It's a crystal-clear day at Smugglers' Notch, and I'm riding the chair up Morse Mountain, daydreaming about a moment here some 17 years ago. My eldest daughter was barely three and skiing for one of the first times. I was standing slopeside, watching her maneuver through a "racecourse, the balloons tied to her boots bouncing behind her. She came up through the last arched gate into the arms of her instructor, who promptly popped a chocolate-chip cookie in her mouth.
I cheered and ran over to congratulate her. Giant smile beaming and cookie crumbs spewing, she screamed, "I love skiing, Mommy! I love it!
She's off at college now, but below me, parents are still dropping children of all ages off at ski school. There will be balloons and cookie-stuffed mouths, but best of all, there will be kids skiing for the very first time—-and loving it.
Smuggs didn't start out with the family focus it has today. The two peaks I'm skiing—-Madonna and Sterling—-hint at that. Steep and interesting, they are a skier's dream and the resort's foundation. But when the summer Olympics came to nearby Montreal in the late '70s, Smuggs tried something new during the off-season: kids camp. It was a huge hit, so they stretched it out year-round. Smuggs has led the way in family ski vacationing ever since, with concepts like the Little Rascals program, which affords even diapered kids a place in ski school. Instructors line the trail and catch and release tiny skiers along the hill. And wouldn't you know it, resorts across the nation are following suit.
On this midwinter day, the village center is, as always, bustling. Parents are dropping preteens off in a central area. To the right, instructors herd younger kids into groups and prod them toward the lifts. And in the center, the Treasures Child Care Center takes in toddlers and infants for the day. Everything is within a few steps, making it easy for families to get from their slopeside condos to the kids centers and on to their own day of skiing.
While I can take a quick shuttle over to the more challenging trails on Madonna, I choose instead to ride the chair up Morse Mountain, Smuggs' beginner terrain, and then glide over to the bigger peaks via a simple traverse. It's a nice way to get my skis under me and ease into the day.
I hop the Madonna 1 chair, which, while still a slowish lift, has been retrofitted to make it more comfortable and less-susceptible to wind-holds. I ride up with Andy, who has just dropped two of his children off at ski school. His wife is getting the baby settled in at Treasures and will meet him after a few runs.
"We've been a lot of places, and this is where it all just fits. I know the kids will do well here, and I know I'll have some great runs, he says, pointing at Upper Liftline, a black run off the summit.We say goodbye, and I carve downward. Smuggs has long been a champion of the "classic New England trail, refusing to go wide even as other resorts have. But at the top of Sterling, I notice that Smuggs has adapted its approach, actually widening a few trails. Might this be in advance of a first-ever high-speed lift? Mountain officials aren't saying no.
Later, I ski off the lift at Madonna for the last time on this sunny day, heading toward FIS, one of my favorite trails. I work my way down, carving, checking my speed, then flying to the base. At the bottom, I turn and look upward. Smuggs is a place that's full of memories. For me, they're of times when my kids were small. For the family racking their skis and clomping into the lodge for a late-afternoon hot cocoa, they're of memories not yet made. I smile for them, knowing what waits.
SIGNPOST: SMUGGLERS' NOTCH RESORT
1,000 skiable acres; 2,610 vertical feet; base elevation 1,030 feet; summit elevation 3,640 feet; 288 annual inches; 78 runs; eight lifts, including six double chairs. Tickets: adults $60, children 6—18 $44, under 6 and over 70 free
Lodging The village comprises slopeside condos of every size, all with pool access; a studio that sleeps four starts at $255 per night; smuggs.com.
Dining For simple but tasty American fare, the Morse Mountain Grill is your best bet; 802-644-1247. The Hearth and Candle serves upscale food alongside a great wine list; reservations are recommended; 802-644-1260.
Après-Ski Try Smugglers' own Prohibition Ale at the Black Bear Tavern, located in the base lodge.
Getting There From the south, take I-89 North to Exit 10, then Route 100 north to Morrisville, then Route 15 west to Jeffersonville, then Route 108 south to Jeffersonville.