Smugglers’ Notch, or “Smuggs” as the locals call it, was founded in 1956 by a group of local skiers, and has thrived ever since despite its nearby ritzy competitor, Stowe. Smuggs also operates one of Vermont’s largest ski-in/ski-out village areas providing those who can enjoy the comforts of a mountain condo easy access to the slopes. Many of those trail names follow a bootlegging theme as a reference to the Prohibition-era alcohol smuggling roots of the famed Notch nearby.
The resort lies across the Notch road from Stowe Mountain Resort. Although a short distance away as the crow flies, Smuggler's Notch feels a world away from its more famous competitor. The resort tends to attract a more local and die-hard, yet relaxed group of regular patrons than other Vermont resorts.
Smugglers Notch's skiable terrain spans three separate mountains, each with a unique identity. Morse Mountain, situated alongside the resort village and condominium area, houses all the beginner terrain at Smugglers’ Notch. Sterling Mountain offers excellent views of Stowe resort and nearby Mt. Mansfield along with a large terrain park and plenty of intermediate and advanced terrain. Madonna Mountain, the resorts tallest at 3,639ft, features intermediate and advanced glades alongside remarkably steep expert terrain that equals anything found elsewhere in the Northeast.
One downside to the resort, however, is it antiquated lift system, which consists of six slow double chairlifts. The ride to the top of Madonna Mountain is particularly lengthy and on the cold days can prompt even the hardiest skiers to need a warm-up break. The North-facing slopes are also often hit hard with cold winds, which make the can make the slow chairlift rides seem interminable. Of course, those same cold winds and shaded north-facing slopes preserve powder in the woods long after a storm. It is not uncommon to find fresh tracks, even in marked glades, more than a week after a decent snowfall.
Smugglers’ Notch is consistently rated as one of the top family resorts in the East, as well as the entire United States. Don’t let that fool you, however, as steep runs and dense woods cover all of upper Madonna Mountain, and backcountry access to areas with high snowfall and avalanche danger lies just outside the resort boundary. Full-day in-season lift tickets cost only $70, below average for one of the larger ski areas in Vermont.
Lines are rare, although the main beginner lifts on Morse Mountain can become congested on busy weekends. There is an alternative lift to use on the nearby Morse Highlands beginner/ intermediate area.
The lift system is undeniably slow-reminiscent of skiing twenty years ago-but the base to summit Madonna I double chair lift has recently been reconditioned to reduce the chances of wind closure, which had been a frequent problem on this ridgeline route.
The Village Lift, Madonna I, and the Sterling Lift open at 8:00 am on the weekend; all other lifts open at 9:00 am. On weekdays, all lifts open at 8:30 am except for the Mogul Mouse Magic Lift and the Handle Tow, which open at 9 am. All lifts close at 4:00 pm.
Beginner skiing at Smugglers Notch is confined entirely to the Morse Mountain area; no green-rated trails are to be found on either Madonna or Sterling mountains. 12 trails serviced by three lifts and one magic carpet provide enough varied green runs to keep novices interested. While connected to the bigger mountains next door, this naturally separated pod of green trails also allows beginners and ski-schoolers the luxury of having their own space, free from speedy experts that may concern them while they are on the hill. For those looking to venture into freestyle snowsports, there is even a small beginner-focused terrain park on the Log Jam trail.
Morse Mountain also rises immediately adjacent to the Smugglers’ Notch Village, creating a family atmosphere in the beginner area. This area may get crowded during busy vacation weekends, but all those on the slopes at Morse Mountain will be taking it generally slow and are happy to stay out of one another’s way.
Intermediate trails make up the majority of the marked terrain on Smuggler’s Notch, and are spread out across all three mountains. Both Madonna and Sterling Mountains feature summit descents on blue-rated trails that wind their way around some of the steeper, expert terrain and offer excellent views of nearby Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak.
Intermediates looking to get into the woods will also be delighted by six separate intermediate gladed areas featuring mellow slopes and widely-spaced trees. Snow found on the trails at Smuggs ends up blowing around quite a bit, so intermediates will enjoy their opportunities to find powder stashes in woods areas that suit their ability level.
