Getting Ready to Ski: A Q&A with Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont

I’ve made this confession before and I’m not ashamed to state it again — I’m a perpetual beginner when it comes to skiing. For the last few years we’ve managed to squeeze in a weekend, or at least a day, a winter to ski. With such minimal ski exposure, and a lack of lessons and confidence, Glenn and I are are stuck on the green trails and not sure if we’ll ever get off. We are not aspiring to Olympic greatness, but we would like to ski together as a family with confidence and have fun! But how can our family, and other beginners, make it over that hurdle to become a “family that skis?”

We are going to make our attempt again this winter, but before we do, I wanted to ask the family ski experts at Smugglers’ Notch a few questions to help our family, and others like us, be more prepared. So when the team at the Trekaroo Influencer Network asked me to participate in its #ReadytoSki campaign, I knew it was a perfect fit.

In case you don’t know, Smugglers’ Notch, located in northern Vermont, is known as “America’s Family Playground,” exemplifying the term “family-friendly” in every way. With over 78 trails, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, a year-round aerial treetop course and ziplines, outdoor ice rink, indoor swimming pool and more, Smugglers’ Notch seems like an ideal place for families to try skiing.

Hannah on skis

To help us plan our winter ski adventures, I had a few questions for Harley Johnson, director of Snow Sport University at Smugglers’ Notch. Here is what she had to say:

Getting #ReadytoSki: A Q&A with Smugglers’ Notch

Smugglers Notch Logo

What should a family new to skiing look for in a ski resort and ski school?

A family should look for a ski resort that caters to families with a ski school that has a good reputation for delivering high quality programs for children. You can usually contact the ski school in advance for any questions directly related to your family’s experience. Smugglers’ has been focused on supporting families for a long time and we have a lot of experience working with and supporting all ages and abilities. For instance, in the afternoon, we offer special programming to young children in our ski and snowboard camp to wind down their day with a fun activity, which also gives moms and dads some extra time on the slopes. This winter there will be a specific kids’ learning area that will have sculpted terrain for the children to learn on – basically, we are creating a skiing and snowboarding playground to make learning even more fun.

How long of a ski vacation should a family plan to either become comfortable on skis or advance from beginner to intermediate?

To achieve that progression, a family should plan on spending at least 3 consecutive days in lessons.  Younger children benefit from a solid 5 days, but today’s families don’t always have that much time.

How far in advance do you recommend booking a ski vacation? What about ski lessons?

If you choose to book your ski vacation during a period that is likely to be busy, like the holidays, you should plan some months in advance in order to secure your pick of dates and lodging choices. Keep in mind that if you can structure your family vacation around times that are less busy for resorts then you will most likely be in smaller groups for ski school.{Author’s Note: Great tip!} For ski school, some resorts require advance reservations and some do not, so you might have to do a bit of research, and it may depend also on which week you choose.  At Smugglers’, we do recommend that you plan your ski school experience in advance but you can sign up for lessons and programs once you arrive at our resort.

How does a family with different skiing abilities still spend time together? Does Smugglers’ Notch offer any programs or lessons that combine abilities?

To spend time on the slopes together, parents can meet up with their children and ski or ride together in the afternoon and choose terrain based on their child’s instructor’s recommendations. For combined abilities, we do offer families private group lessons as an option. Families going that route should keep in mind that when there are several family members or different abilities in the group, the lesson becomes focused on the youngest, least experienced skier or rider. We also offer a Mom and Me or Dad and Me lesson where the parent learns how to teach their young child in tandem with an instructor. The instructor shares their tips and tricks to help the parent facilitate their child’s learning experience. For snowboarding, we offer a Night School for ages 6 to adult. The format features a 1.5 hour group lesson, and then participants have the opportunity to practice on our learning hill for an hour while instructors provide coaching and support.

Smugglers' Notch Ski Resort in Vermont

Photo courtesy of Smugglers’ Notch

When does it make sense to rent versus buy ski equipment?

It is better to rent for young children because they grow so fast that the equipment is really only appropriate for one season. Whether you choose to rent or buy also depends on how much you plan to ski. If you are only skiing or riding while on vacation then you should rent. If you plan to ski all season, check out the season lease that many resorts and ski shops offer. You want to plan ahead for this type of arrangement as they do sell out, and typically there is a limited time in the fall that you can sign up for these leases.

For families who are renting skis for just one trip, what are the pros and cons of renting on-site, near the mountain, or in their local hometown?

Renting on site is a better option. If you have any adjustment issues those can be dealt with at the resort’s shop. If you rent from somewhere else the rental shop at your vacation destination may not be able to make adjustments or there may be an additional cost. Renting at your destination will also save you from traveling with all of that equipment. {Author’s note: Just be prepared for long lines at the rental counter!}

What does Smugglers’ Notch offer family members that are not as interested in skiing or boarding as others?

