Behind the scenes at Smugglers’ Notch: Holiday decor

Smugglers' Notch holiday decorHoliday decor at a vacation destination can add a very special touch to a guest’s experience. Here at Smugglers’, a beautiful inclusion in our holiday decor are the wreaths, swags and garlands that are made by resort employee Diane Oustinoff using natural ingredients from the gardens here and from her own backyard.

Diane is currently teaching skiing with Snow Sport University – this is her 28th season as an instructor. She also worked as the resort’s landscaping manager for many years, and it was in that position that her wreath-making efforts were launched.

She first began assembling the greenery for the resort’s holiday decor back in the early 90s. The resort used to put wreaths on the hallway doors to our condominium homes – not the best idea, as it turned out, as the needles made a bit of a mess. The decision was made to focus on our condominium building’s outer doors for wreath display, and after that Diane’s efforts quickly expanded throughout the resort.

Diane begins collecting items such a seed pods and flower heads as early as August and continues right through November. Over the years she has pared down her collecting to about 13 items: echinops flowers, artemesia, hydrangea blossoms, red sumac bracts, fern pods, baptisia pods, ornamental grasses, small red crabapples, red winter berries, white pine cones, and red pine cones. Some items are enhanced with a spray of gold, silver or red paint.

All these ingredients are grouped together and affixed to the wreaths, which come from a Vermont supplier. This process of assembling and hot gluing a spray of features to the wreath can take 20-30 minutes per wreath, depending on the size. The final addition is a bow made with a gold-backed burgundy ribbon. Diane makes the garlands and swags herself using balsam and Frasier fir, white pine, cedar and blue spruce. She works in her basement, which must have quite the piney scent throughout the fall!

All told, Diane assembled more than 60 wreaths, 10 swags, and 145 feet of garland for this holiday season. Prior to wreath-making season, she always keeps an eye out for potential future placement whenever she’s in the resort. Wherever the wreaths are placed, they are definitely a signature holiday touch that visitors to Smugglers’ admire and appreciate.

Learn more from “behind the scenes” – read about our specialty beverage cafe, The Perk

Ski school stories: My best day

Smugglers Notch ski lesson

Last winter we asked a few of our ski and snowboard instructors to share a story about their best day supporting a snowsports student. Their replies show that the word “lesson” really doesn’t do justice to the experience. Sure, the lesson is about learning or improving on skills, and that in itself is exciting. But their stories showed that a lesson can be about fulfillment, exploration, challenge, independence, creativity, friendship and more – all good stuff!

Here’s ski instructor Alisa Anderson’s “best day” story:

Last season I had the pleasure of working with a guest who was an avid skier at Smuggs before his stroke. His good friend Terry signed him up for an adaptive lesson in hopes of getting him back on skis. As a result of the stroke, George lost some sight and experienced some weakness on the left side. The two friends shared the goal of skiing together again; Terry really wanted to learn to guide George.

First, we needed to see if the weakness on George’s left side could be supported with use of adaptive equipment. Our next step was to assess his sight and figure out what guiding techniques would give George the independence he wanted, while keeping him and the people around him safe. Terry’s job was to watch and learn.

Once we got off the lift it all seemed to come back to George, just like riding a bike. Even though his left side was a bit weak, together with use of his right side, George was able to ski parallel. Terry was behind us cheering George on like they were boys again and George had hit a home run in a Little League game! George and I eventually had to ask Terry to be quiet so we could focus on skiing!

I started by skiing in front of George with my fluorescent green guide vest. I asked him to try and keep me in his field of vision as I moved down the slopes, and he was able to follow with little trouble.Terry was chomping at the bit to give it a try with his friend.

I love helping students gain back their independence and realize that even though many things have changed in their lives, they can still get out on the mountain and experience the thrill.

Have you had a rewarding snowsports lesson experience? Share your story in a comment!

Planning tips for your winter holiday family vacation

family ski trip

Celebrating the holidays away from home can be an exciting and memorable experience. The benefits? You’ll relax and have fun together, enjoying new experiences and creating memories, without the to-do list that typically accompanies holiday celebrations at home.

