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Four Seasons of Family Fun at Smugglers' Notch, Vermont

By Ellen H. Parlapiano

Smugglers’ Notch Resort is nestled at the base of three interconnected mountains in the heart of northern Vermont’s ski country. Yet this Green Mountain hideaway is much more than a family winter vacation playground. Families travel here all year long to experience the homey family-friendly condominium lodging, the festive village atmosphere, the stellar children’s and teens’ programs, a wide variety of family vacation activities, and the opportunities to get up close and personal with the natural surroundings. It’s rare for a family resort to be able to captivate kids of all ages, but Smugglers’ does this with ease.

On a recent late-summer visit, I saw hordes of younger kids camped out on blankets with their parents for a bonfire and sing-along. And as I walked by with my two teens, on our way to play glow-in-the-dark Family Night Spiker Volleyball, I caught my normally reserved daughter unabashedly singing along to Puff the Magic Dragon. Kids get so caught up in the charm of this place that they forget to be self-conscious. And Smugglers’ creative array of activities targets every age and interest, guaranteeing a happy stay.

Mountains of Fun

The resort is designed with convenience in mind. Package prices include accommodations, a menu of seasonal activities, and award-winning children’s and teens’ clubs. There’s also an extensive range of premium excursions and activities, available for an added fee. You’ll stay in one of the condominium homes, perched in the hillside overlooking the village center. Ranging from one-bedroom suites to five -bedroom townhouses, these fully equipped condos meet the needs of any size family. Many have fireplaces and patios, and all offer roomy kitchens and dining areas, so you can share meals in the comfort of your mountainside home. But if you’d rather eat out, you’re just a stroll (or a 5-minute shuttle ride) from the village below, which offers two restaurants, a pizzeria, a deli, an ice cream parlor, and a country store.

The New England-style village area, with its gazebo and sprawling green, is also where much of the family entertainment takes place. You and your kids can enjoy magic shows, puppet shows, crafts workshops, and sing-alongs hosted by Goodtime Charlie, the resort’s strolling guitarist and activity director. Smugglers has wonderful sports facilities, which are especially popular with kids school age and older. There are basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, a miniature golf course, a driving range, rock-climbing wall, and places to play shuffleboard, horseshoes and croquet. At the indoor Meeting House, you can check out the family game nights, dance parties, and weekly movies. Family members can also challenge each other to games of ping pong or air hockey in the FunMeister’s Clubhouse. Swimming is available all year round, and nature enthusiasts will enjoy the family trails and guided walks and hikes in the summer and fall months. The camps and childcare programs give kids a chance to socialize and master new skills, allowing you some time to explore the resort and its neighboring areas on your own.

Smugglers’ programs and activities vary according to season, but here are some of the things you and your family can look forward to when visiting at different times of the year.

Explore Fall Close Up

If you have preschoolers, fall is the best (and most economical) time to visit. The foliage is breathtaking, the activities are specially geared to the under-five set, and the prices are the lowest of the year. Since you’re not constrained by the school calendar, you’re free to take an extended weekend trip, or even travel mid-week, all at AutumnFest rates, which run from September 1 to October 13, 2008. You can stay as little as two nights or as many as seven.


Because childcare is part of the deal, the AutumnFest package gives you the flexibility to have mornings to yourself, and spend afternoons with your little ones. Rates include the daily Kids’ Connection Morning Program for children from 6 weeks to 5 years of age. It runs from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, and includes snack and lunch. An extended day program, that runs until 4:30 pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, is also part of the package. Kids will be cared for in the resort’s fully certified state-of-the-art Treasures daycare center, and divided into age-appropriate groups. Babies 6 weeks to 16 months old are called “Fireflies,” and get their own specially designed area with toys, sandbox, swings, crawling and climbing equipment, and a sunny screened-in porch. The “Little Dippers” group welcomes ages 17-months to 3 years for story time, daily themed crafts projects, and open-air fun at the center’s pint-sized playground. The “Little Rascals” preschool program for 3- to 5-year-olds focuses on the great outdoors, and features short excursions, like mini-hikes and trips to the resort’s petting zoo.

With the kids safely supervised, you’re free to embark on your own autumn adventures. A great way to immerse yourself in the beauty of the season is with a guided hike. The resort offers several to suit every level of expertise-from relaxing nature walks to rigorous 6-hour climbs up Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. If you prefer to meander along country roads, consider renting a mountain bike and checking out local antiques shows, craft fairs, and Oktoberfests. Or, view foliage, birds and wildlife from a kayak or canoe with one of Smugglers’ Paddling Adventures, available for an extra fee. You can start your day with a kayak trip or tour to a winery, where you’ll sample the local vintage and cheeses.

Back at the resort, you can wind down with the Artists in the Mountains program, which features classes led by local craftspeople. Among the choices are a Sculpting Workshop and Painter's Palette. Both are $48 per person per session, and materials are included.

When it’s time to meet up with your kids, you can compare your take-home artwork, and then share in the afternoon Family Ties program. It showcases a different hands-on nature or crafts activity every day, so you can experience the fall season at your child’s level. You’ll take short treks on the family nature trail to see if you can spot beavers or chipmunks. You can build sandcastles, design whimsical sock puppets, and use household “junk” to fashion one-of-a-kind musical instruments. You’ll also want to leave time for splashing, since two of the resort’s four swimming areas remain open in Fall. The outdoor Mountainside Water Playground (featuring a shallow lagoon, mini slide, and adult lap pool) stays open till late September. The Courtside Pool (with wading area, lap pool and hot tubs) is converted to an indoor pool in late September, so it can remain open all fall and winter.

