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In the heat of the summer my nine-year-old daughter Bella and I had recurring sunblock application wars — a process not unlike spreading acid on a shaved cat. After months of struggle I knew it was time to go play in the snow.
Enter Vermont’s high-octane activity campus, Smuggler’s Notch. Here’s some advice for changing a reluctant kid’s outlook about her dad; all it takes are the mountains and a few other magic ingredients.
Smugglers’ Notch (Smuggs) is a legendary ski resort in Northern Vermont. This self-contained walkable mountain village is continuously rated one of the top ski areas in the US — add being famously kid-friendly and you have a winning combo. It also helps to give an apartment-dwelling city kid her own big room.
Our homey two-bedroom condo had a large living room with a fireplace and every amenity required to make taking off your ski boots the top challenge. Children also have space on the slopes, numerous activity areas from an indoor playground to ice skating, instructional camps dedicated to young skiers and riders age three and older, and kid-friendly dining choices. And there’s no shortage of hardcore trail options for extreme skiers and snowboarders—two of the resort’s three mountains have a mix of black diamond trails and acres of glades to explore.
It didn’t take long for Bella to get in the groove here. Every evening there is an option to go tubing-sledding on an inflated inner tube. Just grab a tube and go; a moving walkway brings you back up the hillside making repeated runs a cinch. Kids get braver with each run, as the guides help them launch with options to spin, ride belly-first, and let their imaginations run wild.
On the same slope, every Tuesday night features “I-Did-A-Sled,” where families and friends build their own sleds from provided supplies and then race them (unoccupied) down a hill where collisions are frequent and fun. Everyone’s a winner with prizes given for creative construction, biggest crash, and other categories.
This is just one of the nightly activities included for families visiting Smugglers’, who can fill their other evenings with karaoke, bingo, and inflated air-board sledding.
Bella can sing all day long as she demonstrated at the outdoor skating rink at Smuggs. With five-dollar skate rentals, the rink has a local community feel. Skaters and hockey kids sometimes share the ice. Bella loved it here and volunteered to clear the rapidly falling snow—all the while belting out some of her original songs.
A few steps away, the Fun Zone is an inflated-roof playground with inflated obstacle courses, carnival-style games, air hockey, shuffleboard, ping pong, and dozens of other activities to make kid ecstasy certain. Also nearby, an indoor pool is flanked by two huge Jacuzzis where adults can chill out.
All parents know that it can be very dangerous to share all of the entertainment options at hand for your children—it’s often better just to pick one for them. Over the hillside, ArborTrek offers a year-round zipline canopy tour and treetop obstacle course. The wintertime option means no or short waiting times to descend the hillside on ziplines, suspension bridges, and rappels amid maples, hemlocks, and birches.
Bella, 70-pounds in her winter gear, was too light to zip all the way from tree to tree on two runs, but easily thrust herself hand-over-hand to close 10-foot gaps. To give her a feel for full speed, on two other runs she delighted in riding tandem with a guide.
For skiers and snowboarders, Smugglers’ three interconnected mountains offer northern Vermont’s biggest vertical drop at 2,610 feet. There are 78 trails for all levels of ability on 1,000 acres. Varied terrain includes wooded glades, gentle novice slopes, groomed cruisers, bump runs, and steeps like the East’s only triple black diamond, the Black Hole.
Fearless Bella sampled slopes in every category. And though she didn’t take a lesson, the resort’s Snow Sport University expertly instructs children ages 3 to 17 and adults in alpine skiing, telemark skiing, and snowboarding. Children’s camps, group lessons, and private instruction are all available, plus specialty programs for adults, teens, and women. Cross-country skiing instruction and guided snowshoe treks are also available.
Smuggs in the winter is about unbridled freedom and snow joy for kids—and their parents. And they clearly want you back. Although the onsite Ben & Jerry’s shop is pricey, there are no other typical resort sucker-punches here. Restaurant prices are more than fair, and items at the centrally located country store are on par with the world outside. In contrast to other resorts I’ve visited, where you get the sense that a price-gouging one-and-done is the goal, when you wave goodbye to Smuggs, it’s clearly meant only to be bye for now.
For more information visit www.smuggs.com.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Bruce Northam except where noted.
Bruce Northam is the award-winning journalist and author of The Directions to Happiness: A 135-Country Quest for Life Lessons, Globetrotter Dogma, In Search of Adventure, and The Frugal Globetrotter. He also created “American Detour,” a show revealing the travel writer’s journey. His keynote speech, Directions to Your Destination, reveals the many shades of the travel industry and how to entice travelers. Northam’s other live presentation, Street Anthropology, is an ode to freestyle wandering. Visit AmericanDetour.com.
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