With its winter wonderland setting in the mountains of Vermont, Smugglers’ Notch Resort is a favorite destination for families over the holidays. The resort responds to many inquiries about celebrating the holidays away from home, observes Margie Preman, Smugglers’ vacation planning manager. Preman and her staff offer the following tips:

  • Make your reservation as soon as you know your family’s vacation availability. Holiday vacations are popular. Waiting until the last minute to make your arrangements may limit your options for lodging and require flexibility with your dates.
  • Plan ahead for special clothing or gear needs. Planning ahead enables you to jump right into your chosen activities upon arrival. If you intend to ski or snowboard, think about whether you want to rent equipment upon arrival or travel with your own or leased equipment. Renting equipment can take the hassle out of traveling with bulky gear. If traveling by plane and checking your luggage, consider having a carry-on suitcase with a day’s worth of clothing for each family member … just in case!
  • Travel with a few of your family’s holiday traditions. It’s nice to bring along some traditions, whether you choose to hang stockings or tote a fruitcake made from your family’s classic recipe. “Traveling with some of your traditions can help you settle into your vacation destination and make it feel familiar, which will assist young children with the transition,” notes Preman.
  • Take a look at your destination’s website for any events and activities planned for the holiday period. The holidays are typically a special time with many activities and special programs. You don’t want to miss anything!

Have a wonderful holiday vacation!

holiday family travelIf you’re looking for holiday fun, you’ll find it all through December at Smugglers’ Notch! The resort’s Holiday Magic activities are designed for young and old and include cookie decorating, craft workshops such as sock puppet making and snow art, themed family challenge races and bedtime stories with holiday elves. Santa will join children each Saturday around the village bonfire for hot chocolate and cookies. A weekly on-snow carnival features music, food, games and the thrill of watching an ice carving artisan unveil a sparkling masterpiece. Read more about Holiday Magic at Smugglers’ Notch

Tips for enjoying apple picking in Vermont

Vermont applesNothing says fall like an apple orchard outing! The season’s crisp temperatures make it a lovely time to be outdoors, and apple picking is an activity that all ages will enjoy. Fresh apples can be both a healthy snack and a central ingredient in many tasty recipes.

In Vermont, pick-your-own opportunities are offered by a number of orchards. Whether your family’s favorite is Red Delicious (the top variety in the United States) or McIntosh (the top variety in Vermont), you’ll find these traditional favorites plus many interesting antique and heirloom varieties in our small state. Crisp, juicy, tart, sweet … what’s your pleasure?

A few tips for your orchard visit:

  • Take a look at orchard websites. Orchard websites often offer specific guidance related to picking and updates on what’s available, as different varieties mature at different times. The website may also list special events or apple products like cider or donuts for sale.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Apple orchards can have uneven terrain and long grass, so sturdy shoes or boots that support your feet are a good idea. Tall socks or long pants can protect your legs from insects and rough greenery. Depending on your picking day’s weather, sunglasses and a hat might be advisable, too.
  • Think about packing a few extra items. If you plan to spend a lot of time in the orchard, bring a bottle of water and snacks or a picnic lunch. Picnics are generally welcome at orchards, just remember to pack out any trash. Hand wipes are also recommended, as restroom facilities may be limited to a seasonal portable toilet.
  • Bring a kid carrier backpack if you have a small child. They can tire easily walking from tree to tree. If you have a sturdy wagon, you could check with the orchard to see if you can bring it. Some orchards provide wagons at the entry point for their customers’ use.
  • Apple picking etiquette. Pick your apples gently with a slight twist to reduce any damage to the tree branch. If an apple drops to the ground while you’re picking, it’s fine to add that one to your bag or box as it likely has sustained little damage in its fall. Please don’t taste and toss; typically orchards are small ventures and tasting and tossing wastes their valuable produce.

Once you’ve returned home, keep your apples cool to extend their fresh flavor. Some apple lovers claim that leaving the stem on helps the apples keep longer – you could experiment for yourself and see!

It’s very easy to get caught up in the fun of picking and arrive home with lots more apples than you planned for. Lucky for you, there are many, many delicious recipes incorporating apples. Recipe developer and Vermont resident Katie Price Webster shares a few on her blog Healthy Seasonal Recipes. Don’t miss the fall-hearty Roasted Potatoes with sausage, apples and maple mustard glaze. Or make your freshly picked apples a sweet ending to your meal with Katie’s Apple Pie Ice Cream with Salted Honey Caramel Sauce.

apple pie ice cream

Happy apple picking!

Celebrate Vermont’s tradition of apple harvesting at Smugglers’ AppleFest September 23-30. 2015. AppleFest includes complimentary shuttle transportation to local orchards for pick-your-own fun, hard and sweet cider tastings from Vermont’s award-winning cidermakers, apple themed walks and more.


Behind the scenes at Smugglers’ Notch: The Perk

Specialty beverages Smugglers' Notch

Got a favorite way to start your vacation day? We’re guessing that for many travelers, relaxing with their beverage of choice while taking in their vacation surroundings is a popular opener to the day. Guests at Smugglers’ will find a full menu of special beverages at The Perk, a new café located in the resort’s Country Store. The adjacent courtyard with gardens contains plentiful seating for anyone who wants to settle in and sip.

