Top reasons why family ski vacations are the best

We’re delighted to share a guest post by Mara Gorman, a freelance writer and author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook.  Mara is also the founder of the online Back to Ski campaign, which is designed to get families off the couch and onto the slopes. On Back to Ski, you can get tips on how to execute a perfect family ski trip and sign up for the free Back to Ski email newsletter. We think Mara’s post perfectly captures the special benefits of a family ski vacation, and we hope you’ll enjoy her perspective.

If I had a nickel for every time someone has told me that family ski vacations are too hard or too expensive, well, I’d have a lot of nickels. But after years of traveling with my family to ski I’m a firm believer not just that these vacations are worth it, but that they are the best kind of family trips out there. What makes them so special?

Family ski vacations get everyone outdoors and off of screens

I have 9- and a 12-year-old sons and both of them are fans a wide range of TV shows and video games. But when my family travels to the mountains I never have to tell my kids to put away their devices and go outside – they want to spend the entire day on the slopes. And since they always have a stated goal of getting in as many runs as possible, they are exercising pretty much the entire time.

I love that skiing gives us all a total-body workout and that we literally spend days each winter out in the fresh air. There are few other kinds of family vacations that offer such a fun and easy way to get exercise.

Skiing Vermont

Anyone can learn to ski or board

Skiing and boarding are truly sports for everyone because there are always opportunities to learn how to do them. When you visit a ski resort, you’re never far from a ski school or lesson programs for both adults and kids. Some resorts have group family lessons and others offer adaptive programs for disabled skiers and boarders. And just about every ski mountain has graduated terrain, starting with flat, smooth trails for beginners. Learners can move at their own pace and enjoy whatever type of skiing they enjoy as they improve.

My husband grew up in the Midwest and never skied a day in his life until he was in his 40s. One of the first things he said to me at the end of his first day on the mountain? “I can’t believe you didn’t show me how to do this sooner.”

And here’s an added bonus to learning to ski or board as a parent: Even my 12-year-old thinks it’s cool that his mom skis.

Vermont skiingSki vacations are a bargain

Yes, skiing does require specialized equipment, and yes, lift tickets can be expensive. But I think that ski vacations offer tremendous value for your dollar. There are few other activities like it where you pay a set fee and are given so much entertainment and enjoyment.

Advance planning is the key way to save money on a family ski trip. Multi-day rentals and lift tickets are almost always discounted, so if you plan a longer vacation you’ll pay less. If you have the ability to ski during off-peak periods (non-holiday weekdays) you’ll also save money.

Although everyone in your family should have a helmet and comfortable ski clothes, you don’t have to invest in much else, especially when you are just starting out. Rental equipment is usually reasonably priced and may be included with some lesson or lift ticket packages. Or lease gear seasonally from a local ski shop and save even more.

Most ski resorts have a range of accommodations that include condos or apartments with fully equipped kitchens. Bring your own food, even just for breakfasts and lunches, and you’ll certainly save.

Depending on how far you have to travel to ski, there’s no reason a family ski trip needs to be more expensive than a theme park or beach vacation.

There’s so much more than just skiing

Between the ice skating, indoor pools and activity centers, spa treatments, Bingo games, sing-alongs, bonfires, snowshoeing, cooking classes, sledding and tubing, wine tasting, and ziplining, it may sometimes feel hard to fit that skiing and boarding in.

Of course, if none of that sounds nice, there’s always the option of just enjoying the snow-covered views from your condo or the base lodge. Throw in a good book and some hot chocolate and you may decide that ski vacations are more relaxing than the beach.

Family ski vacationSki vacations offer the best family time

There are so many opportunities on ski vacations to connect, whether you’re playing board games in front of the fire, reviewing tricky runs over dinner, or just enjoying your kids’ undivided attention along with the views on the chairlift. We’ve had some of our best conversations while we are literally hanging out on our way up the mountain – sometimes I think our time on the lifts is my favorite part of the entire trip (especially when it’s not too cold).

I treasure the good times my family has enjoyed on every ski trip, and I know you will too.

Family travel: The intangibles of a great family vacation

Many of us shop for a family vacation destination with a few factors in mind: where the destination is located, what we’ll be able to do when we get there, and how much the vacation will cost. We gather such information by delving into a resort’s website or social media, checking out their brochure, or calling their reservations staff. Pretty straightforward, right?

