Smugglers' Notch offers something for everyone Vacation: A ski trip to the Vermont resort area was a big hit with everyone in the family, despite the cold weather.

March 08, 1998|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

You can smell the cold. Its frigid perfume teases your nose, and the heavy air hugs you like an overzealous relative. The earth is white and the gray ski is spilling snow. The sensation of winter is everywhere. It's the perfect beginning to a morning on the slopes at Smugglers' Notch, a family resort in the shadow of Vermont's highest peak, Mount Mansfield.

Or is it? The cold -- barely 5 degrees at the base of Morse Mountain -- alarms some in our family of occasional skiers, melting their desire to venture outdoors as quickly as a late spring snow. Our plans called for my wife and me, and our three children, ages 6 to 16, to begin the first day of our winter vacation with lessons on Morse, Smugglers' smallest mountain. My parents, who have joined us from the Midwest, were going to trek through snowy woods on cross-country skis.

We reach a consensus. Undaunted by the cold, my son and I will go ahead with our downhill lessons at Smugglers' Snow Sport University, where we're guaranteed Nathan will learn to ski and I will improve my technique. Our youngest, Chelsea, decides she doesn't want to do anything and will stay in the condo with Grandpa, who is nursing a lingering cold. My wife, Cindy, and our eldest daughter, Courtney, 11, will join Grandma for a cross-country ski lesson.

"It's colder than the south side of a light pole, whatever that means," Courtney quips as we step into the frosty air, recalling an old Vermont expression we've heard.

Inadvertently, we've discovered the charm of a resort like Smugglers' Notch, a 1,000-acre vacation spot nestled along the distinctive ridge line of the Green Mountains in northern Vermont. The variety of activities offers something for everyone, even when the weather turns colder than expected or someone isn't feeling well.

I'd like to say we've come to test the glowing endorsements Smugglers' has received for its family programs from top ski magazines, including Snow Country. We've brought everyone in the family, including my mother-in-law. We range in age from 6 to 69, possess various levels of skiing ability and winter sports interests. But we've really come just to have fun.

Smugglers' doesn't disappoint. Credit a combination of first-rate -- and in the case of our condo, luxurious -- facilities, a wealth of activities, a friendly and attentive staff and breathtaking scenery.

Morse Mountain

The condominiums and other lodgings are clustered at the base of Morse Mountain in a compact, easy-to-maneuver village. There are few restaurants here but the menu is varied and the food is above average for a ski resort. We felt comfortable letting the older children walk to the Village Country Store and Deli or the Sport Shop and, in Nathan's case, to the slopes. Smugglers' won Nathan over the first night when he slipped out to the Outer Limits Teen Center, while the rest of us played games in the condo. He had a chance to mingle with kids his own age, play pool and foosball and even get in some ice skating.

Named after a natural pass in the mountains, where centuries ago smugglers brought contraband from the United States into Canada, Smugglers' Notch is home to a lot of natural powder. About 300 inches fall here annually and the ski season runs from late November to mid-April. The resort boasts mountains of adventure: Morse, Sterling and Madonna for alpine skiing, and the rolling terrain at the base of Morse for Nordic skiing. Sir Henry's Learning and Fun Park, tucked away from the main slopes of Morse, provides a safe, quieter area for children to learn to ski and snowboard. Swimming, ice skating, snowshoeing and live entertainment are among other amenities.

The first morning out, it's clear Smugglers' is a family resort. Kids of all ages are everywhere, snaking down the mountain on skis and snowboards, following instructors and parents. Sir Henry's is busy, and that's where Nathan joins other teens for a beginner's lesson. He's had one before and is not thrilled about another.

"One more lesson won't hurt," I assure him.

I had hoped my daughters would have joined the Adventure Rangers Ski Camp for younger children. Chelsea has never been on alpine skis. The camp included instruction, guided ski treks, lunch and games on gentle slopes.

"I'm not taking a ski lesson with a bear," Courtney says, referring to the costumed characters that entertain at Sir Henry's. Chelsea won't go without Courtney.

I wasn't keen on taking a lesson either. I have been skiing casually for years. I took a lesson just once and found it dull and slow-moving. The lessons at Smugglers' were part of the vacation package, however, and I felt obliged to attend at least one. I was in for a pleasant and rewarding surprise.

Instructor Chuck Cobb, an older, patient man who teaches only on weekends, had no intention of keeping his students -- most of them adults in their 30s and older -- standing around while he demonstrated technique.

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