The beverages available at The Perk are made all the more special by the inclusion of delicious products sourced from Vermont companies. The coffee is freshly ground from two types of organic beans from Mountain Grove, a roaster based in White River Junction, Vermont, and owned by a family with 25 years in the coffee business. The milk, also organic, is from Kimball Brook Farm of North Ferrisburgh. The Perk’s maple latte includes maple syrup from Underhill’s Davis Family Maple.

Don’t miss the selection of delicious goodies  – also  Vermont products, made by Sweet Crunch Bake Shop & Catering in Hyde Park. The selection will change from time to time, but you’re always likely to find quiche, scones, fruit bars, granola bars, sweet breads and muffins and cookies, including … a drum roll, please … the maple cookie that received a shout-out from tv personality and chef Rachel Ray.

With Smugglers’ focus on families, Country Store manager Melinda Sholes and Perk manager and barista Hally Glasser knew it was important to develop drinks for children. The Perk’s kids’ drinks play on the names of Smugglers’ beloved mascots Mogul Mouse and Billy Bob Bear and resort entertainer the Friendly Pirate. Kids can choose from the Mocha Mouse chocolate smoothie with vanilla yogurt, chocolate syrup, chocolate sprinkles and whipped cream, or the Billy Bob Berry smoothie with fresh berries, vanilla yogurt, whipped cream, berry drizzle and sprinkles. The Perk’s baristas will also whip up a Friendly Pirate frappe with vanilla ice cream, banana, chocolate drizzle and cookie crumbles.

Prior to The Perk’s opening this summer, Melinda and Hally put in many hours of training, in addition to menu development and “field trips” to visit other coffee bars in the area, such as the two bars at the University of Vermont. They worked closely with Dan Angelini at Mountain Grove for training, including understanding the finer points of coffee, becoming familiar with the coffee wheel of flavors, and learning the skills to grind beans and prepare a variety of beverages.

“Our grinder is Swiss made and produces a better flavor because it is a conical design grinder that is gentler on the bean,” observes Melinda. Hally adds, “We were lucky to train on our actual machine. It is extremely finely tuned; in fact, so very well tuned that we can even adjust kids’ drinks to be a bit cooler, the way kids prefer them.” While building their coffee knowledge, they learned about the craft and art of coffee and all the subtle (and not so subtle) tastes and aromas.

The cafe opens at 7:00 am and closes at 9:00 pm so that early risers as well as night owls can savor delicious beverages and snacks. Perk-fection!

Farmers’ markets are a family vacation highlight

Farmers market at Smugglers' Notch Vermont

Make a stop at a farmers’ market part of your family vacation! Shopping at farmers’ markets offers great benefits to traveling families. You’ll be purchasing fruits and vegetables at their peak flavor and nutritional value, and getting an insider’s recommendations for meal preparation with your purchase. Another benefit – there may be unique crafts or specialty foods that will keep great memories of your trip going once you’re home. Yet another benefit – markets typically have a casual atmosphere that provides a comfortable environment for kids to have fun and learn about everything from farming to nutrition.

Here in Vermont, it’s clear we love our farmers’ markets – there are more farmers’ markets per capita in our state than in any other! At Smugglers’ Notch, you can enjoy a weekly farmers’ market right in the resort courtyard on Monday mornings and the Jeffersonville farmers’ market less than 10 minutes away on Wednesday evenings. Willing to drive a bit further? There are markets in Fairfax (a 15 minute drive) and Johnson (20 minutes), too!

At Smugglers’ market this summer, stop by Davis Family Maple’s booth for maple syrup, sugar, cream and candies. Boyden Valley Winery will offer samples of their award winning wines and the Smugglers’ Notch Distillery will offer samples of their award winning spirits.  For produce, Knee Deep Farm and Valley Dream Farm, both certified organic, will have an array of fresh-from-the-field veggies and berries at the market.

Knee Deep Farm, located just over a mile down the road from Smugglers’, produces vegetables, herbs, garlic and flowers. Valley Dream Farm is located in beautiful Pleasant Valley, about 20 minutes from the resort. In addition to producing vegetables, berries, garden starter vegetables and bedding and hanging flowers, Valley Dream hosts a lovely farm-to-table dinner on Tuesday evenings on the porch of their farm stand.

