Secrets of Smuggler's Notch

A ride on the long double chairlifts at Smuggler's Notch, Vt. elicits smiles from little skiers....

A ride on the long double chairlifts at Smuggler's Notch, Vt. elicits smiles from little skiers. (Peter Gilbert/Special to QMI Agency)

LORI KNOWLES, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:49 PM ET

Ahhhh, the sweet mix of sugar maples and moguls. I'm on a ski run called Shakedown at Smuggler's Notch, Vt. The run is stuck way back in the bowels of the mountain, where few skiers venture save for a smattering of locals who have filed it under "Top Secret."

How on earth I found it, I have no idea. But even if I did, it would be forbidden to tell.

Behind me, sliding up the backside of a bump the size of Belize, is my eight-year-old son and his eight-year-old cousin.

"Wait up, Mom. Stay closer. These bumps are so big I can't see you."

They screech to a stop and suck in some air. We are all hot, sweaty and breathing heavily -- and we still have about two-thirds of the run to go. With a vertical of 1,110 metres, the thickly treed, meandering trails at Smuggler's Notch seem steep and endless -- just how we like them.

We wait a beat, then push off again to zip around a sugar maple or three. We jet up over moguls, dance around a rock or two, and make loud zooming noises, just like Lightning McQueen on race day. It takes us nearly an hour to complete the circuit, and I am thinking we're exhausted. Time for hot chocolate. Wrong.

"Can we do Shakedown again Mom? Huh? Can we? Can we?"

We have ventured to this part of the New England state -- home of ski hills, clapboard Colonial houses and loads of hillside sugar bushes -- to determine what it is about Smuggler's Notch that Canadians find so compelling. The resort, close to Stowe, is a favourite March Break destination for skiing families. (See smuggs.com.)

So we loaded up our beleaguered MPV with three kids, about 14 suitcases, ski equipment, and enough loud '70s music to drown out the cacophony of two eight-year-olds boys shouting "Rats, you killed me!" at their Nintendos.

After an eight-hour drive from Toronto, the front desk staff at Smuggler's Notch are the first to greet us. I am astounded by their relaxed friendliness in the midst of check-in chaos. They show us to our condo in the Tamaracks at Smuggs. The kids cry out: "This is the best condo ever!"

The massive unit is pretty "swish" with two huge bedrooms, loads of windows facing the mountain, two bathrooms (one with a jetted tub) and four flat screen TVs (one facing the aforementioned tub). We are all in heaven.

On arrival day, we barely unpack before the kids beeline it for Smuggs' Fun Zone, a covered dome filled with stuff the under-10 set consider "Awesome!" including bouncy castles, bouncy slides, bouncy obstacle courses, ping pong, foosball, mini-putt and tricky ladder courses. Upon entering, the two boys disappear and we barely see them for about two hours. Our four-year-old daughter makes a quick friend and is content to slip down the bouncy slide over and over. I lost count at around 100.

Our first day on the slopes jets me back to childhood ski days in the 1970s, when riding two-person chairlifts and shouting "single" were common, and when narrow trails instead of broad, treeless freeways snaked like strips of ribbon down the face of a mountain -- both remain standard at Smuggler's.

We warm up on a seriously fast, groomed blue cruiser called Chilcoot, with one parent leading, three kids between, and another parent trailing. On following runs we split at the top: I take the boys to the black diamonds; my husband Peter takes our daughter on the blues squares.

One fantastic thing about Smuggler's Notch is a family can ski together, yet apart. Runs meander down the mountain, crossing over one another frequently. We meet, share our conquests, then shoot off again, promising to catch up at the next junction.

Day two is the kids' first day of ski school -- aka Snow Sport University (SSU). An SSU bus swings by our condo promptly at 9 a.m., and a smiling ski pro checks the kids in. Then off they go for a day at snow school.

The kids ski all morning with their snow instructors, learn several new tricks, then enjoy a hearty lunch of pasta and garlic bread. Around 2:30 p.m. the whole pack heads inside to watch a magic show. Some days a scientist is on hand to teach the kids about snowmaking.

Later, we get a run-down on the fun over scoops of Ben and Jerry's in the local ice-cream parlour. We barely have time to slip our ski boots off before the fireworks start. Also on the night's agenda: A bonfire, family karaoke, snowshoeing and a Cookie Race, where kids cross the finish line with great big cookies in their mouths.

Day three is all about trees. We go ziplining with Arbortrek at the base of Smuggler's Notch -- one of the friendliest and most professionally run zipline adventures in the business. The boys had ranked whirling through the Vermont trees at the top of their March Break adrenaline list -- until the moment on day four when we stumbled across Shakedown.

"This is the best run ever, mom," my eight-year-old says as wait in line for the next chairlift.

"Yeah," echoes his cousin. "Can we come back to Smuggler's Notch for March Break again next year?"

loriknowles.com


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