Last year we all attended the Ski Show in Toronto in order to look for a March Break Ski Vacation. My hubby and 8 year old boy love to Ski, so all I was looking for was somewhere where Jesse (17 mths) and I could also find something to do. Last year we went to Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, NY. Jeff and Jake had a great time, but I was bored to tears since there was nothing for Jesse and I to do. As we were going through aisle after aisle of Quebec resorts (and thinking to myself, Crap I so don't want to vacation in Quebec AGAIN), all of sudden I spied a very colourful booth for Smugglers Notch, Vermont.
I have to be honest, as a non-skier I had never even heard of Smugglers Notch before, but it looked very family friendly compared to all the swanky resorts we had just passed through. After spending almost 40 minutes with them in which Jake and Jesse were also attended too, I was convinced that this was the place we were looking for. The price was far higher than we had wanted to spend, but we decided "what the hell, we can really tighten our belts so we can go. They even had me convinced that I would learn to ski and LOVE it (ok, not totally convinced, but at least here my little hellion would have something to do other than torture me). So we booked it on the spot and spend the next months drooling over the brochure and hearing from tons of people how they had been to Smugglers Notch and it was one of the best vacations they ever had with their family. Even my sister liked it and she doesn't even ski -- yup it runs in the Porter side of the family.
Our vacation stared on March 14th with a very uneventful 8.5 hour car ride. The weather was pretty icky and the ride long and boring, but at least Jesse didn't lose it too many times. A big thanks to Jake who helped us keep our little minion occupied and happy. Poor little bugger had to watch far too many episodes of the Wiggles and Dora in order to appease his little brother. Being the Tim Horton's junkie I am, I also mapped out where all the Tim Hortons were along the way ( note to Tim's, your info is out of date), after Jeff missed the exit for the supposed last Tim's before the U.S., we managed to find a Timmy's in Morrisville. PHEW! The ride through New York and most of Vermont was really depressing. Many of the towns we passed through looked like they had gone through some seriously bad economic times. By the time we had almost reached Jeffersonville Vermont, Jeff was cursing the CAA TripTik for sending us this way, and damn we should have just gone the Montreal route (That decision sure came back to haunt him later -- more on that later in this post)
We reached Smugglers Notch at 4:30 that evening and when we got there it was raining cats and dogs and I have to be honest, I was a little disappointed. I guess I was expecting everything to be snowcovered and it pretty much looked the same as the green in Ontario. That was pretty much the only disappointment I had all week. We got checked in by an extremely pleasant and helpful checkout girl. Let me tell you the Americans are SOOOOOO much better at customer service than our Canadian counterpoints. The whole week at the resort we were helped out in a friendly (but not overly friendly) manner and everyone just seemed to love their job. I had a few issues with some of the Ski instructors which I will go into later, but even those issues were minor.
Since this review is getting way too long already, I will try to give less useless details for the rest. Really who cares about my Timmy's addiction and the weather.
Our room wasn't anything special, but it was comfortable, clean and had pretty much everything you needed. It even had the most incredible Laz-y boy chair which I ended up sleeping on for 3 nights (the pull out sofa was not comfortable at all -- and I so did not want to sleep in the room with the boys). I am still dreaming about the comfort of that chair and that heavenly blanket that I seriously considered smuggling home with me. The only 3 real complaints about the lodgings were that the shower head was ancient and I had the worst showers, the pillows were puny and there wasn't enough of them and that pull out couch needs to be buried in a shallow unmarked grave NOW. The location of the lodge, however, made up for any of the trivial discomforts. I could walk to pretty much everything and after a tired day of skiing, it was only steps back from the lifts to our room. This was key for me since I had to tote Jesse around a lot (terrain wasn't good for our useless stroller). I could have taken a shuttle bus anytime, but I like to walk as many of you know. You gotta contact Jen Maier of Urban Moms ( (More on this incredible women later) who was also visiting Smuggs at the same time to find out about the shuttles. I did hear from many of the people I met, that the shuttle was great.