While the blue-rated terrain found at Smugglers’ Notch is aptly rated and provides enjoyment for intermediates, the runs may begin to blur together after a weekend on the mountain. Faster skiers may also relent that quick runs on groomed trails must always be followed up by long lift rides back to the top. Still, a clear day offers great views of the surrounding Green Mountains that are unrivaled in the Northeast. Try the Chilcoot or Drifter trails off of the Madonna Mountain summit lift to enjoy a nice cruise of the area, or go back to the bootlegging roots of the Notch by flying down Sterling Mountain’s Rumrunner trail. All of this is ideal intermediate skiing, but despite the high proportion of blue trails, there will still be a lack of mileage for serious skiers intent upon skiing more than a couple of days at the resort.
Smugglers Notch truly stands out from the East Coast crowd with its advanced and expert terrain. In fact, Smuggs is a frequent host to East Coast extreme freeride competition. Sterling Mountain features fun, small cliff drops and short, steep runs. However, Madonna Mountain is where the true test lies. For starters, Smuggs boasts the East’s only triple black diamond run, Black Hole, which begins with a 53-degree slope through tight trees. Other steeps off Madonna include Freefall, Robin’s Run, and Liftline for the true exhibitionist and aspiring pro in your ski group.
Steep trees are also found between nearly every marked run on both Madonna and Sterling Mountains. Powder can often be found long after a storm if you know the right place to look. Be careful, however, as it is extremely easy to get lost in-bounds and find yourself stuck in a dense old-growth forest farther from the safety of a marked trail than you had previously thought. Skiing is allowed anywhere within the resort area boundary, but they are not patrolled nor controlled for safety. Consequently, the resort recomments skiing these areas in groups of three or more for safety-it comes with a full complement of natural hazards and is not patrolled.
Another excellent expert run off Sterling Mountain is Exhibition. Freestylers love this trail for its variety of natural air features and proximity to the lift so they can really show their stuff. A large terrain park also lies on the slopes of Sterling Mountain for those looking to go big, alongside two natural-feature style terrain parks on the Birch Run and Knight’s Revenge trails.
Black-rated glade runs are also not to be missed for experts skiing or riding at Smuggs. The long, fall line trees of Shakedown provide a lovely test, as well as Doc Dempsey’s Glades off the Madonna summit chair. As previously mentioned, these woods will hold onto wind-blown, untouched snow and make the three inches reported on the daily snow report feel like eight.
Proximity to the backcountry terrain of Smugglers’ Notch and Underhill State Parks make Smuggs a great destination for experienced backcountry skiers. The backside of Sterling Mountain contains a number of awesome backcountry trails and gladed areas that always seem to get pounded by every snowstorm that hits central Vermont. Knowing where you are going is key in these zones, as the dangers are high in Smugglers’ Notch State Park. Many Vermont-bred Olympic skiers have met their match and been seriously injured skiing the cliffs and chutes found in this backcountry zone.
Most backcountry runs send skiers and riders down to the Smugglers’ Notch road. It is important to note that this road, Vermont Route 108, is closed to vehicles during the winter months. If you end up here after skiing the backcountry, you may ski or hike down North to the Smugglers’ Notch resort parking lot, or South to Stowe Mountain Resort.
In-bounds tree runs are also abundant, and often contain some of the best snow on the mountain. Stick to wide, noticeable lines between trails and you will often be rewarded with deeper snow than you may have thought available that day.
The information contained in this article is intended for information purposes only. Ski within your ability level and proceed at your own risk.
Morse Mountain and Highlands have gentle terrain features; the 450-foot (137 m) Superpipe and 3,500-foot (1,066-m) long Prohibition terrain park are on Madonna Mountain, aimed at intermediates to experts; the 1,000-foot (304-m) long Birch Run terrain park, for entry and intermediate level terrain park riders, is on Sterling Mountain; the SnowZone, for expert trick air demonstrations only, is also on Sterling. The rest of the resort is fully open to boarders.
