Smugglers' Notch is a true family treat with a surprise inside. That surprise, readers rave, is the amazing terrain and steeps the three-mountain resort offers. Because while locals have long known there is more to Smuggs than the friendly, kid-program-filled Morse Mountain, visitors from all over are now in on the Madonna and Sterling Mountain secret. "Long runs and steep bumps," one exults. "Variety of terrain is outstanding," says another. This year, Smuggs' major improvement will make all that even better: It's out to fool Mother Nature with a new 20-million-gallon snowmaking reservoir. That means more snow will get to the trails faster. The new Morse Highlands section of the resort, which opened last season, did much to spread out the crowds in the beginner areas. But readers are still stuck on their biggest gripe: "Worst lifts in the East, bar none," as one puts it. True, the lifts lumber uphill and stack giant lines on busy weekends, but Smuggs' management insists it doesn't want to plop down a high-speed: To do so would disrupt the "harmony" of the narrow, old New England trails in the modern resort. True enough. And readers do love Smuggs for that feel, awarding gold medals in Terrain and Challenge, putting it near the top of the heap. (Smuggs does dream of one day going "all modern" to the top of Morse Bowl at least.) As for Family Programs, you'd think Smuggs, the perennial national champ, would give someone else a chance. Nah. This season a new Learn to Ski Development Center debuts, geared to never-evers, who'll appreciate a segregated learning area where they'll feel safe and uninhibited. A few more condos will go up, too, and as those who have visited in recent years know, the more they build at Smuggs, the better they get. The new ones are the most comfortable and luxurious yet. What a way to rest after taking on all those bumps and steeps.
WHAT'S NEW A 20 million-gallon reservoir for more productive snowmaking.
A GOOD DEAL Night School for Boarding (so you don't have to give up a ski day to learn to ride), 4-7 p.m. nightly; $39 gets you rentals, a one-hour lesson and three hours of hill time.
MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge, Service, Family Programs; SILVER Snow, Lodging, Off-Hill Activities.
HIGH/LOW RANK Family Programs (1), Service (10), Lodging (24); Grooming (60), Access (62), Lifts (76).
DON'T MISS Mother Nature (a.k.a. local resident Beth Tailer), who sits in her trailside teepee daily to tell about the animals in the woods around Smugglers' Notch.
READER REMARKS (+) "Great place to learn and improve. Very friendly."
(-) "Too expensive for what you get."