The restaurants were a little overpriced, but nothing too outrageous. The food was yummy, if a little on the unhealthy side (Vermonters really like their cheese!) The wait staff were all extremely competent and helpful and a couple of them were FANTASTIC. We mostly ate at the Morse Mountain Grille and Riga Bello's, since the food at these two places appealed to Jake the most. I would highly recommend the soups at any of the restaurants, since they were all fantastic. The desserts were to die for too. You have to try the Spaghetti and steroid meatballs at Riga Bello's, they were delish (Although be prepared for some gas the next day, sorry to be indelicate, but Jeff smelled NASTY). For more info about the one restaurant we didn't get a chance to go to (read there is no way in Hell Jesse would behave in a nice restaurant), Hearth and Candle, please see Jen Maiers review. Oh yeah almost forgot on Monday there was a Friendly Pirate night at the Morse Mountain Grille. If you got kids under 5 they would totally love this. Jesse was fascinated by the pirate and the costumed characters and giggled his little head off.
If you are a new skier like me, I highly recommend you rent your equipment at Smuggs. The staff were lots of fun, friendly and extremely helpful. There was lots of joking around about renting the ski's that would prevent me from falling on my butt too many times and also ones that came with a homing beacon for when they came flinging off me. Not sure if the fee was steep or not, but it sure was cheaper than buying my own. Most importantly, especially for klutzy me, was that you can rent a helmet!
Now my experience was hit and miss depending on who the instructor was. The first 2 days I spent with a wonderful instructor who knew that I could ski, if I could just get over the panic of what I was doing. He spent a lot of time just watching me and telling me I was doing great -- he also kept trying to kick me up to the next level since he thought my skill was better than I did. He was very patient and calming and I really enjoyed my lessons with him. So, on the 3rd day I took his advice and moved up to the level 2's. I was getting more confident, but I was EXTREMELY nervous about riding the chair lift - and rightly so as it turns out. I had explained as plainly as I could (and this I am good at) that I was terrified of the lift and had NEVER been on one before. And what does the moron instructor (think his name was Francois) do -- yup he sticks me on the lift with another newbie. Shannon(Sharon) from Brampton and I ended up on the top of the mountain (Instead of the halfway point) because he never explained to us what we were supposed to do in order to get off of the damn thing. Luckily the girls from my previous lessons had seen what happened and shouted out to my hubby what happened. While the 2 of us were deciding how we were going to get back down (Which included us taking off our ski's and walking down) Jeff (aka hubby) came up and told us that he was going to help us down. Well I tried to do the first two steep hills (steep to a newbie I must enforce) and well that didn't end up to well. The 1st one ended with my feet dangling over what I thought was a huge cliff (probably was a ditch, but hey I was in full out terror mode) and the second hill ended up with me sliding down on my arse. By this time I was freaking out, so Jeff got me to wrap myself around him and he skied me down almost to where the rest our group was. Shannon(Sharon) was amazing and just took it nice and easy and didn't panic or fall down once, but hey she is a Pediatrician, so I am guessing she knows how to calm down the panic response. We joined our group and finished off the lesson with the other instructor who looked like Billy Bob Thornton (Think his name was Wayne). He taught us a lot of different skills on how to slow down and I picked up quite a few pointers that helped me out. However, I don't think he understood that for me, I just needed lots and lots of practice at stopping myself from panicing. I found that most of the instructors had no patience with the fact that you were terrified and this is one area, I think they could use some improvement on.