Sterling Mountain holds Smugglers’ Notch’s only summit-style dining area, the Top-of-the-Notch café, serving soups and hot drinks alongside stunning views. Weather-permitting, Snow’s Bistro at the Madonna base area serves up classic New England Chowder in a bread bowl to warm skiers and riders on even the coldest Vermont winter days.
Smugglers’ Notch resort operates one of the more comprehensive village areas of all Vermont ski resorts. The village is filled primarily with ski-in/ski-out condominiums hosting regular visitors, but many of these regulars will rent out their space to tourists, friends, and family.
The village is located directly alongside the Morse Mountain area of the mountain, and is only a short lift ride and run from the bigger areas of Madonna and Sterling Mountains. Restaurants options abound in the resort village as well, as well as daily games, activities, and some nightlife.
Designed for families, the village area does offer daycare amenities for young children, as well as a world-renown ski school for little ones looking to get active and on the hill. Ski shops and equipment rental stores are also found in the resort village. For those traveling to Vermont in the summer or fall, the village does host a variety of children’s’ camps and activities while the ski slopes are closed. Some warmer-weather activities include hiking on nearby Green Mountain trails, swimming in the resort pools, and zip lining.
All activities and facilities are within an easy walk or free shuttle ride, and the two upper mountain ski areas are also connected by ski trail. If you plan not to venture beyond the village in the evenings, a car is not essential. The village center has a sports store, grocery, equipment rental store, several restaurants, ice skating, tubing, a Nordic center, an indoor pool and hot tub, and the FunZone-an indoor sports and game center for all ages.
A new state-of-the-art daycare center aims to maintain the resort's leading status within the U.S. as a family destination. The nearest town is Jeffersonville, 6 miles (9.6 km) away at the base of the mountain, which has more restaurants, antique stores, and art galleries.
The Black Bear Tavern at the Madonna base offers typical ski resort fair alongside hot drinks, cocktails, and a number of locally brewed beers.
There are a number of more upscale restaurants on the village side of the resort. The Green Mountain Deli serves typical afternoon sandwiches and snacks. Riga-Bellos is the resort pizzeria, situated alongside a Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop for those looking to indulge in a Vermont staple dessert. The Hearth & Candle serves cozy locally grown organic food and also features an adult-only dining section. The Morse Mountain Grille serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktails, all of which have a Vermont flair. Finally, the Bootleggers’ Lounge is Smugglers’ Notch’s only late-night option, serving cocktails in a dance lounge setting.
Vermont Stella Notte and the Brewski are two other popular venues near the resort. Also nearby are the Three Mountain Lodge Restaurant, serving Vermont specialties, and the Smugglers' Notch Inn, a typical old Vermont building that was once an inn on the stagecoach route. Both are in Jeffersonville.
Off the slopes, Smugglers' Notch offers a variety of activities for all ages. There are 16 miles (27 km) of cross-country and snowshoe tracks to follow, and also tubing, daytime and evening snowmobile outings, dogsledding, and a night school for snowboarding instruction under lights. Family evening entertainment includes parties in the FunZone sports and game center, bingo game night, Karaoke, dance parties, tubing and pool parties.
There is also ice skating. There are two teen centers with evening activities plus pool tables, Internet access, movies, video games, and snacks. Entertainment for adults includes Karaoke, magic and comedy improv shows, and bands.
For those looking to get outdoors but don’t want to ski or snowboard, Smugglers’ Notch offers a variety of activities. Snowshoeing in the surround Green Mountain forests is a favorite, as well as tubing on the surrounding hills and ice-skating in the nearby rink. For the active cross-country skier, Smuggs also features 16 miles (27km) of cross-country terrain. Dogsledding and snowmobile trips are also available for booking, and the village area FunZone hosts a variety of nighttime activities, including games, trivia, dancing, and pool parties.
Down the road in Jeffersonville, Smugglers’ Notch Distillery offers tastings of their locally distilled spirits including whiskey, gin, vodka, and rum. Visitors to this area will also find an abundance of maple sugar shops featuring some of the sweetest and best tasting syrup and candy in North America.