As the story goes, a guest spending some vacation time at Smugglers’ Notch Resort a few years back ran into an issue while trying to get some work accomplished.
The guest arrived having forgotten a specific power adapter for his laptop, leaving him without the means to finish the tasks he’d laid out before navigating the trails out at Madonna, Sterling and Morse mountains. And seeing as the closest Best Buy lays 45 minutes away, and it being the sort of equipment not readily available at the resort or any nearby outlet, well, that sprung Smugglers’ Notch personnel into action.
One employee who lived close to the Best Buy in question proposed that he could swing by the electronics store to purchase the item in need, and deliver it to the guest’s room as early as needed the following morning.
Situation solved. Work finished. Pow slayed.
Just one, small issue. “While we don’t normally recommend that people try to work while they’re on vacation, we’re going to do everything we can to accommodate,” said resort spokesperson Mike Chait.
Sense of humor aside though, it’s that elite sort of out-of-the-way approach that Smugglers’ Notch has strived to become.
“We try to stress to our staff here that if a guest has a problem, it’s not just our job to offer suggestions on how to solve it, but it’s our job to go and solve it for them.”
It’s that sort of commitment that resulted with an honor this season that the folks at Smugglers’ had been hoping to achieve. In its annual reader survey, Ski Magazine named the resort the top spot for service in the East, a distinction for which Smuggs had been striving.
“We set a five-year goal,” Chait said. “We really wanted to be recognized by that survey for our level of service, and we hit it in year number two. That was a great honor. We really work hard to take care of our guests and to provide them with excellent customer service in all experiences possible.”
While the resort has a certain expectation for service from its staff, the “Guest of One” program has helped hammer that message. Think of it as an employee of the month award, but more focused on the actual service experience a resort employee might bestow upon a guest.
“So, it’s not somebody who’s just a great employee,” Chait said, “but instead it’s somebody who has really taken steps to go out of their way and solve a problem for a guest or to extend a level of service that goes far beyond our expectations.”
Even if it’s working on vacation.
In its writeup as No. 1, Ski Magazine writes, “The staff at the resort go above and beyond to make your vacation the best. They couldn’t be better — whether it’s finding a babysitter for New Year’s Eve, mailing a child’s lost stuffed animal to your home or arranging an in-suite massage for your wife — they treat you like family!”
Pretty big deal for one of Vermont’s most beloved ski destinations. But it’s not like the accolades stopped there.
Naturally, Smugglers’ Notch also received the nod from Ski Magazine readers as the best kid-friendly resort in the East, an honor that it has owned since the category’s inception in 2014. Prior to the creation of that award category, Smugglers’ had swept the No. 1 spot for family programs for more than a decade. “America’s Family Resort” has become known as such due to Smugglers’ dedication to children programs, variety for other members of the family, and a commitment to community and activity.
All that inevitably led to the “big fish” from Ski Magazine readers this year — being named the No. 1 resort in the East.
Smuggler’s Notch? The resort that caters to kids? With no high-speed chairlifts?
No. 1? Yup.
“Obviously, there’s a time and a place for conveying each message,” Chait said. “With how much we’ve pushed the family-friendly element of Smugglers’, oftentimes the caliber of the mountain itself from a skier’s standpoint kind of falls in that shadow.”
That’s essentially the way that Ski Magazine begins its defense of Smuggs landing the top spot (with a specific nod to Stowe snobs for their likely denial of such matters). But editors make perfect sense of the landing seeing the resort’s hierarchy in terms of being family-friendly, the level of service the staff provides, the skiing and riding value, and, perhaps surprising to some, the gnarly terrain that awaits for the more adventurous making their way in the family truckster.
That’s the trick involved at Smugglers’ Notch; Being the ultimate familyfriendly resort on the East Coast doesn’t mean it’s all magic carpets, mascots and chicken finger specials for dinner. On the contrary, the mountains at Smugglers’ Notch have some of the most serious bite in all of the Green Mountain State.
Madonna Mountain is renowned for its bump-filled landscape, one that Ski Magazine notes is “as steep as anything in the country” in many spots. As if to better convey that point, readers ranked it No. 4 in Ski Magazine’s list of the top 10 challenging mountains in the East, just behind Mad River Glen, Jay Peak and Sugarloaf, all of whom have long carried reputations of being challenging skier paradises.
“Being a family-friendly resort doesn’t just mean mellow, easy terrain,” Chait said. “It also means terrain that can suit every member of the family. You can’t forget Uncle Ernie and his crazy eye for the steepest glades on the mountain. Uncle Ernie is part of the family, too.”
In all, Smugglers’ Notch placed in the top 10 for nine of the 10 award categories in the annual issue, spanning from service and terrain to dining and après. As for the lack of a single high-speed chairlift? Well, to be frank, you’re going to need the extra time to rest your legs in between runs in the trees anyway.