After the lesson was over I spent the rest of the afternoon skiing with Jake and Jeff and found myself become much more confident and decidely less terrified. However, Jeff helped me off the lift everytime -- I would totally panic each time I tried to get off. So on day 4 I once again explained to the Instructor (Billy Bob lookalike) that I was still terrified to get off the lift and could I go with someone who could help me. Yup, my friends, another mistake. This time my seat map, Alabama (not her name, where she came from) tried to help, but she managed to get off and I was pushed back on the chair and on my way up to the top again. This time Jeff was no where to be found and there was no one to help me, so they suggested I ride the lift back down. It was very humiliating but I used my sense of humour to get through it. Jeff saw me coming down on the lift and told me he would meet me at the bottom. This time, I really had enough of the instructors and asked Jeff to ski with me and help out instead. Being the good husband, and knowing I would probably never ski again if he didn't help, agreed. We ended up having a great time and my ability and confidence grew in leaps and bounds. We even decided the next day, to skip my lesson and just ski together in the morning. It was awesome and he was really proud of me, I even managed to get off the last chair lift ride without his help. So to make a long story short, way to feckin late for that, if you are terrified of skiing get a private lesson, but if you are just a newbie the SSU is a great way to learn.
Now I really cannot give an accurate review of the hills since I only skied the 2 green runs and I am a newbie, but I thought they were amazing and they seemed to have runs for all abilities. Jeff thought the skiing was great, but he didn't try anything too difficult as Jake was with him most of the time. I would recommend reading others reviews of the runs for better information. The lift operators were friendly and helpful and they were great at communicating with you (well with the exception of the halfway point for some reason, I think they put the unhelpful ones there)
The FunZone was a great place to go for after skiing with the kids. There are lots of fun things to do there for kids of any age. They have a special play area for kids under 8, which I think they should change to kids under 6. The older kids were a little too crazy to be doing the same things as the little toddlers. Jesse had a great time in this section, and he especially loved the bouncy castle. It was a great place to tire out your kids before bedtime or on a rainy day.
The swimming pool and hot tubs beside the FunZone were nice, if overly chlorinated (but I guess that is better than catching something nasty). Both Jesse and Jake enjoyed the swimming area. Only complaint here is that there was no shallow area and since Jake is terrified of deeper water, it wasn't very relaxing for us. Loved the fact that there was one hot tub for families and one hot tub for adults only. Great for those who have older kids and you can get away from them for a little while. Since Jesse is too young to immerse in the hot tub, he sat on my lap and we kicked his feet in the hot water. He loved it and cried when we had to leave.
On Thursday night they have tons of activities for the whole family. There was hot chocolate and marshmallows for the kids around the bonfire, a play geared to the younger audiences (Jesse loved this and tried to take part in it) and a spectacular Torch light parade and fireworks. It was a memorable last night for us!
The best part and the biggest reason we will be going back to Smugglers Notch next year is the Treasures child care facility. This place is every parents dream and the kids there are having so much fun, they won't even know you have left them. It is a state of the art child care centre that is open from 8:30 - 4:00pm EVERY DAY. They have radiant floor heating (so no stress trying to keep Jesse's shoes on, because they encourage no shoes), bright colourful giant fish tanks in every room, child friendly bathrooms, one-way observation windows, and the most incredibly trained and friendly child care providers you have ever met.The building is even designed to give you the ability to ski in and ski out of there every day.
The facility caters to children from as early as 6 weeks all the way up to 3 years. For those between the ages of 2.5 and 3.5 they even can learn to ski for an extra charge. I cannot say enough about how impressed I was with both the facility and the staff.
Each morning I received a security card, that would have to be returned in order to pick up Jesse, which made me feel like he was in safe hands. They would then call up one of the lovely girls from the Little Dippers room where Jesse would be hanging out to come meet us in the hallway. We would have a little chat each day about Jesse's mood and then they would ask him if he was ready to play and off they went, with Jesse not making ANY Fuss! In fact as soon as I mentioned we were going to see Cora, Carin, Brenda and Ninette he would almost run out the door of the chalet. The place is perfectly set up for --hmm how to I put this nicely -- little curious adventurers like Jesse. There are tons of bright and interesting toys and kids are welcome to explore their surroundings, so this was something my little hellion could not get enough of. The staff there are incredible and the kids are having an amazing time and they will not even miss you while you are gone. In fact I felt guilty picking Jesse up early one day since he was having such an amazing time with all the kids.
