Smugglers’ Notch: Vermont’s high-octane, family-friendly activity campus

Smugglers' Notch, high-octane and family-friendly Vermont escape

Smugglers’ Notch, high-octane and family-friendly Vermont escape

(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—and when you consider that it’s famously kid-friendly, you have a winning combo.

Children have room to roam 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 like a pizzeria and Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop. And there’s no shortage of hardcore trail options for extreme skiers and snowboarders, as 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 my daughter Bella (almost nine) to get into the groove here. Every evening there is an option to go tubing-sledding on an inflated inner tube. Just “grab a tube and go,” and 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.

Bella’s tactic for reclaiming Smuggs’ skating rink from invading hockey boys

Bella’s tactic for reclaiming Smuggs’ skating rink from invading hockey boys

Every Tuesday night on the same slope is what’s known as “I-Did-A-Sled,” where families and friends build their own sleds from provided supplies and then race them (unoccupied) down a hill. Collisions are frequent and fun, and prizes given for creative construction, biggest crash and other categories make everyone a winner. This activity is just one of many each night included for families visiting Smuggs, who can fill their other evenings with karaoke, bingo and inflated airboard sledding.

The outdoor skating rink (skate rentals are $5) has a local community feel, with skaters and hockey kids sometimes sharing the ice. 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, the indoor pool (outdoor in summer) is flanked by two huge Jacuzzis where the adults can chill out.

The Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop aside, there are no typical resort sucker-punches here. Restaurant prices (at Mountain Grille, etc.) are more than fair, and items at the centrally located country store are on par with the world outside this welcoming high-octane activity campus.   Supersaver pricing is available the last three weeks of the season (March 14-April 5), when package prices start at $89 per night for youths and $119 per night for adults with lodging, lift tickets and amenities like the pool and FunZone included.

On March 29 check out their annual highlighting local and regional microbrews—and there’s a kids program that night to take care of kiddies 3-11 years old if parents want to enjoy the BrewFest samples.

Bella flying at Smugglers’ Notch

Bella flying at Smugglers’ Notch

For skiers and snowboarders, Smugglers’ three interconnected mountains offer northern Vermont’s biggest vertical drop at 2610 feet and 78 trails for all levels of ability with 1000 acres of all-terrain access. 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. The resort’s expertly instructs children (3-17) and adults in alpine skiing, telemark skiing, and snowboarding. Children’s camps, group lessons and private instruction are available, specialty programs for adults, teens and women. Cross-country skiing instruction and guided snowshoe treks are also available.

Over the hillside, offers a thrilling 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. 

Bella freestyling the zipline at Smugglers' Notch

Bella freestyling the zipline at Smugglers’ Notch

Smuggs in the winter is about unbridled freedom and snow joy for kids—and their parents. The lifts run until April. But Smuggs is a four-season resort. During summer Smugglers’ offers daily camps for children ages 3-17 and specialty camps focusing on high adventure, tennis, wilderness survival skills, and skateboarding for ages 9-17. Family activities include the resort’s four-water playgrounds with water slides and pools, hiking, a treetop obstacle course, llama treks and disc golf. Many of these activities continue into the resort’s fall season, when the resort also serves as a comfortable and convenient homebase to explore the countryside and take in Vermont’s renowned foliage.

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Bruce Northam

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Bruce Northam
Bruce Northam is the author of , a 135-country quest for life lessons, and a Chicken Soup for the traveler—but with balls. Check out his alternative keynote on and follow him on .

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