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  • The Family Place

    By Mitch Kaplan

    Photo courtesy Smuggler's NotchMany wonderful things have happened for us at Smugglers' Notch. The good times were plentiful. But nothing topped the Cookie Race. Nearly ten years after the event, Laina - by then a teenager - insisted that we revisit the site of her triumph.

    It was here on the beginner terrain that the five year-old had culminated her first-timer, learn-to-ski week by zipping through the obstacle course, managing to scarf down a cookie en-route, and emerging victorious.

    A year later she would finish a NASTAR race quickly enough to rank in the top five nationally for her age group. But, not even a national ranking held a candle to the cookie race.

    Smugglers' Notch creates those kinds of memories. The kind that glow warmly in your heart long after the fun subsides. The kind that binds family together.

    I'd taken my kids to Smuggs "back in the day" because at that time it was among the few destination resorts that had developed specialized children's programs. Back then, too many ski areas simply assigned to kid-duty their least experienced instructors. Not Smuggs. They assigned only the ones who were truly interested, and trained them well.

    So, think about it. If this resort was among the first, it logically follows that they've had more practice and experience than most.

    Logic rules.

    In the fifteen years we've been trekking to the place, it's only gotten better. By our second visit a few years later, a state-of-the-art children's center had been built. A new 5400 square-foot Treasures Child Care Center opens for '02-'03 with features like radiant floor heating, remote access cameras, heated snowmelt walkways, ski-in and ski-out convenience, easy drop off and pick up, and a 4,000 square-foot outdoor playground.

    The next time, we were lured by one of their frequent special events. In this case, clowns from the Big Apple Circus were in residence. Laina was pretty shy at that stage, but she blossomed into broad smiles and loud laughter during the après-ski clowning workshop. And, as to skiing with the clowns. Well, it even beat skiing with dad.

    Photo courtesy Smuggler's NotchJust in time for my kids, along came a teen center and a variety of specialized programs for adolescents. Now you'll find two supervised teen centers: Outer Limits Teen Center for ages 16 and older, and a new, Teen Alley for 13s-15s, with a new snow deck park outside the door.

    Last time we were there, a room had been set up in which kids who were missing school could do their homework, complete with the aid of a supervising teacher.

    There is, by the way, terrific skiing and riding at Smuggler's Notch. Oh, certain problems remain: it can be a long traverse from the main mountain back to the base village; even though Madonna Mountain holds some of the best challenging terrain in the east, the bottom half is pretty flat; and the lifts, well, you have to admit they're slow - although the Madonna 1 lift was recently lowered to screen chairs from the wind, a nice improvement.

    But, the hill does hold some of the east's best snowsliding. New glades have appeared, a new superpipe and, as I said, some of the advanced terrain can't be beat.

    Still, Smuggs' strength is families, Nobody does it better. Period. The base village is self-contained so your kids can pretty much run free. The programming - on-snow and off - is consistently high-quality and always innovative. (Check out "The Wacky Wizard Science Show." Very cool.) And a basic understanding of family dynamics pervades. These folks know, for example, that parents run out of steam long before kids do, and they schedule activities accordingly. They also know that mom and dad need time alone together, and that adolescents don't want to appear anywhere before late morning.

    They innovate constantly. This year, they've added learn-to-snowboard camps for four and five-year-olds. Called Discovery Dynamos Snowboard Camp, these all-day camps offer small child-to-instructor ratios to facilitate young children's needs and learning styles. The Smugglers' Notch Ski and Snowboard Club will also add All Mountain All Terrain Camp in which teens aged 14 and older explore Smugglers' varied terrain including trees, natural hits, powder, groomers, halfpipe and other features.

    But, they don't abandon activities that work. Which is why ten years after Laina experienced the thrill of Cookie Race victory, we stood by the trail and watched a whole new generation slide and chew their way through the course. We laughed till we were in tears.

    Archived articles & info relating to Smuggs and Vermont:

  • Smugglers' Notch Review
  • Vermont Resorts

    … by Mitch Kaplan. Mitch explores New England haunts by day. More on Mitch Kaplan.

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