Pretty straightforward … except that the experiences that truly make a vacation special often fly under the radar. We like to call these the “intangibles” – the special little activities, favorite amenities or interactions with your destination’s staff that are long remembered after the vacation is over. You may not get a sense of them from a destination’s brochure or a website. You’ll definitely discover them by quizzing a friend or relative who has been to the same destination, and ultimately, by experiencing the destination yourself.

Winter family vacationHere’s a quick story to illustrate what we mean. We know of a family who picked out a vacation destination that would comfortably accommodate many family members, offer lots of activities for all ages, and be affordable. Check, check, and check: the experience delivered in all three areas. Yet what do that family’s kids still remember, years after the vacation? They remember that in the restaurant, their friendly breakfast server would top their hot chocolate with a heaping mound of whipped cream every morning – right at the table and with great fanfare. That’s a sweet little intangible!

We’re happy to say that Smugglers’ offers many opportunities to enjoy intangibles. Again, you may not spot them in the brochure, or if you do, you may not assign much importance to them. As an example, you may read that Smugglers’ has a Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop on site. Very nice. But then, during your vacation you take your son to the Scoop Shop every afternoon to celebrate his progression in ski camp. Those visits to the Scoop Shop become a treasured memory of time that you and your son enjoyed together.

Summer family vacation

Or, perhaps you’re at Smugglers’ in the summer when the agility dogs perform. You relax with your family on the Village Green, watching your kids’ faces light up at the dogs’ antics, and think, “Can’t get much better than this.” Such a simple pleasure. Definitely an intangible.

Here at Smuggs, our staff jumps in to support intangibles. This summer, when a camper lost a tooth during the overnight program, their counselor quietly played tooth fairy. Last winter, a ski instructor took on boot patrol, helping grateful new skiers get buckled properly and comfortably into their boots.

These are the moments that you can’t order up when you reserve your vacation. But at good destinations like Smugglers’, they naturally happen.

We hope you’ll visit and be open to finding your own intangibles here at Smugglers’. Please tell us about them when you do!

Winter family vacation

Pro’s tips: Fuel that fitness routine now for winter

If you’re looking forward with great anticipation to winter snowsports, now is the time to start training for full enjoyment of your chosen sport. Recently Smugglers’ ski instructor Oliver Blackman was interviewed about preseason fitness efforts for the website, and he shared a variety of ways to develop balance, flexibility and agility. Visit to read Oliver’s interview. By developing a fitness routine now, you’ll enjoy the slopes with increased stamina and strength this winter!

What’s your favorite way to get in shape for ski season? Share your experience in a comment.

Pro’s tips: Hiking with children

Want your kids to love hiking as much as you do? Family hike Smugglers' Notch VermontIf you’re a parent who loves to hike, how do you foster that same enthusiasm in your children? One of Smugglers’ Notch Resort’s veteran hiking guides, Martha Gamble, a parent herself, offers the following suggestions.

Think like a kid, your kid! What does your son or daughter love to see or do when they are outside? Do they like waterfalls, playing in streams or swimming in a pond? Would they enjoy scrambling over rocks and jumping down? Would expansive scenery wow them, seeing mountain ranges lined up to the horizon, or looking down on their house or city? Whatever is fun for them needs to be the focus for the day. Remember, for kids it is the journey, not just the goal.

Stream exploration Smugglers' Notch VermontMake sure your first hikes together are within their capabilities. If your child decides they only want to go a little way or play in the brook for a while, let them be the leader for the first hikes. Even if you haven’t gone far, if they are done for that day turn around so that they will remember a fun experience and want to go again. Young kids can hike for miles if they have started with smaller hikes and had a great time.

Use all the opportunities you have to help make hiking more interesting. Take a gondola or a toll road up the mountain and then explore from there, allowing your child to have the “eye candy” of hiking. If they are more athletic, scramble up a fun rocky trail and then take the gondola down. Go out with a guide who can show them different aspects of nature that will get them hooked on exploring the outdoors. Once you have stimulated their interest in hiking they will overlook things like a bit of rain or a less interesting section of trail.