Healthy child friendly food is provided, but they are more than willing to serve your child his food from home instead -- again since Jesse is so fussy with his food - this was great for us. They have plenty of activities through the day to keep the kids interested and happy. They also spend a lot of time in their spacious outdoor play yard which Jesse loved and we really appreciated it as well. You can actually observe them playing outside while you are on the ski lift or skiing down Morse mountain. For the older kids there are also trips to the Fun Zone where they have a special section with smaller bouncy play areas.
Each day we got a report on Jesse's day that included what he ate, when he slept, diaper changing times, staff that cared for him, what games he played and some special personal notes about him. Quite frankly since Jesse can be quite -- again how do I put this nicely - spirited, we are always nervous when we pick him up from daycare. No worries here, they always grabbed us aside to tell us how wonderful, fun, friendly and curious he was. Honestly, at first I thought they were just trying to make us feel good, but when I thought about it it made sense. At Treasures everything is set up so that he can explore and not be locked in, and lack of freedom or exploring time are what set my little hellion off into tantrum time. I already miss having Jesse at Treasures and wish I could have brought the whole facility home with me, it is the PERFECT place for the little ones. This was also included in our package that we got at the ski show.
By chance through Facebook I found out that Jen Maier from Urbanmoms.ca was going to be at Smuggs at the same time. We made plans to meet up and chat. She is a truly amazing women and we had a wonderful chat on a bench on a spectacular Vermont afternoon. I highly recommend you check out her site and join, you will not regret it.
The ride back to Bolton will be described as the Highway from Hell. Jeff decided to save time and come back via the Montreal route and boy that was one horrible mistake! First we got to just outside of Montreal during rush hour which cost us a 1.5 hour delay and than they closed off the 401 just outside of Kingston and sent us and 5 million other drivers onto a 1 lane highway 2. That second detour added another 2.5 hours on to our drive. So -- our supposed quicker trip took us an extra 4.5 hours and we got home at 2:30am. I won't go in to the horrors of Jesse on that ride, but I will commend Jake on helping us through it. In fact we were so impressed with him, we treated him to a $40 present from Toys R Us the next day. He was a real trooper.
Forgot to mention. Forget trying to connect to the Internet at their so-called "business centre" It was $6.95 for 15 minutes -- Can you say HIGHWAY ROBBERY. There are other options for connecting through your lodge if you have a laptop or Iphone, but since I am too poor to have either of those, it wasn't an option.
Now for some stuff to help you or provide you further information. You can also contact me and I hopefully can answer any questions you have - or at least point you in the right direction
Packages and rates: http://www.smuggs.com/pages/winter/packages.php (also check out Toronto Ski Show where you might get a way better rate like we did)
Lessons and Programs: http://www.smuggs.com/pages/winter/skiride/ssu-lessons.php
1. Beware of using Mapquest or other online navigational systems for your driving directions. The road from Stowe through Smugglers’ Pass (Rte. 108) is closed all winter, so consult the Smugglers’ Notch web site for the best route in.
2. Book early. You’ll get next year’s vacation at this year’s prices if you book before the end of this season. There are also special deals during the season, such as free childcare in January.
3. Familiarize yourself with the Smugglers’ Notch web site, which is loaded with useful information that will help you get oriented more quickly once you arrive. Especially helpful: The “Read Before You Pack” page and free “Perfect Winter Vacation Planning Guide,” which can be downloaded or ordered online.
4. If you’re renting equipment, take care of fittings when you arrive to avoid the next morning’s rush. The rental shop stays open until 8pm.
Note about my Reviews
Dear Authors: The reviews in this blog are only personal opinions. I have absolutely no background in literature, writing or reviewing. I am a Librarian (actually a Library Technician for those who care OR know the difference) with a love for a good story. The opinions in the reviews are ONLY my OPINIONS. I am not commenting on the writers ability since well -- I am not a writer and never will be. If you are the author of any of the books reviewed here, my opinion is just that and not a judgment against you!