At the resort’s first market on June 8, Eliza Steffens of Knee Deep Farm expects to have arugula, spinach, kale, lettuce, spring garlic, shoots, her delicious arugula pesto, and a few types of radishes. The stand will also have maple glazed buttermilk scones and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. This list highlights another benefit of farmers’ markets not identified earlier – variety!

Celebrate the beginning of farmers’ market season in Vermont by enjoying the following recipe from Knee Deep Farm

Farmers market salad

Sesame Noodles with Bok Choy & Hakurei Turnips
Package of soba or udon noodles
Baby bok choy, washed and roughly chopped
4 stems of spring garlic, chopped
4 Hakurei turnips sliced (these are also called salad turnips, and are the best choice for this recipe because they are much sweeter than purple top turnips)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
4 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspooons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons fresh herbs – Eliza at Knee Deep uses cilantro and Thai basil

Directions: Cook the noodles according to package directions.
In a large frying pan, saute the garlic in oil for a minute, then add in the turnips. Once the turnips are tender, add the bok choy and sesame seeds. Eliza adds in a little bit of the tamari at this point, too. Let this mix cook until the bok choy is just tender. In a bowl, combine the rest of the tamari, honey, rice vinegar and sesame oil and whisk together. Toss everything together in a large bowl, add the fresh herbs, and enjoy!

Family travel tips: Planning a multigenerational vacation

zipline canopy tour

The joy of a multigenerational vacation or a family reunion is the opportunity for connection among a wide range of ages and interests. Planning such a getaway does not have to be a daunting task. In fact, investing some time in thinking about three important criteria – budget, lodging and interests – will ensure that your family’s vacation kicks off without a hitch. Consider the following tips from Smugglers’ Notch Resort’s group vacations planning staff, experts at accommodating the needs of travelers from tots to grandparents.

Discuss your budget. Identify guidelines for vacation expenses, whether one person is paying for the vacation or the expenses will be split among participating families. Having a budget in hand will help guide choices for lodging and activities.

Consider family members’ needs when choosing lodging. Young children may benefit from having a quiet area for naps. Grandparents may prefer to have private space to retreat to after a busy day, or feel ground floor lodging is a “must have” for convenience and accessibility. Your family may want a common area to gather in for games or end-of-day chatter. Much to consider! But rest assured that taking into account individual needs will keep everyone happier over the course of the vacation.

Determine your family’s interests. You’ll want to select a destination that has activities for every family member. Consider whether your family members want to participate in individual activities as well as group activities, or a mix of active and quiet pursuits. Would your family like to experience something special that all ages can participate in? That could be a memorable activity like a zip line canopy tour or a special group meal that everyone gathers to enjoy.

Once you’ve outlined your budget, lodging needs and interests, let your decisions on those items be your guide to destinations that are good matches for your family. And when you’re ready to make your vacation arrangements, remember to communicate any individual requirements to the host property – for example, whether you need a rental cot or a crib. Identifying such needs ahead of time means that there’s one less thing to do when you arrive – and that’s always nice!

Vacations strengthen family ties through shared experiences and time away from daily routines. Enjoy your getaway – whether it’s a weekend or weeklong, you’ll be treasuring memories of your family time together for years to come!

10 ways to go green during family travel

Smugglers Notch Vermont family nature

Many families who visit Smugglers’ Notch Resort on vacation applaud the resort’s environmental efforts focused on animal habitat protection, trash and energy use reduction, and water conservation. Environmental stewardship is important to these visitors, who often pursue similar efforts in their homes.

And what about vacation time? No problem. Whether your family already has good green habits  or is eager to make green your new routine, you’ll find that practicing environmental responsibility on vacation is easier than you’d think. Take a look at the following tips shared by Smugglers’ environmental team:

Preparing for your vacation

  • Bring along refillable water bottles for each family member.
  • If you’ll be shopping at your destination, pack a reusable shopping bag.
  • If driving, plan your route to choose the most gas-efficient route. Many states have travel information websites that outline road closures and construction. Checking out these sites will help you reduce gas-guzzling backtracking or idling. Consider traveling the old state routes that parallel the interstate. These routes can be  more scenic, and the lower speed limits may help you use less fuel.

Upon arrival

  • Typically trash and recycling containers are clearly identified, but if in doubt, check in with your vacation destination’s staff.
  • If you picnic, be sure to pack out trash and recycling for proper disposal and use compostable, or better yet, reusable utensils and dishes.
  • Hang up pool and bath towels; dryers consume a lot of electricity.
  • Before choosing take-out dining, check to see if the take-out containers are recyclable or compostable.
  • Don’t toss books and magazines. Recycle or “gift” these items to your vacation destination for other guests to enjoy.
  • Enjoy some green fun outdoors. Look for nature hikes or other activities that educate about the environment.
  • Make it fun – this is your vacation, after all! Have a friendly competition to see who can come up with more green tips and activities.

