HOA LogoDestinationsTravel MallTravel LinksGlobal Travel




Story and Photos by Larry Turner

Soon after our afternoon arrival at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Vermont, we were outfitted with ski gear and in no time, we were on the slopes. It was a bluebird New England spring ski day. The Sunday crowd had dwindled as we loaded onto the Madonna Lift and headed to the 3640 foot Madonna Mountain summit.

I was already impressed with the New England cordiality after spending the previous week at New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, Brettonwood and Loon Mountain, including side trips to poet Robert Frost’s Franconia, New Hampshire home-- coincidently the hometown of American skier Bode Miller. The day I was in Franconia, Miller wrapped up the World Cup title for 2008. But, that is a different story.

Welcome to Smugglers
Family Fun on Chilcoot
#1 for Family Programs
Smugglers’ Corn Snow


Smugglers’ Notch immediately felt like home, like slipping into one’s old shoes or favorite pair of gloves. It is a family mountain. Ski Magazine had just named it—for the ninth time--- #1 in North America for family programs. Robert Mulcahy, President and CEO of Smugglers’, and his wife Barbara Thomke, Smugglers’ public relations specialist, joined me on the chair. Fellow North American Snowsport Journalist Association members were in the two chairs behind us.

“We scripted this day for you Westerners,” deadpans Mulcahy with dry New England humor, “just to show you that the sun does shine in New England and that we do have spring corn snow.” All four of us NASJA members were visiting from the West. Bespectacled, tall and lean, Mulcahy’s stint with Smugglers’ began in 1969. Traveling up the lift he points out the features of the all-season resort, including the three main mountains that make up Smugglers’: Morse Mountain, Madonna Mountain and Sterling Mountain.

Top of Madonna
Lower Morse Liftline


Unloading at the top of Madonna, we ski quickly to the overlook where the treat is as sweet as Vermont maple syrup: a view across the top of Vermont to Canada and an eastern view of Mount Washington, New Hampshire’s tallest peak. Vermont’s highest peak Mount Mansfield (4395 feet) abuts Smugglers’, sharing the same Green Mountain Range. Smugglers’ kissin’ ski cousin is the Mount Mansfield Ski Resort. Looking west, we see Burlington (Smugglers’ nearest airport at 45 minutes away), Lake Champlain and New York. Thomke points out Smugglers’ Notch Pass, a rocky, wooded buttress filled with caves and caverns. Two hundred years ago, Canadians smuggled English goods into the US via the Notch—resulting from an embargo that the U.S. Congress had placed on English imports. A hundred years after that, during the prohibition period in the U.S., alcohol was smuggled from Canada and stored in the caves and caverns. Ideal temperatures for such. During the winter, cross-country skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles can only access the Notch.

Skiers and snowboarders were standing, seated and sprawled out on the snow and granite rocks, basking in the warm weather and the long views. The bucolic Vermont countryside was intoxicating. The air crisp and alive, charged with energizing ions. We quickly put them to use, skiing down Upper Drifter to Lower Drifter. The first curve of Upper Drifter was a sheet of ice, not unusual in Eastern skiing. But as Mulcahy says,” If you can ski ice, you can ski anything!” Having skis with good edges is critical in these instances. Soon though, we were in the corn snow and a nice groomed cruiser run.

Our guides took us over to the intermediate Lower Morse Liftline where we experienced birch tree skiing. The Snow Snake run was great fun as we were able to clear out our rusty skiing afterburners and to get back into the confidence groove after the icy Upper Drifter. We then took the Midway trail run out back to Lower Lifeline, embarking to the left this time from the Madonna summit, on the blue run Upper Chilcoot to Lower Chilcoot. Our legs were now ready for some black diamonds. Robin’s Run and The Black Hole gave us that rush. My ski partner Amy Hartell, an intermediate skier, broke off from us to do a blue run. Later she told us the story, “Somehow I ended up on the double black diamond Freefall. When I got to the bottom of it, this local skier came up to me and said, ‘Miss, it’s kind of hard to snowplow down a black diamond.’ In the West, one might take that as an abrupt statement. I think it was a New England way of seeing if you were all right. I paid attention to the trail signage colors more after that.”

Lower Morse Liftline


We ended the day doing something that none of us had ever done before: airboarding. In its second year at Smugglers’, airboarding (imported from Europe) is basically taking an inflated sled—with hand holds--, the size of a small raft, down a mild pitched slope. A conveyor belt system would transport the airboards back up the slope for another run. It reminded me of inner tubing—an activity that I grew up with in Southern Oregon. When snows fell, my buddies and I would go to our nearby sledding hill with sleds, toboggans and inflated truck inner tubes. The tubes were the most fun because of the cushioning, the speed and the potential of the unexpected when soaring over jumps. Airboarding was exhilarating. Crashing and burning at the end of the run reminded me of my childhood days tubing the little hill by our little town.