“Everybody in the family isn’t looking for the same experience. Therefore, to be diversified in terrain allows us to hit everybody’s desires on the hill,” Chait said. “So, we want to make sure that everybody gets a chance to experience what they want to experience at Smugglers’, whether it’s long, beginner or intermediate cruiser runs on groomers or it’s mandatory airs and steep turns down the Madonna lift line.”
As if to further prove the point about the tenacity of the terrain on Madonna, March brings with it the extreme skiing challenge, hosted by the Smugglers’ Notch Ski and Snowboard Club, a challenge for competitors on the ungroomed, steep filled with cliffs, bumps, trees, chutes and stumps.
Yeah, it’s not exactly a section of the resort where you can expect to find furry mascots Mogul Mouse and Billy Bob Bear.
“People come from far and near to compete in that one, and the level of skiing is unbelievable,” Chait said of the event, held right beneath the Madonna chairlift. “Even if you’re just looking to ski blue terrain, you can ride that chair and see some of the best just sending off these cliffs and handling the short-radius, tight little turns.”
It’s even been an extreme season in the amount of snow Smugglers’ has received this season, beginning last month with a tidy 2-3 feet in advance of local school vacation periods.
“All of the natural snow aside, it’s been a fantastic season for snowmaking,” Chait said. “Every time those guys have fired up, it’s been nice and cold, nice and dry. The snow they put down is bountiful, that’s for sure.”
The January thaw that affected most ski areas in the Northeast didn’t spare Smugglers’ Notch, but as Chait said, though it might have affected overall base depths, it also “caused a lot of snow to compact and form a really dense layer of a base over the rocks and any debris underneath the surface.”
And so, as spring skiing awaits, Smugglers’ Notch is in perfect shape.
“In terms of corn snow and spring skiing, we’re set up for some good stuff,” Chait said.
Now, how’s that for service?
What else to do
The fun doesn’t stop on the slopes at Smugglers’ Notch. The new 26,000-squarefoot Funzone 2.0 Family Fun Complex opened its doors recently, with vast amounts of play space for children and adults to take part in some laser tag, an obstacle course or slot car rally races.
Take a snowcat tour to the top of the mountain and catch the resort’s Thursday night fireworks from a whole different angle. On Mondays and Saturdays, take an evening tour to the top of the mountain, guided by experienced snowcat drivers. On Tuesday evenings, adults can find an opportunity to escape on their own tour of the mountain with the snowshoe adventure dinner, where guests will ride the Sterling lift to a mountain cabin lit only by candles featuring a gourmet meal, followed by a 40-minute snowshoe back down to the lodge.
Tubing is available daily, as are snowmobile tours and zipline canopy tours. As if that’s all not enough, Smugglers’ features a steady calendar of events throughout the week for families from karaoke to bingo, while adults can find nights catered only to them in the likes of Bootleggers’ Lounge.
Also happening in March, the Maple Sugar Festival at Boyden Valley Winery features special activities including maple syrup tastings and wine tastings. March 24-25 is officially Vermont’s celebration of the state’s maple sugaring heritage, and sugar makers will open their doors for visitors to tour and, of course, sample.
Plans also are in the works for a big bash on St. Patrick’s Day, which happens to fall on a Saturday this year.
Where to stay
As if it might be any surprise, Smugglers’ Notch also finished in the top 10 (second overall) for lodging in Ski Magazine’s latest reader survey. All condo options are within an easy walk to a resort shuttle and all village amenities. There are five different communities to choose from, with condo options up to five bedrooms. See www.smuggs.com/pages/winter/lodging/index.php for pricing and availability.
The Smugglers’ Notch Inn in Jeffersonville, originally built in 1790, has been restored into a cozy inn, fitting of the Vermont surroundings (www.smuggsinn.com). The Smugglers’ Notch Wyndham offers comfort with rustic charm, just a snowball’s toss from the slopes (www.wyndhamsmugglersnotch.com). The Sterling Ridge Resort in Jeffersonville is a majestically rustic option named among Best of New England by Yankee Magazine in 2017. This is prime for those seeking a romantic option, with each cabin coming complete with outdoor-themed furnishings, but with modern amenities that won’t make it too rustic (sterlingridgeresort.com).
Where to eat
Smugglers’ Notch boasts nine of its own eateries on properties, but in case you’re up for exploring the surrounding area, breakfast at 158 Main and Bakery features an extensive selection of breads and pies. The Broken Yoke, located at the Smugglers’ Notch Inn, features some breakfast basics, along with more indulgent options like the nutty maple-praline french toast, served with fresh fruit and whipped cream.
Grab a slice or a full pizza at either Angelina’s Pizza Restaurant and Jeffersonville Pizza Department, or at the Downtown Pizzeria in Johnson, approximately a 14-mile drive. There, you’ll also discover Wicked Wings, with a dozen different sauces — from mild to wild, and everything in between — to choose from.
Dinner at Martell’s at the Red Fox offers family-friendly dining with a late-night pub menu. Back at the Smugglers’ Notch Inn, the Village Tavern is a comfortable environment where executive chef Daniel Snow’s highlights include sautéed scallops and twin lobster tails.