The 2020 SKI Magazine annual reader survey results are in and we're thrilled to announce that Smugglers' Notch Resort has been voted the #1 Overall Resort in the Eastern U.S., #1 for Service, #1 for Terrain, #1 for Lodging, #1 for Family Friendly, #1 for Overall Satisfaction, and #1 for Local Flavor! 2021 SKI Winter Travel Guide review
PHEW. ANOTHER YEAR PASSES
—not a very good one, but Smuggs remains defiantly independent. Whatever super-duper pass you’ve got, it’s worthless here, and that’s just how Smuggs lovers like it. Running a ski resort is a difficult and risky business, but owner Bill Stritzler and his family make it look easy. While other resorts out-competed each other in the race to high overhead, Smuggs has kept it simple, focusing on families, with cozy well-equipped condos, ideal learning terrain, a ski school that obviously enjoys hanging out with your kids while you go get after it, and no-detail-too-small service. Harried parents couldn’t be more grateful. The sheer volume of survey responses Smuggs fans submit, never mind the tenor, speaks to their loyalty. Diehard Smugglers love to report how many years they’ve been skiing there—for decades and multiple generations in countless cases. And all that loyalty informs the rankings, which are especially stupendous this year: Smuggs cracks the Top 5 in all but four categories. And as usual, even its biggest weakness—No. 20 for Lifts—is a strength. “Lift system is like ‘Antiques Roadshow’,” quips one reader. But that’s a compliment. “If you don’t like fixed double chairlifts, don’t come here,” another adds. “We love them, and don’t want to hear about how you don’t!” (You have to wonder if Smuggs is past the point of ever installing a high-speed lift; the revolt might be violent.) Smuggs remains a dichotomy, as beloved by tourist families as it is by diehard locals, thanks to its ideally segregated terrain: easy-peasy over by the village on Morse Mountain, cruiser heaven on Sterling, and in between, majestic Madonna, truly a test for any expert. And slow lifts? More time to rest the legs, deeper conversations, and less crowded trails. “No elitist energy.” “Feels human scale and comfortable, like ski areas used to be.” “Local vibe is unpretentious, and terrain is unsurpassed. Smuggs is a skiers’ mountain—for skiers of all ages and abilities, that is.” —Joe CuttsOFF-THE-MAP TRAIL:
The Back Bowls live up to the hype: countless tree lines that descend onto the Notch Road. Not officially part of Smuggs (they’re on State Forest land), they amount to a ski area in themselves—an area that’s all tree skiing. Slow lifts take the pressure off.FAMILY EXPERIENCE:
There’s good reason Smuggs is so popular with families. They love the instructors, the off-hill activities, and perhaps above all, the cute mascots, whose goofy après reindeer games are irresistible. Snap pictures of the kids with Mogul Mouse at the base area for pure holiday-card gold.LOCAL TIP:
Even if you’re not a ripper, don’t miss a ride on Madonna 1 to the summit for the amazing view. There’s an easy way down. FROM THE VAULT:
Smugglers’ Notch debuted at No. 7 in 2003’s East survey, and has remained in the Top 10 ever since—often nabbing No. 1 for its family programs.
Smugglers' also received top 10 ranking among Eastern resorts in the categories of snow, grooming, terrain, challenge, après, dining, on-mountain food, travel ease, accessibility, value, down-day activities, scenery, charm.