You’ll leave a positive footprint at your destination, and your vacation memories will be extra special … and evergreen!


Salt water pool chlorination at Smugglers’ Notch Resort

Notchville pool at Smugglers' Notch Vermont

In the summer, splashing in the pools and taking a trip down the waterslides are highlights for our guests. With swimmer comfort and safety top of mind, we’re transitioning our Village Center pool facilities to salt water chlorination, an effort expected to wrap up  during summer 2015. We’re confident it’s the best way to serve our water-loving guests.

For swimmers, pool water treated with a salt water chlorine generation system has some benefits over traditional chlorine sanitization:

  • It’s less irritating on the eyes.
  • It’s softer on your skin.
  • It won’t fade or damage swim suits.
  • It provides a more comfortable experience for swimmers with asthma, allergies, or chemical sensitivities.

There are environmental, safety and resource management bonuses, too. Conversion from chlorine allows our pool managers to reduce storage of this hazardous chemical on site. Also, the salt water system is regenerative, which creates less waste.

Here’s how the process works:

First, salt is dissolved in the water. The water passes through a salt cell which produces a chemical reaction that generates enough chlorine to keep the pool disinfected. Eventually, the reaction slows down and the molecules revert back to their original forms, becoming salt and water again. This reduces the need to add salt on a regular basis, and because chlorine is generated within the water, there is better consistency of sanitization.

In recent years, two of our small condominium neighborhood pools were converted to salt water chlorine generation systems, and one new neighborhood pool was built with a salt water chlorine generator in place. This past winter we converted the 85,000-gallon Courtside Pool and hot tubs, which are in use year-round (and add a waterslide in the summer).  Feedback from our guests has been extremely positive, with many folks remarking on the softer skin feel of the water.

This summer, it’s time to move on to complete conversion of our other large water complexes: Mountainside, with a lap pool, lagoon, kiddie pool and Giant Rapid River Ride, and Notchville Park, with  three pools and Twister flume waterslide. Soon our guests will be enjoying the benefits of salt water chlorination at all their favorite splash and swim spots at Smugglers’!

Dip into more information about our pools and waterslides!

Mountainside pool at Smugglers' Notch Vermont

Tips for watching wildlife

Sterling Pond Vermont

One of the great things about a trip to the Green Mountains of Vermont is having the opportunity to observe and learn about wildlife. Here at Smugglers’ Notch, and in the surrounding area, some time spent in the field can yield numerous opportunities to view birds, woodland animals, and even aquatic species.

Before heading out on your wildlife viewing adventure, be aware that few species are active during the daytime and most species seek to avoid human presence. Plus, you want to be respectful of the animal and its habitat and enjoy their activities from a distance. Keeping these two points in mind, the following tips will help direct your efforts.

  • When to go: Wildlife is most active during the first couple of hours of daylight and the last couple of hours before nightfall. Take a walk or a drive along the back roads near the resort during these time periods. Or, sign up for the resort’s guided Evening Wildlife Watch to enjoy wildlife spotting by canoe. Smugglers’ also offers an early morning Birds & Bloomers walk for bird and wildflower spotting with an expert guide.
  • What to wear: Sturdy shoes for walking and clothing that offers protection from underbrush and insects to ensure comfort.
  • What to bring: Binoculars and a camera if you’re so inclined. Although most animals are readily identifiable, a field guide for birds can be useful since you are likely to see many species. A small daypack can carry gear, a bottle of water, a snack and also hold clothing you might need as temperatures shift at the beginning and end of the day.
  • What to do: Walk slowly and quietly on trails. Be patient, and stop frequently to listen. Often larger species make noise as they move through woods or brush. Open meadows can also be great spots to view wildlife. Sit quietly on the perimeter of a field to watch and listen.
  • What about kids? Sure, you can wildlife watch with young kids! Pick a location that offers immediate interest to them. Choosing a spot alongside a stream gives children something to look at, and you might collect leaves to press later or a few interesting stones before settling down to wait for wildlife. A child can carry their own small pack and you could include any of the wonderful wildlife guides currently available for young children.

Successful wildlife watching requires two things: first, getting out into the natural world, and two, patience! Just imagine the excitement of spotting a critter. But even if you don’t, time spent in the natural world can be relaxing and rejuvenating, and offer connection with a friend or family member who accompanies you. In sum, any way you look at it, wildlife watching is a winning vacation activity.