Skiing in Smugglers Notch

Smugglers Notch ski area is spread over three hills. Madonna, the highest, rises to 3,640 feet (1,110 m) at the end of the valley, with Sterling to its right and Morse to its left.

Smugglers Notch Ski Area Overview

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 resort’s 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 its antiquated lift system, which consists of six slow double chairlifts. The ride to the top of Madonna Mountain is particularly lengthy and on 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 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.

Beginner Skiing at Smugglers Notch

About one-fifth of Smugglers’ trails are suitable for beginners, but novices are confined to the green trails at Morse Mountain.

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 Skiing at Smugglers Notch

Over half the area is made up of intermediate terrain. Both Madonna and Sterling Mountains have a variety of blue trails.

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 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 unrivalled 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 for intermediate skiing, but despite the high proportion of blue trails, there will still be a lack of mileage for serious skiers intent on skiing for more than a couple of days at the resort.

Advanced & Expert Skiing at Smugglers Notch

Trees, steeps and the East Coast’s only triple black diamond make Smugglers Notch a first rate destination for New England expert skiers.

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 recommends 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 on Sterling Mountain is the Exhibition trail. Freestylers love this trail for its variety of natural air features and proximity to the lift so they can 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. 

Smugglers Notch Glades & Backcountry Skiing 

Off-piste adventures abound at Smugglers Notch. Whether looking for an in-bounds glade or a side country adventure, some of Vermont’s best tree skiing is accessible from the resort’s lifts.

Proximity to the backcountry terrain of Smugglers’ Notch and Underhill State Parks makes Smuggs a great destination for experienced backcountry skiers. The backside of Sterling Mountain contains several awesome backcountry trails and glades 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.

Boarding & Freestyle  at Smugglers Notch

Each of the three mountains has a terrain park for boarders and riders corresponding to the level of the surrounding terrain.

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 on Madonna Mountain, are 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.

Smugglers Notch Mountain Restaurants

The real options are back at base, with a choice of cafeteria or table service in several restaurants in the base lodge and village.

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.


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