It was a bluebird spring day in Vermont — the kind that New England skiers live for. The air had a chill to it, but the sun’s reflection off the remaining snow added a warmth enough to keep any skier or rider out all day.
It was 2002, and Mike Chait had made the 45-minute drive to check out Smugglers’ Notch Resort for the first time. He and a few friends had minimal expectations — it was one of the last resorts still open in the state, and they wanted to get in a few more turns before putting on that summer layer of wax. But as they sat around in the upper parking lot, taking a breather between runs, an unfamiliar-to-them scene unfolded.
“This Winnebago pulled up,” recalls Chait, the resort’s current public relations director. “And all of a sudden these guys started unloading like it’s a clown car. One guy had a washboard, another had a banjo and another had an upright bass. They all piled out and just started playing music.”
Chait and his friends watched in amazement as this mystery band performed in a parking lot to a few dozen people for 15 minutes before packing it up, never to be seen again. “It was such a unique experience for us. But everyone around me was treating it like just another day.”
As Chait would learn over the years, it truly was just another day in Lot 1 at Smuggs.
To say that Smugglers’ Notch has the wildest aprés scene in Vermont would be quite the overstatement. At ski area bars and nightclubs at resorts like Killington and Stowe, a day of skiing often is capped off by a late night of partying, dancing and drinking. Skiers and riders travel to these resorts for their parties, bars and restaurants arguably as much as for their terrain. But at Smuggs, a non-traditional kind of aprés scene prevails.
On any given weekend in Lot 1, which is conveniently located at the base of Sterling Mountain, the atmosphere is lively and filled with stoke. Sounds of reggae, hip-hop and jam bands can be heard from one end of the lot to the other. Locals celebrate their love of skiing with tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and savory burgers cooked on tailgate grills.
“It’s not about getting wasted,” says Chait. “It’s about seeing friends, reminiscing about great turns, sharing stories from the mountain and watching the sun go down behind the ridge — that’s the priority.”
Since the resort’s inception in 1956, Smugglers’ Notch has continued to grow, eventually making a name for itself primarily as a family-focused resort. But in recent years, “America’s Family Resort” has begun to unveil its other, lesser-known side.
“The scene is unique because Smuggs is known for being a family resort,” says Matt McCawley, who coaches the Smugglers’ Notch Freeski Team and has been frequenting Lot 1 for 20 years. “It’s their kids programs and ski lessons that create the image of Smuggs. But on the opposite side is this incredible local crew and this fun parking lot. Not to mention the skiing and terrain is pretty aggressive. It’s like two opposite sides of the spectrum all in the same spot.”
And while they might be opposite, both sides of this spectrum share a common goal of being outside, sliding down a snow-covered slope and having fun. In fact, the family-focused “weekend warriors,” as they are often referred to by locals, are beginning to discover this less-traditional aprés scene.
As the resort’s bus transports these destination guests from their condos at the base village to the lift, they can’t help but notice what’s going on at Lot 1. More frequently, these guests who previously might have headed straight back to their condos or to one of the few bars in town are discovering this scene, and incorporating themselves into it. Two worlds — the kinko glove-wearing skier who already has 50 days despite the resort having only been open for 45, and the dad who is getting his one weekend of the year on snow — are becoming one, sharing stories and experiences.
And the resort recognizes the importance of these shared experiences and the coming together of contrasting worlds. In the spring, Smuggs hosts an official Chillin’ and Grillin’ Tailgate party in Lot 1 that coincides with a pond skim. During the party, Sierra Nevada hosts a parking lot beer garden, the grills are out in full force and ridiculous costumes are everywhere.
While the parking lot aprés scene does ramp up as the days get warmer, the lot often is filled with energy, food and friends even on the coldest of days. According to McCawley, if you want to take part in this unique scene, it’s best to get there early — before the lifts start spinning. And if you park on the left side of the lot, you might even find yourself basking in the last bit of sunlight at the end of the day.
Regardless of whether you only get out a few times a year, or if you were making turns during the first frost of the season, the Smuggs parking lot aprés scene is an experience unrivaled by some of the more traditional scenes in Vermont’s surrounding resorts.
“The aprés scene isn’t what it used to be,” says Chait. “People are honing in to the value of camaraderie on the mountain. The concept of ‘no friends on a pow day’ is shifted to ‘know friends on a pow day.’ At Smuggs it’s so apparent.