2020 SKI Winter Travel Guide review
It's a segregated society at Smuggs, and that works just fine. How else could vacationing families and adrenaline-hog local rippers co-exist in such peaceful harmony. Over here you've got self-contained Morse Mountain, with its family-friendly condos, kid-centric activities, and gentle slopes all leading back to home base, perfect for launching little learners on a lifetime love of skiing. And over here, the fearsome steeps of Madonna Mountain, along with—out in the famous Back Bowls—some of the East's best and most expansive tree skiing. You might see some mingling of the two species here and there, but for the most part, neither has to worry about the presence of the other. That's how a place can rank high in shut-up-and-ski criteria like Terrain (No. 2), Snow (No. 3), and Challenge (No. 3), yet still please visitors in categories like Service (No. 1), Lodging (No. 2), and Charm (No. 3). Once again, Smuggs ranks No. 1 in the East for families, and the boot-up-at-the car crowd over in ski-in/ski-out Lot 1 is like, "Huh, really?" Remember, there's still not a single high-speed lift on the hill. The Madonna 1 double, for instance, clocks in at a quad-rejuvenating 15-plus minutes, It's part of the charm, as is non-conglomerate ownership and No. 4-ranked scenery — all adding up to Smuggs No. 1 ranking in Local Flavor and No. 2 for both Overall Satisfaction and Value. "Cliffs, chutes, trees ... still some of the most underrated terrain out there," says one Smuggs lifer. Another: "A place that will reconnect you with your family 100 percent." That's the Smuggs dichotomy. And both readers would agree with a this, who says, "Don't ever change this place!" — Joe CuttsLocal Tip:
Even if you're staying in one of those really nice condos over a Morse, you might want to pack the car and make Lot 1 your base. It edges right up to the slope and hums with awesome tailgate après action most days.Dinner Pick:
As one reader rightly suggests, check out the pub at Smugglers' Notch Inn down in Jefferson Village: "Locals' bar. Food is phenomenal, drinks are strong, plenty of friends to be made."Mandatory Run:
Ride the Madonna 1 double, a slow, nostalgic, and historic lift that accesses killer terrain. Novices welcome— there's an easy way down from the summit.
2019 SKI Winter Travel Guide review
It’s time to stop referring to Smuggs as “underrated.” Everyone know it’s the East’s original family-friendly resort, with activities, accommodations, and a genuine top-down desire to make parents’ lives easier. In the age of conglomerates and real estate investment trusts, everyone loves the fact that it’s still independently owned, reasonably priced, and locally controlled. And everyone knows it’s a place that doesn’t have a single high-speed lift. But no one gripes, and many prefer the leisurely, restful ride up knowing there’ll be fewer skiers on the trails. As for what might still be underrated, it’s the breadth and real-Vermont gnarliness of Smuggs expert terrain, from the rowdy steeps of Madonna to the innumerable tree shots of the out-of-bounds Birthday Bowls. Even terminal intermediates can brag that they’ve skied from the summit of fearsome Madonna. The Madonna 1 chair offers a sovering view of Smuggs expert terrain on the way up, one of the East’s best views from the top, and an easy way down on Chilcoot. Best of all, beginner and expert areas are so effectively sequestered from each other that everyone’s happy. Readers from both camps rave about Smuggs authentic Vermont charm paired with amazing snow, minimal crowds and terrain for every.— J.C.Come for the…
Travel Ease Get to the mountain early and snag a spot in Smugglers’ famous Lot 1. It’s ski-in/ski-out, with easy access to and from the Sterling and Madonna lifts. On nice afternoons it’s a hoppin’ tailgate scene.Terrain Variety By the numbers:
78 trails; 19 percent green, 50 percent blue, 31 percent black and double-black. And that’s not counting the 750 acres of glades.Local Flavor Beer? Wine? Whiskey?
Head out to nearby Smugglers’ Notch Distillery (bourbons and whiskeys made with Vermont spring water) or Boyden Valley Winery (Vermont ice wind and local cider).What’s new
Kids’ Club swag bags are presented upon check-in to groms 12 and under staying at a Smugglers’ property. Also: Fat-biking joins the robust list of off-slope activities on tap at the resort this season.
“Best family resort in the East. Our kids LOVE going to Smuggs! So do we. Easy resort to enjoy, great skiing with a variety of terrain, and it's a slower, more 'unplugged' pace, which is a great antidote to a fast-paced working life.”SKI Magazine Reader comment 2018 SKI Winter Travel Guide review
Smugglers' also received top 10 ranking among Eastern resorts in the categories of lodging, character/ambiance, dining/après sport, snow quality, grooming, terrain variety, and terrain challenge. Smugglers' Notch?