Family hike Smugglers' Notch VermontBe prepared … in so many ways! Pack lunch and your child’s favorite snacks, as well as drinking water, sunscreen, bug dope, and clothes appropriate for the conditions of the day and your destination. Keep in mind that it is colder and windier at the tops of mountains and the weather can change quickly. At first, carry equipment for small children. As they get more experienced, teach them to be responsible for planning for the day and carrying their own supplies. If they choose the trip they will work harder to get to the destination, and they may enjoy carrying a backpack like mom or dad, especially if it is a hydration pack.

A bonus: hiking is a great way to get in shape for the winter snowsports season!

Have fun!

We welcome your comments and would love to hear what has worked for you on your family hikes!

Family adventures: Mountain biking

Mountain biking group

This summer, in order to serve our guests in their quest for outdoor adventures, Smugglers’ Notch expanded biking programs to include more choices for mountain biking.

As with many of our programs, mountain biking is progression-based to support the learning curve from novice to confident rider. Skilled instruction on a beginner practice area gets novice riders off to a good start and a varied trail network serves all abilities. A youth camp, group rides and private lessons offer the opportunity for fun beginner or non technical riding on the resort’s wide Nordic ski trails. For more advanced riding we’ve developed single track trails that serve snowshoeing enthusiasts during the winter season. We are also offering a guide service on or off property to explore some of northern Vermont’s best trails. The mountain biking programs will continue into our Fall season.

Smugglers’ mountain biking program manager Rick Sokoloff is the cofounder and past president of the Stowe (VT) Mountain Bike Club. In fact, if you explore local trails, you might just spot the bench honoring his 12 years of service on Kimmer’s Trail in Stowe, voted one of the 10 best mountain biking trails in America by Rick has also been actively involved in the Vermont Mountain Bike Association.

We asked Rick for a quick overview of the sport of mountain biking and his insights on how a properly developed program can serve novices. He shared the following thoughts and a few tips:

When people think of mountain biking what often comes to mind are media images from extreme competitions – someone hucking off a cliff or negotiating a really rocky trail; an experience that’s not even close to what recreational riders would consider doing. The truth is that there are a handful of people that do those more extreme trail courses, yet more people mountain bike than play golf. So what are the majority of mountain bikers doing?

Given the numbers of people participating in mountain biking, it has evolved into a very mainstream sport with multiple disciplines. Downhill mountain biking, often referred to lift accessed, is just that; you ride to the top of a mountain on a lift and then ride your bike down. As trail development has evolved, this area of the sport is seeing rapid growth.

Dirt jumping involves riders building up speed from a small hill on the approach to a series of dirt jumps. Typically there are a variety of paths that offer challenges that range from easy to advanced. A pump track, a dirt track with bumps and berms, is a great place for skill development. A pump track with novice features, like the track at Smugglers’, offers a fun way for new riders to experience trail features in a more controlled environment.

Pump track at Smugglers' Notch Vermont

Getting a feel for terrain challenges on the Smuggs pump track

Cross country riding is by far the most popular segment of mountain biking. It could mean riding on a dirt road or zipping through the woods on single track. Dirt roads, Nordic ski trails, logging roads and the like crisscross the forest and are oftentimes the beginning or foundation of many mountain bike trail networks. These types of trails offer a low technical challenge although the physical challenge may be high, depending on the trail or road. For instance, logging roads, often referred to as skid roads because you skid the logs down the hill, tend to be very steep – not very good for enjoyable mountain biking. At Smugglers’, the Nordic ski trails offer a great ride for mountain bikers as the trails tend to be fairly wide and traverse a mix of interesting terrain.

Cross country mountain bikingSingle track is just that, a path ranging from 12 to 18 inches wide with room for one bike to travel. Single track trails are being built all over the country; you don’t need to be on a mountain or climb a mountain to be single track mountain biking. As a matter of fact, a well built single track trail will have a modest grade so that you can keep climbing all day long. It is not uncommon to have a climbing trail and then a downhill or ‘flow’ trail as a reward.

A good mountain biking program serves participants with a progression that will take them from nervous novice to confident rider with good instruction and a comfortable setting for practicing skills. That has been our goal with the improvements to the program at Smugglers’. Mountain biking is a wonderful sport that families can enjoy together, and it’s a great way to get out into nature and get some exercise. Anyone with a love of the outdoors and personal challenge is likely to enjoy mountain biking.

