Homecoming at Smugglers' Notch

Homecoming at Smugglers' Notch

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Homecoming at Smugglers' Notch

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Credit: Hugh Johnson, Smugglers’ Notch Resort

Do you still head back to your alma mater for a big football game or a homecoming get-together? You probably enjoy spending time with old friends, visiting bars you used to love, and you bathe in the nostalgia flowing throughout the weekend.

That’s how I feel every time I arrive at Smugglers’ Notch, VT. It feels like I’m coming home.

It’s hard to put into words just how much a ski resort (Smuggs, of course) means to me. It feels odd describing a mountain as a family member, but that’s the best way I can describe it.

Smugglers’ Madonna, Sterling, and Morse Mountains feel like old grandparents that I only get to see once a year, but they welcome me with a warm embrace every time I return.

There’s no better feeling in the world.

Smuggs Trip 2022

It had been two years since I was at Smuggs, and this year’s family trip was something I had been looking forward to for sometime.

I was rolling one ski trip, where I skied 37″ of fresh powder at Taos, into the next at Smuggs, and I felt like I was floating on Cloud 9. It really doesn’t get much better than that in my book. Except, it did.

It’s no secret that the Northeast is having a challenging year when it comes to mother nature. Numerous warm spells, rain events, and freeze-thaw cycles have plagued the slopes.

Now, that’s not really unusual for a Northeast skier, but I was hoping for at least some fresh snow on my trip.

^The glades had great coverage

I ended up hitting the jackpot. Smuggs got slammed by more than 20″ just two days before I arrived, and it set up for excellent conditions throughout the week. Nearly every trail of Smuggs was open, and I was ecstatic that I could ski all of my favorite runs.

I skied 5 of 6 days, and each day gave me that weirdly comfortable warm and fuzzy feeling inside. You know what I mean, right? I felt at peace gracing the slopes of Madonna and Sterling Mountains.

One of the best things about Smuggs, and something that I had honestly forgotten in recent years, is the diversity of terrain across the resort’s three mountains.

Smuggs is considered to be one of the best family resorts in North America, but advanced to expert level skiers will have no problem finding and abundance of challenging terrain.

^View of Madonna Mountain from Morse Village Lift

For example, I started each of my days on Morse Mountain so I could ski over to the Madonna and Sterling Lifts. I rode the chairlift with a guy who was thrilled that he had just done his first blue trail.

He was so happy that he was finally progressing, and I could feel his newfound stoke for snowboarding in every word.

Then, I ended up riding the chairlift with Smuggs legend Hugh Johnson up Madonna. Hugh has been doing the snow report and Hugh’s Views at Smuggs for over two decades, and is one of the most badass skiers I’ve ever had the pleasure of skiing with.

He probably could take his talents to any ski resort on the planet, but Smuggs has retained him for all of these years.

I think that’s a testament to how great the terrain at Smuggs really is. I know some of you western hardos, (who can’t accept the fact that skiing the east is fun) will say I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but you’re the one who is wrong, friend.

The east is rad, and Smuggs is the raddest of the bunch.

^Doc Dempsey’s famous STOP sign. It’s been riddled with bullet holes recently…😂

One has to look no further than Madonna Mountain. I’ve skied this mountain for over 15 years, and I’m still learning about new glades, new lines, cliffs, and routes that have been cut by locals. Hugh showed me six fun spots/glades that are unknown to the general public. It was incredible.

My favorite run, however, is probably the resort’s most well-known… Doc Dempsey’s.

Doc’s, as the locals affectionately call it, has a consistent pitch starting off Catwalk on Madonna. The trail takes you down through big moguls, trees, and fresh snow. It’s a quad buster, and an absolute beauty. You can never go wrong with skiing Doc’s.

What’s even better, is that Doc’s only takes you about 1/4 of the way down the mountain at the top of the Madonna II chair. A lot of people might just cruise groomers down to the bottom, but I enjoyed lapping Doc’s to Mustache or Bermuda Glades time and time again.

It just never got old, and I don’t think it ever will.

^Hugh took this stunning panoramic from Madonna looking at Stowe Resort. I’m the dude in the brown jacket who is having a life-changing experience.

Okay, so I’ve talked A LOT about the terrain, but I want to get a little bit serious for a moment. This is really hard for me, but my therapist says it could be helpful. Bare with me, and I hope you understand why I’m writing this. Here it goes.

I’ve been struggling with my mental health lately, to say the least. I’m currently in therapy for substance abuse, have been through a gauntlet of medications, have had suicidal thoughts in the last 6 months, and each day feels like a chore. There’s a lot of reasons for why I’ve been feeling this way, but there’s one reason that’s elevated my spirits in recent weeks, and that’s Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont.

I’m serious. Visiting Smuggs felt like the spiritual awakening or breakthrough that I’ve been searching for the last two years. It provided a break in my incessant negative thoughts, and allowed me to think clearly for the first time in god knows how long.

^Credit: Hugh Johnson, Smugglers’ Notch Resort

Skiing itself has provided some temporary relief, but I haven’t felt such a large shift in my mental health like after visiting Smuggs.

I can’t pinpoint what exactly happened, but it was something about being on those mountains, that I’ve known for so many years, that gave me the peace I needed to start to heal.

It also helped that I was in the company of my loving Mom and Dad for the entirety of the trip. My life felt ‘normal’ (whatever the hell that means) for the first time in years. I was finally able to enjoy myself without being bogged down by anxiety and depression.

^Finding my groove on Sterling Mountain. It felt damn good. Photo Credit: Pat Kelly, Smuggler’s Notch Resort

I know I’m making Smuggs sound like a cure for my anxiety and depression, but that’s not what I’m saying at all. I still have plenty of work to do.

I’m hoping that my story might make you realize that you have a mountain, an experience, an activity, or a place that will help to pull you out of whatever funk you’re in. I highly encourage that you go and find it.

I didn’t expect such a profound change to happen at Smuggs, but it did, and I’m eternally grateful for that.

I apologize if you expected this article to be more about the actual skiing at Smuggs, but I felt like it was more important for my own health to put these words out there. I’m scared of what the reaction will be, but I’m hopeful this will be a valuable part of my recovery.

Thank you Smuggs.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for being rad. Thank you for only having fixed-grip double chairlifts. Thank you for having the best glades in the goddamn world. Thank you for the ice. Thank you for the snow. Thank you for the rocks. Thank you for the views of Mt. Mansfield. Thank you for welcoming my family for all of these years. Thank you for helping me at my lowest of lows.

Lastly, I’d like to thank to all of you for allowing me to vulnerable. The stress, anxiety, and self-doubt I have about sharing this info is hard, but going through this shit pretending like nothing is wrong is even harder.

Thank you.

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