The No. 1 ski resort in the East? Before you spout off (looking at you, Stowe snob), consider this: Readers rank it No. 1 for kids. What, are you going to argue with cute little groms who like to ski? We didn't think so. At Smuggs, making families feel welcome is a trademark, a raison-d'etre
. Its ownership and management—real Vermonters, by the way, unbeholden to any corporate overlords or real-estate investment trust—long ago made the family thing their mission, and they've stayed unfailingly on-message ever since. To that end, there are cozy slopeside condos, cuddly mascots, pools and playgrounds, cookies and milk, daily reindeer games, and miles of novice and intermediate terrain on the slopes of Morse and Sterling mountains. A beloved stuffed animal left behind? Staffers will cheerfully Fed-Ex it to you, one reader attests. But here's the thing: The terrain on Smugglers' Notch's signature summit, Madonna Mountain, will kick your ass—narrow, gnarly, bumps-up-to-here and in many places as steep as anything in the country. So as popular as Smuggs is with families, it's also a favorite of many a boot-up-in-the-lot Burlington ski bum, who will vouch for its high rankings for Challenge, Variety, and Snow. And what does it tell you when a place that doesn't have a single high-speed lift—and almost no nightlife whatsoever—can be the top-ranked resort in the East? It tells you that readers appreciate a place that keeps it real. To wit: "An affordable resort with great terrain that caters to everyday families." "Authentic Vermont skiing with amazing terrain and tree skiing." "Extreme dedication to creating the best customer experience possible." "A skier's mountain and a great value." — Joe Cutts
2017 SKI Winter Travel Guide review
In a complicated era of megaconglomerates and "ponzi-like" resort-investment schemes (we're not naming names...), it says a lot that a place like Smuggs keeps chugging along. It lies just north of glitzy Stowe on the same particularly scenic section of Green Mountain rooftop. Its terrain and snowpack are similarly awesome. And its Madonna summit tops out at about the same elevation as Stowe's Mansfield lifts. But Smuggs is yin to Stowe's yang, keeping it real in a way its fans adore. Its Vermont ownership never had time for high-speed lifts—just the kind of frugality you expect from woodchuck-skier management, though there's also wise appreciation for long, relaxing, get-to-know-you lift rides and uncrowded trails. Families snuggle up in its Whoville base hamlet at the foot of Morse Mountain's easy-peasy learning slopes. Crusty hardcores jam rusting Tacomas into the snowbanks in Lot 1 and throw themselves at Madonna's crazy steeps. Everyone's wicked happy, and plucky Smuggs keeps keeping on. — Joe Cutts
2016 SKI Winter Travel Guide review
No. 2 for Variety and No. 5 for Challenge? You can hear them grumbling about that on the other side of the Notch at Stowe (ranked No. 7 for both). But anyone who's ever skied (slash survived) Doc Dempsey's, Black Hole, or the pure-pucker Madonna I liftline knows that Smuggs is often underrated for its terrain, which is as challenging as it gets. But as usual, its the kiddie programs that get all the attention, and Smugglers' Notch is No. 1 for all that family stuff yet again. Parents and kids just love the place. So great for kids. Keeps them busy all day. They love the lodging (No. 3; So close to the lifts). They love the bang for the buck (No. 3, Value). They love the service. (No. 4; The CEO called me and we talked for 20 minutes.) Nightlife and dining options? Nope. Some readers complain about the slow lifts they're all still proudly fixed-grip. But most Smuggs aficionados wouldn't change a thing. You just have to love that northern-Vermont hospitality. Joe Cutts
2015 "Top 50 Resorts Guide" for Winter 2014/2015
Ranked and rated by the experts - your fellow skiers