Rick’s top tips for novice mountain bikers
1) Spend plenty of time in a learning environment like a novice pump track or an easy trail or dirt road until you feel confident with bike handling and terrain features.
2) Out on the trail, look ahead to anticipate trail features and plan your line or path. As with skiing, you will go where you look, so don’t get fixated on your front tire!
3) Relax. Being relaxed yet alert will serve you well on the trails. A death grip on the handlebars is not needed. Trust the bike and remember that it was built to handle the terrain.
4) A tire is like a gyroscope: when it’s spinning, it’s stable, but when it slows down, it’s not. So keep up a little momentum on your ride. It helps!

Does your family enjoy mountain biking? Share your experience in a comment; we’d love to hear from you!

Want to learn more about mountain biking at Smugglers’? Check out this short video!

Flower power at Smugglers’

Can you imagine if your home had 550 garden beds?! That’s the garden bed count at Smugglers’, and our lovely look is achieved through hours of hard work on the part of the resort’s dedicated flower crew. Beautiful grounds are one of those special ingredients in a family vacation that you might not think about until you arrive at your destination.

Vermont herb garden

The herb garden behind Smugglers’ Mountainview vacation homes

A flower bed within the Village Courtyard garden at Smugglers'

A flower bed within the Village Courtyard garden at Smugglers’

At Smugglers’, in addition to the hundreds of flower beds, the crew tends about 40 pots and barrels plus numerous annuals planted in the ground. And then there are the special projects, like the hanging basket that is prepared for  one of our vacation homeowners when she and her family are at the resort, and special bouquets requested by employees and guests. The crew maintains a beautiful cutting garden to fulfill bouquet needs.

Smugglers' Notch Vermont flower cutting garden

The cutting garden adjacent to the flower crew’s workshop

Spring garden work necessitates the delivery and spreading of four truckloads of 45 cubic yards of mulch. Debris from bed clean-up is composted onsite near the flower crew’s workshop.

In addition to tending the Resort’s flower beds, the crew sends a little love to our community by maintaining the beds at the post office, the library and the traffic triangle in Jeffersonville, just down the road from Smugglers’.

Smugglers' Notch Vermont flower crew

Sherri, Molly, Lyn and Kali of the flower crew at work on mid-summer garden bed clean-up at the traffic triangle in Jeffersonville

Words of wisdom: Manager Lyn says yes, what you’ve probably heard before about tending annuals is certainly true – you should pinch back annuals like petunias and verbena because pinching the plant back does stimulate more growth and a fuller, healthier looking plant. Also, it pays to do a thorough fall clean-up of your flower beds by cutting perennials back and cleaning up the bed edges – less work for you in the spring!

Our visitors definitely notice the flower crew’s hard work. A guest recently remarked in our summer guest survey: “As always the grounds were stunning! Especially the gardens. Bravo!”

Smugglers' Notch Vermont flower garden

Early summer irises dazzle outside the Hearth & Candle restaurant at Smugglers’

Pro’s tips: Planning a family
adventure outing

ArborTrek-Smugglers-Notch-VermontFor families looking for a new perspective and challenge, testing your daring on an adventure course can be the perfect fun and rewarding activity. Adventure courses can include aerial challenge or ropes courses, canopy tours, tree or rock climbing, and Via Ferrata, a mix of canyoneering and rock climbing – there’s something for everyone! For participants, these courses offer more than thrills; additional benefits include a sense of satisfaction, achievement and self-confidence.

At Smugglers’ Notch, zip lining, treetop obstacle courses and vertical climbing challenges are offered by ArborTrek Canopy Adventures, so who better to share tips on enjoying a great family adventure outing? Veteran ArborTrek guide Alexandra Hopwood has these suggestions for choosing the best activity for your family and ensuring a wonderful experience once you’ve embarked on your adventure.

Choosing the right activity:

  • Check the activity’s age, height, and weight requirements and ensure everyone meets them.
  • Think about the physicality of children in your group. They might have more fun exploring an activity designed to suit their size and ability, rather than pushing themselves on an activity for which they barely meet the requirements.
  • Think about your own physical ability and that of other adults in your group. Will you be able to complete the undertaking and assist anyone who may need it?
  • Check the clothing and footwear requirements and come prepared for the weather.