Seeing all of the families enjoying themselves at Smugglers made me pine to relive my 30s and 40s as a father again. My boy—23 now—would have loved all the offerings that Smugglers’ has for children, including ice-skating, skiing and snowboarding, snow shoeing, airboarding, family game nights, movie night, showtime theatre, fireworks and torchlight parades, magic shows, family sing-along, swimming, Little Rascals on Snow (a program teaching 2-3 year olds how to ski on a mini-magic carpet), Kids’ Night Out (a program for 4-11 year olds), Hot Chocolate Warm-Up (we participated in this; free hot chocolate every day after skiing at The Gazebo near Smugglers’ Village), Sir Henry’s Tube Sliding, Family Karaoke and a Family Dance Party.

View from the Condo
Hot Chocolate Hour


Smuggler owner and managing director Bill Stritzler best summed it up, “I am personally committed to Smugglers’ being the best resort for Family sun anywhere! My job is fun. What better way to spend a working day than to watch hundreds of kids and their parents having a great time.”

Later that evening, we would meet Stritzler at Smugglers’ premiere dining restaurant The Hearth and Candle for dinner. An affable, insightful and astute gentleman, Stritzler and I—between sips and savoring of his wine selections of Vin D’ Alsace Pinot Gris and Lippe Mach 2005 Reserve—spoke about fly-fishing and Smugglers. “I live by the four Fs in life: family, faith, finances and friends. Actually six: add fly-fishing and fun,” he laughs. “This resort represents family, faith (however you want to measure it), finances (necessary for Smugglers’ to be successful) and friends (this resort has gifted me many).”


After a sumptuous dinner—I had the pulled duck spring rolls as an appetizer and Hearth and Candle filet and shrimp Oscar as the entrée, accompanied by maple cabbage, which I thought, were beets—Amy and I retired to our spacious condo, replete with a wrap around screened porch for viewing the mountain, for a restful sleep. A long tailed meteor in the bright evening sky was the last exclamation point to a full day and a perfect evening.

90 Plus Ski Club
Jim Thompson and Bob Mulcahy

Cranberry Bob Lesnikoski
Trail Honorarium


Cranberry Bob (Bob Lesnikoski), Mulcahy and Oliver Blackman would guide us the following morning as we met at the Madonna and Sterling Base Lodge. Coming back from the boy’s room—prior to our ski departure—I met and photographed a new hero in my life: 90-year-old Jim Thompson who religiously skis Smugglers four days a week. “Jim is here on the first chair of the morning and he skis to 3:30pm,” says Cranberry Bob. “No better example in life than that!” Mulcahy chimes in, “That speaks well for his skiing ability and he skis black diamonds, too. However, it is frightening to see him walk!” Thompson walks over and nudges him.

Blackman adds, laughing, “A week ago, after feeling a little dizziness, Jim went to the doctor and the doc said he was having a few problems and that he shouldn’t ski anymore. Thompson told the doc that skiing was his secret to being 90. Now who would you listen to: a guy 90 that loves to ski or the doctor?” Case closed as the dapper dressed Thompson—his jacket proudly displaying two pins: 80 Club and 90 Club—smiles, spews a few witticisms, adjusts his hat and heads out the lodge door to place on his skis for another day on the slopes. I tell him that I’ll see him in 10 years to document him with a 100 Club pin.

Ex-logger Blackman (oliverblackman@yahoo.com) is a ski guide and kayak maker. He builds everything from scratch, using western red cedar, eastern red cedar and northern white cedar. Cranberry Bob (vtcrancd@surfglobal.net) raises (you guessed it) cranberries, ski guides, gardens and makes wine. Under the guidance of their deft skiing ability, they showed us the sweet and secret Smuggler ski spots, including the Red Fox Glades, Shakedown, Bootlegger, Hangman’s Drop, Harvey’s Hideaway, Pirate’s Plank and …hush…can’t tell. Smuggler has 78 trails (310 acres) and 750 acres of woods, serviced by six lifts, one t-bar and one glider handle tow. Snowmaking covers 65% of the trails. Smugglers’ has the only triple diamond run in the East: the Black Hole! Prohibition Park (no, that wasn’t one of the secret spots). There is also a Terrain Park and Superpipe. A group of local Cambridge business folks opened Smugglers’ for ski business in 1956.

Smugglers’ environmental policy is in the top echelon of the ski industry. They adhere to the Sustainable Slopes environmental charter for ski areas. They’ve been designated an Environmental Leader in Vermont, the second company in Vermont to be so honored. They’ve won the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in Pollution Prevention in 2003 and 1998 along with the Vermont ENERY STAR Homes “Best of the Best” Award in 2002 and 1998. Ski Magazine has bestowed on them also #1s in the Eastern U.S. in lodging, service and overall satisfaction.

Overall satisfaction? They have my vote, too.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Smugglers’ Notch Resort 1-800-451-8752. Website: www.smuggs.com

Prints may be purchased by contacting Larry at Skiturn789@yahoo.com.

HOA LogoDestinationsTravel MallTravel LinksGlobal Travel