Smuggs may have slipped a notch from last year's lofty perch at No. 1 in the East, but its soulful fixed-grip vibe still resonates with readers, and it still has an unshakable lock on the family market. But it's not only for families. While learners happily ply the gentle slopes of Morse Mountain and intermediates cruise the blue squares of Sterling Mountain, experts scare themselves silly on the steeps of Madonna. Trails like Black Hole, Freefall, and Upper Liftline are too often left off lists of the East's toughest trails. Not to mention the unsanctioned woods known as the Birthday Bowls, off Sterling. "Sick and varied," one reader attests. The rankings confirm that sentiment: No. 3 for Challenge, No. 4 for Terrain Variety. But Smuggs knows its market, and readers rave about its family programs (No. 1 for Kid-Friendly Activities). "Slopeside condos, kids running up and down the halls, and great potluck dinners with friends," says one reader. "The children's programs are the best," says another. Sure, the pool is fun, and the ski school knows its stuff. But a recurring theme is how unfailingly friendly and helpful the employees are. "The staff will bend over backwards to help you. They treat your children like treasures." True, the nightlife may be lacking in tiny Jeffersonville. But Smuggs still has game. "Great pairing of a family-friendly resort with the most challenging terrain this side of Corbet's Couloir." Joe Cutts
2014 "Top 50 Resorts Guide" for Winter 2013/2014
Ranked and rated by the experts - your fellow skiers
What does it say that Smuggs is the Eastern skier's favorite resort? This: That uncrowded trails and diverse, challenging terrain are more important than high-speed lifts. That authentic character and unspoiled scenery are worth a long and difficult drive. And above all, that skiing is a family affair, and if a resort takes good care of your family, you'll reward it with the kind of undying loyalty that permeates SKI's reader comments. "Our kids have grown up there," says one parent. "It was amazing for them as young children and still is in their early 20s. They made friends in ski school and couldn't wait to get back every year." Another: "This place takes awesome care of you and your family. Your kids will love it." And so Smuggs, which has long made families its priority, ranks No. 1 yet again for Family Programming, in part by focusing on what matters to skiing families (No. 4 in Value, No. 3 in Service, No. 2 in Lodging and Off-Hill Activities). But local rippers know it ain't no bunny slope. Sure, there's Morse Mountain for beginners and Sterling for intermediates. But then there's Madonna, as steep, untamed, and challenging as any mountain in the East. "Trees that will scare the #&*%! out of you. Very challenging steeps." That adds up to a No. 2 rank for Variety (only Sugarloaf beats it) and a No. 5 for Challenge. And the view from Madonna? Throw in a No. 4 for Scenery. Sure, the lifts are slow (No. 30), but "that keeps the trails uncrowded" - and gives you time to connect with your kids. Joe Cutts
2013 "Top 50 Resorts Guide" for Winter 2012/2013
Ranked and rated by the experts - your fellow skiers
We are excited and honored to have been named #1 for Family Programs for the 14th year, and to have received top 10 rankings in the categories of value, off-hill activities, the challenge and variety of ski & ride terrain, grooming, snow, weather and scenery. Smugglers' was also ranked #3 overall among Eastern resorts and #1 in Vermont.
It says a lot that you can be the No. 3 resort in the East and not have a single high-speed lift. But surging Smuggs, with a deft combo of peerless family-friendliness and legit expert terrain, proves there's more to life than fancy infrastructure. Again it's No. 1 with families, who love its good programs, cozy slopeside lodging, gentle terrain, and No. 5-ranked Value. But as anyone who has ridden the Madonna chair can attest, Smuggs has teeth too (No. 4 in Terrain Variety, No. 6 in Challenge). No. 2 for Weather? Think stealth powder squalls, not bluebird skies. Throw in the wintry back-side-of- Mansfield scenery (No. 4), and it's irresistible for nostalgic, soulful skiers who know slow lifts mean uncrowded trails. "No glitz, just skiing" Joe Cutts
2012 "Top 30 Resort Guide" for Winter 2011/2012
Ranked and rated by the experts - your fellow skiers
In the November 2011 Resort Guide issue of SKI, we are excited that our Family Programs have been ranked as #1 in the East, and that Smugglers' has placed in the top ten in the East in the categories of Overall Satisfaction, Value, Lodging, Snow, Terrain Variety and Challenge, Off-hill activities, Service, Weather, Digital Presence and Character.