Ropes course Smugglers NotchOut on the course:

  • Play within your means. Many activities have different levels, some of which may not be appropriate for the whole family.
  • Monitor the nerves of children and make sure they are completing the course correctly and are not overly rambunctious.
  • Don’t forget yourself – ensure you have the energy and ability to keep up with your children and/or the patience to hold back and assist them if needed.
  • If possible, pass slower groups or let fast groups pass you, so that nobody loses momentum on the course.
  • On a multi-level challenge course, repeating elements to improve time or quality can often be a more rewarding experience than attempting a new path at a higher level.
  • Guides are there to help you complete the course and show you a good time; utilize their knowledge and skills for advice, assistance and amusement.
  • Pay attention to your family members’ mood and attention. Whenever possible, continue only as long as everyone remains engaged in the activity.

Via Ferrata zip line Smugglers' NotchMost of all – have fun! Keep that positive energy flowing; it’s infectious!

Attempting thrilling activities as a family can be a great bonding experience as you help each other conquer ambitious obstacles and brave new heights together. A real sense of satisfaction, achievement and self-confidence comes with getting out of your comfort zone and accomplishing a challenging task.

Being aware of these tips can improve the experience of the whole family and ensure everyone has a fantastic time and reaps the many benefits of outdoor adventure.

Planning an adventure outing? Tell us your family’s story with a comment; we’d love to hear from you!

ArborTrek zip line canopy tour Smugglers' Notch

Your summer family vacation: tips for enjoying water play

No doubt about it, splash time in a pool is synonymous with summer fun! As you head off on your summer vacation, it is worthwhile to review water safety  with your family even if your children swim like fish and spend a lot of time in the water at home.

Notchville Park Smugglers' NotchAt your destination, the environment is likely to be different from what you’re used to, and there may be guidelines that are unique to the setting. By developing familiarity with basic water safety, knowledge of your child’s swimming skills and an understanding of the challenges that water play can pose for young children, you’ll be well prepared for your fun day at a pool or waterpark.

At Smugglers’ Notch Resort, aquatics supervisors and lifeguards ensure a great experience for guests enjoying the resort’s eight pools, four waterslides, and reservoir with water trampoline.

The resort’s aquatics staff share the following observations for parents to keep in mind as their little fishies hit the water:

  • Young children don’t swim the same way that adults do; they may do a “doggy paddle” or a modified tread in which they don’t make a whole lot of forward progress. While these methods will keep a kid’s head above the surface in still water, that child could become overwhelmed by turbulence at the bottom of a slide, waterfall or other feature.
  • Kids can tire more quickly than adults; remember, smaller children are over their heads in areas in which taller people can stand, so they are swimming the whole time!
  • Young children are not able to regulate their body temperature as well as an adult can, so even a pool that seems warm can lower their body temperature.
  • A final thought: kids often won’t communicate well about how they are feeling, and therefore extra vigilance is required from parents and lifeguards.

Swimming pool Smugglers' Notch Vermont

Ready to hit the water with your kids?
Then dive in to these tips from Smugglers’ aquatics staff!

  • Know your child’s swimming ability.
  • Follow height and swim ability requirements on waterslides and other pool features.
  • Supervise your child whenever they are in or near water. Even a slight aspiration of water can be frightening for a young child and impact their positive experience.
  • If you see your child shivering or with blue tinged lips, suggest a towel break to warm up.
  • Obey all pool rules: they are in place for your child’s safety.

May your summer days be filled with lots of splash time!

Notchville Park Smugglers' Notch Vermont

Your summer family vacation: How a quality children’s program benefits your child

As you plan your family’s summer getaway, you may see children’s programs on the activities menu at the destinations you’re considering. Enrolling your child in such programs usually opens up some time together for mom and dad, but keep in mind that quality programs offer far more than a childcare service. Programs can offer your child long lasting benefits, which are wrapped up in a kid-friendly way through the program’s daily fun and games.

