My skiing roots started at a place known by many on the eastern seaboard. Smuggler’s Notch, VT. Three mountains. Five two-seat fixed gripped lifts. A view of Mt. Mansfield. Acres of glades.
Smuggler’s Notch is one of the most unique ski resorts in North America. Created to challenge neighboring Stowe (don’t get a local started on which resort is better), Smuggler’s Notch (Smuggs) has kept the an almost “rustic” feel to it’s mountain.
What Smuggs lacks in modern upgrades to its lifts, it more than makes up for in terrain. Smuggs is home to some of the best glade skiing in North America. From more moderate terrain (i.e Pirate’s Plank on Sterling) to knee-bucking chutes (The Black Hole on Madonna) the terrain will leave you smiling, but happy to take a 15 minute rest up the lift.
I know that as skiers/snowboarders we all share that same indescribable feeling when we arrive at our favorite mountain. It starts in the gut. Butterflies bounce around my stomach like I’m getting ready to go on a date with Lindsey Vonn. The anticipation to get out on the mountain seems to take over me. In the car, my dad is asking me, “How’s work going?” and “How about them Steelers?” but those questions are just distractions to what really matters.
We’re passing through Jeffersonville, VT on RT 108, and my eyes light up as I see her majesty, Madonna Mountain, in the near distance. You know that feeling right? It’s one of those perfect days. The mountain sits silent and calm. The early-morning sun is dancing through the trees. There’s that moment where I think to myself “I’m back.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love exploring new mountains. I love slashing waist-deep powder in Utah in unfamiliar places, but nothing really equals the comfort of truly knowing a mountain. Smuggs is that mountain for me. I started coming as a ten-year-old when my parents wanted to switch up our yearly vacations to the Delaware Beaches (shout out Rehoboth, DE). We never looked back. On this particular day, we park out car up at Lot 1.
You know how in ski movies there’s always big parties after a day on the mountain? Usually everybody is all dressed up in their fur coats popping champagne and dancing to cheesy 80’s music. Okay, so imagine that and make it actually something a real skier would want to attend. Lot 1 is filled with local VT crunchies and dudes with big beards alike. Instead of champagne and fur you’ll find flannels, ice-cold beer, and some classic rock. My kind of place. Of course, those festivities don’t usually start til 3 or 4pm.
It’s 9am and we pop our skis on. *click*. I turn and look at my mom who is struggling to click her boots in. Why is it that mom’s always struggle to get skis on? Anyways, we cruise down the easy connector trail to The Sterling Mountain Lift. As mentioned before, all of Smuggs’ lifts are fixed-grip two-seaters. We pull up and wait in a short line. Smuggs recently installed RFID gates, which I’m indifferent about. I miss the days where you could hang all of your lift passes on your jacket. I guess I hold onto the “old-school” even as a 23-year old. We take our time getting up the Sterling Lift. My brother and I point at runs off the skier’s right side of the mountain (left going up the lift). Smuggler’s Alley looks nice and well…fast. But that’s okay, we’re only going to be skiing woods anyways. We get off the lift and get ready to start our day.
Sometimes I wonder if I could ski Sterling Mountain with my eyes closed. I’ve never tried, but eh… maybe? We take off down the always fun Rum Runner. My brother keeps insisting he can carve better than me, but he’s obviously wrong. We stop when we can see The Sterling Lift. To the left are our old stomping grounds- Highlander Glades. The first gladed trail I ever skied. Highlander used to make me shit my pants, but today I smile with excitement.
The great thing about Smuggs’ glades is that they never seem to be *too* skied out. On this particular day, it’s clear that a lot of people have crashed down through the trees already, but there’ still a decent amount of soft snow. We start our lines and I’m instantly transported to a feeling of Deja Vu, but there’s something comforting about it. This is the place I started to love skiing. I’m taken back to days when nothing stressed me out, and nothing else seemed to matter. My brother and I crush down Highlander Glades and finish the rest of our run down Rum Runner. We race. I win.
Madonna Mountain feels like a whole other beast. It looms above the surrounding area at an elevation of 3,600ft. We hop on the lift and start talking about how cows have regional accents. I start to wonder, are there British Cows? I try to imagine a cow in a stereotypical accent saying “Would ya like a spot a tea?”. But anyways, back to the skiing.
We duck into Doc Dempsey’s after traversing the always spicy Catwalk. Doc’s is arguably the most unique trail at Smuggs. It starts as a steep open-faced ungroomed trail littered with waist-high moguls. It then splits left into an open-esque gladed trail. The right is a more dense, typical tree skiing trail. We decide to split ways. I take the right. The snow is slightly deeper here. I feel the soft buttery turns as I slice may way through the trees. As per tradition, my brother and I both stop at the STOP sign. I wish I knew the story, but somebody nailed a STOP sign into a tree on Doc Dempsey’s who knows how many years ago. Thankfully, somebody wrote “Hug this tree” on the sign. You better believe we stop and hug that tree every run down Doc Dempseys. I don’t want to upset the ski gods, do you?
We continue the bottom stretch of Doc Dempseys and our legs are on fire. It’s that pain that drives us to be skiers and snowboarders right? We yearn for it. We pop out of Doc’s at the top of the Madonna II lift. We take a few deeps breaths knowing we still have over 1000 ft of vertical tree skiing left.
One of the great things about Smuggs is that there are a number of unmarked glades scattered around the mountains. You either have to be a local, know a local, or follow a local to find most of them. Mustache is a glade that gets it’s name from and old trail map that showed a shaded area that looked like a mustache. You can find the entrance by heading towards Ruthie’s and ducking into the small opening in the trees between Waterfall and Ruthies. Mustache is different from the other glades mentioned before. It’s more gentle, but still has a challenging aspect to it.
Mustache stretches almost all the way to the bottom to the base area. It’s filled with a variety of tightly packed and spaced out birch trees. Mustache is not well-known so it’s a place to find some left overs from a previous storm. I learned of Mustache when I was in ski school at Smuggs years ago. I had a ski instructor named Blaze, (yeah he was dope), who took us there one powder day. I can remember that first feeling of adventure going down through Mustache. I chase that feeling every time I ski.
I attribute my skiing style to Smuggler’s Notch. I was shaped with a technical approach to every slope and getting the most out of my runs. I know that we all have a mountain that shaped us. We owe our passion to that mountain. I owe mine to Smuggs, and that is why I call myself a Smuggler.