I wouldn’t mind doing something like that with my family.
Cat Trux Express seems to be a great mode of transportation. I want to go up to Madonna Mountain someday.
That looks like so much fun. I wish that was closer so we could visit. What a great time with family.
That looks so fun. I would love to do this with my family.
wow.. such an amazing place and adventurous. I would like to bring my kids to visit this place
Wow this sounds like so much fun! I would love to take my wife some day. I know my wife would love to live closer to the mountains.
This looks like tons of fun. Something I’d love to do with my family for sure. I wish we drove, so we could do something like this this winter!
That sounds like a lot of fun, especially fun to do with the kids. I need to check that out for our next family vacation.
I like that the ride is heated. I don’t do so great in the cold. 😉
Kristen from the road to DOmestication
How fun that looks!!! We’ve been talking about going to a ski resort for some time now; this looks like a great one!
This looks completely amazing! I’m not a fan of cold weather so I’ve never even been to a ski resort. I’ll take the beach any day )
I have never tried skiing before, but it looks and sounds like a wonderful experience! I just don’t think I’m not that adventurous enough. 🙂
I have never seen snow before so this is all so exciting to see! I would love to visit and try skiing!
Sounds like it was super memorable! I believe my kids would love an adventure like that too!
Wow. This looks amazing. My family has done some cool things on our trips and this looks like another one that we would enjoy! The view is certainly amazing.
This would be so much fun. Cold, but fun.
That is so cool! I would love to ride in one of those. Thanks for the info!
My family would truly enjoy this! We have been on gondolas before but this looks like fun!
This sounds like a really wonderful excursion. I’ve never been to Montana before but would love to go there some day. Thanks for posting!
this looks like a lot of fun
This sounds like an amazing activity.
Thanks for sharing. I am not a skier but have family members that are and they would have so much fun at Smugglers notch.
I wish I was there, but then again, every minute I’m not snowboarding, I wish I was lol looks like a great day there, I’m going to have to check it out some day soon
Oh my goodness, the view from the top must have been out of this world! Here in Ireland, we really don’t get snow much (the last decent snow was in January/February 2010 and the country ground to a halt!), but we’ve got lots of water!
Kate: It really was spectacular! I am planning to get to Ireland one day to see that for myself!
That looks like a great experience and so much fun!! I really like snow, but we don’t get very much here where I live!!
Omgosh how fun!! Coolest mode of transport Ive ever seen!! Just amazing!! Sounds like you had so much fun!!
OH wow, this looks crazy! I don’t think I’d be brave enough to do it!
What a fun family experience! The perfect way to overcome the winter blahs!
I love getting to the top of mountains to be able to look around. This would be a fun way to get to the top.
Looks so much fun.
Wow that looks so fun! great winter activity!
i’ve never really wanted to ski but i’ve alwayas wanted to do something like this.
WOW, looks like an AWESOME adventure. I would love this, will have to try one day.
Ive only tried skiing a couple of times and did more falling down. But it was so much fun and you guys look like you had a ball of a time 🙂
I have always wanted to visit Smugglers’ Notch. The Cat Trax Express looks like fun.
What a great experience and family adventure! It looks like you all really had a good time, and I met the views were amazing.
That looks like a ton of fun! It’s great to get the family outside in the winter!
Hi! So cool, look at their faces, they look very happy, I’ve never seen the snow but I hope to go to the mountains someday (I live in the city).
Our family loves to ski and we usually head to Utah every winter. It is a great bonding time for families and you burn so many calories! It looks fun so I am sure you will do this again.
This looks like a blast! The pictures are awesome 🙂
What a fun experience that would be. Beautiful place too. Love the hats!
Never been skiing but it looks fun 🙂
Looks like you guys had a blast here thanks for sharing as I had never heard of this place before.
It looks like a very fun time. I would love to vacation here.