To shed some light on what kids can gain from such programs, we checked in with one of the pros at our Summer Fun University (SFU), which develops and manages our children’s camp programs. These programs for ages 3-17 are well known for establishing friendships and introducing new experiences to thousands of kids during their family vacations at the resort.

Jeff Spring, the operations director for SFU programs, has 10 years of experience in outdoor education. He identifies two valuable benefits that children receive from a vacation program specifically crafted for kids:

Experiencing the joy of discovery. Summer camp at a vacation destination offers many children a clean slate, a place away from their day-to-day routine and a sanctuary where they can be themselves in a new environment, Jeff notes. Camp can be a time when kids are more apt to try new things, setting them up for an experience that may be life-changing. Many lifelong passions for adults can be traced back to a camp setting in childhood.

Kayaking Smugglers' Notch Vermont

Jeff says, “In our programs at Smugglers’, we recognize this possibility for every one of our campers. Our counselors strive to provide the positive and enriching environment that encourages discovery, whether a child is learning to play disc golf or checking out a stream with an underwater camera. That moment of discovery is when special memories are made!”

Children's camp Smugglers' Notch Vermont

Connecting with the natural world. Jeff observes that a connection with nature has many positive effects on kids that have been well documented through the years:

  • Active outdoor play encourages overall fitness, plus coordination, balance, and agility. Children's camp Smugglers' Notch Vermont
  • Not only do children show a better ability to concentrate after contact with nature, but exposure to natural environments can benefit children’s cognitive development as well by improving their awareness, reasoning, and observational skills.
  • Time spent in outdoor environments contributes to children’s development of independence and autonomy.
  • Early experiences with nature  and the creatures that inhabit the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and sense of wonder for the world around us.

Nature Center Smugglers' Notch Vermont

  • A relationship with nature encourages a child to recognize the value of quietness and space that can be found in many natural settings.
  • Last but not least, immersive experiences in nature encourage a positive environmental ethic in children that can lead them to be  responsible stewards of the natural world.

Whether your family chooses to visit Smugglers’ or another vacation destination, we hope Jeff’s insights have given you food for thought as you consider a vacation program for your child.

Read more about Smugglers’ summer programs for kids ages 3-17


The more the merrier: Planning travel with another family

Traveling with another family can be lots of fun! There are several benefits: both adults and children have others to interact with beyond immediate family,  the diversity of interests within the group may entice everyone to try activities that they might not typically select, and sharing vacation costs can result in savings. Of course, traveling with another family can also create challenges – those are bound to happen with more people in the mix! But happily, with proper planning and forethought many of these challenges can be managed ahead of time.

Family games Smugglers' Notch VermontMany groups of families and friends plan their vacations at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, attracted by the varied menu of activities for all ages, comfortable lodging, and beautiful mountain setting. If you’re considering a getaway with another family, these tips from the resort’s vacation planning staff will put you on the road to a well-planned vacation.

  • Start planning as early as you can in order to select dates that accommodate everyone’s busy schedules and to secure a destination that is attractive to all travelers. If you’re pulling together a large group or reunion, Smugglers’ group vacations staff recommends starting your planning six months to a year ahead.
  • Have a conversation about your vacation budget, particularly if you’re considering sharing costs on particular activities or amenities.
  • Discuss what type of lodging will best serve your group. You may want a common area to gather in or ground floor lodging for convenience and accessibility. Seek out lodging with full kitchens if you’d like to prepare some meals. If you’re looking for ways to trim cost, consider sharing a large accommodation versus having each family in their own space. Sharing space typically yields some savings.
  • Identify your recreational interests. What’s on everyone’s wish list? Is there interest in individual activities as well as group activities?Swimming lagoon Smugglers' Notch Vermont
  • After considering your lodging needs and recreational interests, look for destinations that are good matches.
  • Once you’ve reserved your dates, be sure to communicate any individual requirements to the host property. For example, it’s best to check in with the destination prior to arrival to discuss  special dietary needs or to make arrangements for cots or cribs.
  • There may be additional activities that entice you once you arrive at your destination. Consider adding a little extra into your budget for these special additions.
  • Keep communication flowing during your getaway. Try not to sweat the small stuff.

Family picnic Smugglers' Notch Vermont


Enjoy your getaway! You’ll be making memories that will stay with you for years to come!