A few of the comments in the issue about Smugglers' from SKI readers:Everyone is friendly. Great for families.
Best family atmosphere we have found. GREAT kids' programs.
Children's ski program is fantastic.
Smugglers is a true resort, friendly ski school and friendly staff...
No one beats Smuggs for family enjoyment
Love it. Best resort in New England. Family friendly. Great for all skill levels. Everybody, by now, knows that Smuggs is a great family resort.
No. 1 in the East year after year. So... bunny slopes? Sure. (See Morse Mountain.) But all those hardcore locals booting up at their cars over in ski-in, ski-out Lot 1 know that Smuggs has some of Vermont's toughest terrain too (see Madonna Mountain, Back Bowls), and that its slopes are never crowded, thanks to fixed-grip lifts. So Smuggs, pleaser of all (except fans of high-speeds), rises to no. 3 overall this year, mostly on the strengths of its Lodging (4), Off-Hill Activities(4), Value (5) and Overall Satisfaction (5). "Outstanding family resort," says one reader, echoing many. "Low-key, unsnobbish," says another. "A kid-friendly place with steeps for Dad." In the end, it's hard to tell who likes Smuggs more, the families or the hardcores. And for hardcore families, Smuggs is "the family ski vacation perfected." —Joe Cutts
2011 "Top 50 Resorts Guide" for Winter 2010/2011
Ranked and rated by the experts - your fellow skiers
In the October 2010 issue of SKI Magazine, Smugglers' was voted #1 for Family Programs for the 12th year, as well as in the top 10 for the following categories: Service, Value, Lodging, Off-Hill Activities, Terrain/Variety, Terrain/Challenge, Scenery, and Overall Satisfaction!
Here are a few of the comments from the readers of SKI.
"Number 1 for families for good reason!"
"The perfect family vacation - kids learn to ski, wife is happy on easy cruisers, I hit the good stuff on top, we all meet for lunch at slopeside condo."
"Great family resort with slopes and terrain for everyone!"
"Smuggs is the best for family programs. It also is one of the most challenging hills on the east coast which is a little secret."
"Absolutely perfect place to ski with a family."
"A wonderful place! A must ski and ride!"
"Best woods skiing in Vermont..."
"Friendly, clean, family fun!!"
"A fantastic place for families!"
"Love this place and plan to go back every year!"
"Uncrowded slopes ... plenty of natural snowfall."
"Terrain and snow are awesome."
"Smugglers' Notch is an affordable place to ski. Great atmosphere!"
"Great ski school."
"Great value... Very easy to navigate around the resort and lifts were right out the back door."
"Smugglers' Notch was a pleasant surprise. Significantly better snow than further south." Act your shoe size, not your age.
That's what any skier of any age should be thinking as they head out to Smugglers' Notch, where families rule and everyone can unleash their inner child. Ranked No. 1 again
in Family Programs, Smuggs wins hearts of all ages with a delightful combination of easy and truly inclusive packaging and just about every kind of terrain anyone could want. Little ones can settle in at a state-of-the-art child care center, then head out to gentle slopes. Teens can push themselves to extremes on steep glades. Mom or Dad can join them, then catch their breath on great groomers. "Tree skiing, uncrowded slopes, great bumps, awesome local attitude," says one reader. And the activities? You can join a campfire sing-along, sign up for a ski race, embarrass your loved ones in a karaoke contest, ride a zip-line or enjoy a sleigh ride—and still not exhaust the possibilities. Many readers point out the slow lifts. The resort has no plans to change that, and even if you do wait in line on weekends, it means fewer skiers on the trails. Besides, given a few minutes in line, you might spot that crazy guy you howled at in the karaoke contest. Or he might spot you. Just laugh, inner child. Moira McCarthy CLOSE