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Smugglers’ Notch, the made-for-kids winter playground

Smugglers’ Notch, the four-season resort in Vermont about two hours drive south of Montreal, keeps on winning awards from snow-happy families. Just last year—Number One Family Ski Resort according to some 1000 readers of FamilyFun magazine (a Disney publication), Number One for Children’s Programs from Mountain Sports & Living magazine and Number One for Family Programs in the U.S.A. from Ski Magazine. They even won accolades on the Internet. According to AOL’s “Best of 97” poll, Smugglers’ came in on top as what else? Best Family Ski resort.

Driving through a surprise blizzard last March to get to this family playground, I wondered if the resort would live up to all this hype. I also wondered how they would accommodate our motley carload of passengers—my daughter, the beginning snowboarder; my younger son, the intermediate skier; my oldest, who thought double-black diamond meant “full speed ahead;” my husband, who hated winter and thought careening down snow-covered mountains was nuts; and myself, nursing a shoulder injury that prevented any skiing despite this glorious dump of some 22 inches of snow in one 24-hour period.

Friends and family queried our destination too. “Isn’t Smugglers’ in Vermont—a seven-hour drive away?” “Won’t you be paying for all of this in U.S. dollars?”

Well, I am happy to report that, yes, Smugglers’ does measure up. From the tiny polka-dotted ski racks in the shapes of animals to the hugs from Mogul Mouse at the bottom of the bunny hills or the brightly-colored Alice’s Wonderland child care centre, (staffed by directors who have attended workshops with parenting gurus Elkind and Brazelton) and an on-site petting zoo, this is a ski resort made for young families. Single diapers are sold in the shop; walkie-talkies are rented out so that you can contact your junior skier to arrange lunch. Parents’ Night Out offers an evening alone for mom and dad while the kids are entertained with dinner and a movie. Unlike many kids’ programs, the older kids aren’t forgotten, either. My teens loved the Outer Limits teen centre in a yurt (Mongolian style tent) where they could play air or snow hockey, watch ski movies or sing karaoke in the atmosphere of lava lamps guided by their own teen counsellor. Their favorite aspect? No adults allowed.

As for the U.S. dollar situation, Smugglers’ accepts Canadian at par for the entire ski season from November to mid-April. Yes, the holiday weeks can still be expensive, costing hundreds of dollars, but SuperSaver vacation weeks like March 24 to 29 let adults pay $79 per day and kids under 18 pay $65 for lodging, lifts, lessons and activities. Free Childcare Weeks for ages six weeks to two years can also minimize costs and help our currency situation. No wonder the place was filled with Canadians when we checked in. “We like to give you folks a break,” said the resort’s cheerful public relations director, Barbara Thomke.

What about the resort’s Family Fun guarantee? How did they accommodate the varied interests of our family? My skiers left early in the morning so that they could make the first tow, came home for lunch, left for their lesson and more skiing, came home for a swim and dinner. Then the evening program, after which they fell into bed with a thud. They loved it. They never made it over the top of the mountain to ski Stowe—a Smugglers’ option. Next time. As for my junior snowboarder, the resort has made a commitment to snowboarding, meeting with local snowboarders and hiring a snowboarding manager. With their new 3500-foot ski and snowboard Terrain Park and their 300-foot half-pipe on Madonna Mountain, they can keep the intermediates and experts happy. The Me & Mom and Me & Dad programs let parents learn how to snowboard guided by their youngster and an instructor. “Just Try It!” is the resort’s motto. I watched in awe as adults as old as 60 attempted to glide downward both feet attached to a moving board.

With my shoulder, forget it. I signed up for a Nordic Night Tour, a moonlight walk on snowshoes through the woods. About half of us were outfitted with miner’s lamps fitted to our foreheads. As we walked in single file, each with one pole for balance, the lights flickered around the trees casting shadows through the forest. It was eerie, yet magical and I loved it. I took my snow-hating husband for a snowshoe walk the next day when it was warm and sunny. He managed fine but was more content to curl up in front of the fire in our slopeside accommodation or take a dip in our heated, outdoor pool. One evening, we swam in the misty water as flurries of snow flakes fell around us.

In short, at Smugglers Notch, you may not find heated quad chairs to zip you up the mountain or a ski valet who will unload equipment in the parking lot or fancy gourmet fare. But what we did find was lots of old-fashioned fun from the nighttime snow tubing to family bingo games or free hot chocolate at the foot of the bunny hill. Worth every at-par penny and much more than a slew of awards. To check out rates, FamilyFest programs for kids three to 12, slopeside accommodation options or Snow Sport University lessons, call 1-800-451-8752.





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