Each evening at 7, there’s an interactive, parent-child event, like Karaoke, Bingo or Family Dancing. And if you have any energy left after all that activity, consider using the babysitting service and heading to Bootlegger’s Lounge. There you can enjoy a drink and live show, before calling it a night.

Winter and Spring Thrills

The Smugglers’ snow season lasts from Thanksgiving to mid-April, which leaves you and your family lots of time for skiing, snowboarding, sledding and ice-skating. The resort’s Snow Sport University offers excellent ski and snowboarding instruction for family members ages 3 and up, and is included in your winter package price. And the innovative new “Little Rascals On Snow” program, at the Treasures childcare center, promises to get kids as young 2 ½ comfortable on skis. By the end of the 5-day program, your toddler could be skiing from the mid-station on Mogul Mouse’s Magic Lift.

Even if you’re a first-timer yourself, you’ll pick up the skills and confidence you need to glide down the beginner slopes with ease. And accomplished skiers and snowboarders will still feel challenged because Smugglers’ three mountains offer trails for every level. The winter Club Smugglers’ Advantage Package includes daily lift tickets, ski camps for ages 3 to 5, daily 1 ½ hour youth ski or snowboard group lessons for ages 6 to 17, daily beginner adult group ski or snowboard lessons, and unlimited use of the FunZone Family Entertainment Center with indoor pool and hot tubs. In mid-March the rates drop and the snow is often still plentiful. Bonfires and weekly torchlight parades with fireworks light up the nights, and are a festive way to cap off the day.

Summertime Fun for all Ages

If you’re visiting Smugglers’ Notch in summer, the first thing you’ll want to do is go swimming. The resort has three waterpark pool complexes, with a total of 8 pools and four waterslides. There are shallow areas for tykes, and deeper pools for accomplished swimmers. There’s also an old-fashioned, fresh-water swimming hole called Rum Runner’s Hideaway, with a water trampoline and a log-shaped launcher that lets family members catapult each other into the lake. (This was a huge hit with my two teens!) If your children can handle deep water, Rum Runner’s Hideaway is well worth the 15-minute hike up the mountain, and a great place for a picnic lunch.

There’s something for every member of the family to do at this time of year-whether you’re traveling with a tiny baby, a preschooler, a teenager, or grandparents. Weeklong summer packages include the Summer Fun University camp for children 3 to 17. Kids are grouped according to age: Discovery Dynamos, for 3- to 5-year-olds; Adventure Rangers, for ages 6 to 10; the Notch Squad, for 11- to 15-year-olds; and the Mountain Explorers, which gives 16- to 17-year-olds the freedom to plan their own itineraries from a menu of activities. But within each group, kids are subdivided even further-for example, The Discovery Dynamos separates the 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and 5-year-olds so they can be in involved in activities that are developmentally appropriate. In the Notch Squad 11- to 12-year-olds are together, and so are kids ages 13 to 15. There are two teen clubs for kids to hang out in: Teen Alley, for ages 13 to 15; and Outer Limits, for ages 16 and older. Childcare for babies ages 6 weeks to 3 years is also available for an extra fee.

Several performance and visual arts programs have recently been added for children school age and older. Adventure Rangers and Notch Squad members can take part in “Sound and Stage,” a workshop that gets kids involved in songwriting, dance, vocals and playing instruments. Mountain Explorers have a “Bring Your Own Instruments” night, where they can jam with other teens. And for an added fee, 10- to 17-year-olds can enroll in the four-day “Lights, Camera, Action! Video Camp 101” and direct and shoot their very own movies. The DVDs are then premiered for all guests to see at the resort’s Vermont Country Fair.

Some new, unusual sports have also been put on Smugglers’ roster. My teenage son checked out mountain boarding (a cross between skateboarding and snowboarding) and diggerling (racing downhill on a giant mountain scooter) and pronounced both “awesome.” Or, you and your family can play a round of disc golf, which uses a Frisbee instead of a ball. There's also bike boarding, llama treks, dog carting, Segway and extreme Segrides, and the resort's new Giant Swing to try out. No matter what activity you choose, you’re guaranteed to have fun at Smugglers’ Notch-winter, spring, summer and fall!

IF YOU GO:

  • There are a variety of ways to get to Smugglers’ Notch. It’s located on Vermont Route 108 South and is easily accessible by car from northeastern areas. You can also get direct flights to Burlington International Airport (about an hour away from the resort) via JetBlue, Continental, United, and Delta’s Business Express. Amtrak’s “Vermonter” train, departing from Washington, D.C., New York and other eastern cities, will take you to the nearby town of Essex. Smugglers’ arranges shuttle services for plane and train passengers with advance reservations.
  • Book your trip by calling Smugglers’ at 1-800-451-8752 or checking out the website at www.smuggs.com. Planning professionals can handle all your details-from airport transfers to car rentals.
  • Reserve kids’ clubs when you book. Smugglers is so certain your child will be happy in the kids’ programs, it promises to refund the program portion of your package price if your child doesn’t have fun. However, with all the activities these full-day programs offer, your child is bound to come out smiling-and so are you!


Ellen Parlapiano is an award-winning writer who has covered family travel for magazines such as Parents, Child, Woman’s Day and Working Mother. She lives in Eastchester, New York with her husband and two children, and has traveled extensively with her family.


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