Smugglers’ has a huge variety of programs and activities that are not ski or snowboard related including snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snow tubing, programs with local artists, guided snowmobiling and junior sized snowmobiles for kids, and much more. For family members who don’t ski or ride, or who may want a day off from the mountain, Smugglers’ offers the Winter Experience, which includes daily snowshoe and cross country ski outings, airboard sledding, a fondant candy class, a winter beverage making class and more, plus all the regular package inclusions like use of the pool and indoor FunZone entertainment center. This winter we’ve expanded our family programs even more to include a daily morning activity that’s included in our vacation packages. We recognize that a vacation is all about spending time together. So families can enjoy sessions focusing on arts and crafts, snow art, and creature feature with a naturalist, to name a few.

Smugglers Notch Fun Zone

Smugglers’ Notch Fun Zone: Photo Courtesy of Smugglers’ Notch

Skiing is an expensive sport. What are some ways that families can save money and still get to try skiing?

Look for vacation and package deals that include lessons, and there are often promotions to get you started. At Smugglers’, we offer a learn to ski or snowboard package, and each of our vacation packages include lift tickets. We also have different package options that include lessons for the kids or for the whole family. Having those inclusions is very cost effective when the whole family is planning on taking lessons during their vacation. It’s beneficial to think ahead of time about what your family needs, and to call and chat with our vacation planners about those needs and how our packages can support them. 

When do you see the best ski conditions at Smugglers’ Notch?

With all of the advances in our snowmaking we provide great conditions all season. We’ve fully converted our snowmaking to high efficiency guns, and a new pipeline ensures optimal water availability, so we can cover terrain faster and refresh trails quickly when needed, as well as provide early and late season coverage. February and March have been the snowiest months in the past but we are seeing more and more snow storms happen in December and January. Any time you come to Smugglers’ your family is going to have a great time!

What is the best place to stay at Smugglers’ Notch for a family of beginners, especially those that will be utilizing the ski school?

Smugglers’ has a number of condominium homes right in our village if what a family is looking for is walk-to convenience for ski and ride instruction, equipment rentals, and lifts serving beginner terrain. But really, our complimentary on-call shuttle makes all of our lodging and village amenities convenient; you just need to call and within a few minutes a shuttle comes right to your door.

BIO: These questions were answered by Harley Johnson, director of Snow Sport University (SSU) at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, who has extensive experience with the resort’s nationally recognized children’s programs – from the instructor level through all levels of program management. “Within SSU, we focus on building relationships with our young guests and helping them to feel comfortable in their vacation surroundings, in addition to fine tuning their snowsports skills,” says Harley, who has a degree in recreation management. In her off hours during the winter season, she’s likely to be found enjoying Smugglers’ ski and ride terrain with her husband and three kids.

After hearing back from Harley, I’m more ready than ever to ski at Smugglers’ Notch. Although I’ll admit that the extensive list of non-ski/boarding activities has me tempted to spend more time off the mountain than on. I guess I’ll just have to stay longer!!

Ready to ski at Smugglers' Notch

For more questions and answers to help you get ready to ski, be sure to check out the Trekaroo #ReadytoSki page. You can also enter to win a family ski vacation!

Want to talk to the experts yourself? RSVP for the Trekaroo Facebook event, where ski experts will be answering questions live and they will be giving away even more prizes (including lift tickets) on November 9th at 12pm-3pm EST.

If you are ready to ski, check out Smugglers’ Notch to plan your next trip.

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What to know when planning your first ski trip: A Q&A with Smugglers' Notch ski resort in Vermont

Photo courtesy of Smugglers’ Notch

Note: This post was created as part of the Trekaroo Influencer Network and I have been compensated for my participation, but either way I have been planning on visiting Smugglers’ Notch this winter and all opinions are my own.

21 Comments on “Getting Ready to Ski: A Q&A with Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont

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  1. Tamara, i am just like you- a perpetual beginner f0r some 20yrs. I am still stuck on the green slopes though:) and not hoping to get any better during our once a year family ski outings:) still- no reason not to enjoy the great family outdoors. Great tips!

    I’m hoping that one day I won’t be so nervous on skis, too! Really, I think it comes down to doing it with more regularity.

      I agree. I hope to get to that point soon but without a local mountain, regularity can get expensive.

    Great post! I had no idea where Smugglers’ Notch was. It looks like an amazing place to take my family.

    I’d like to get over my fear of blues. I think lessons would cure me but I always seem to stay on the greens. Need to branch out!

    My family loves Smuggs! We visited in the summer, but we haven’t been there in the winter yet. I can barely make it down the bunny hill without falling, but my son and husband like to ski. It sounds like Smuggs would be a great fit for our varied skill levels and interests.

      I’ll be trying it out for the first time in January but I agree, the options sound perfect for my family.

    Oh I didn’t know they had a fun zone! I haven’t been to Smugglers since I was in H.S. We’d love to go back. I remember loving that mountain! Good luck this year! You’ll do great!

      Click over to the giveaway page, maybe you’ll win a family trip!

    My husband and I grew up skiing in Tahoe and loved skiing in New England throughout college. Our kids are 9 and 11 and have grown up skiing and we’re always looking for new places to go so Smuggler’s Notch sounds like the perfect place for a family ski vacation!

      It truly does! I can’t wait to check it out.

    I like to think of skiing as riding a bicycle…you can learn as a kid and if you haven’t skied for years and try again as an adult, it will all come right back to you.

      Maybe it is that I didn’t learn as a kid

    thanks (from a beginner) for the beneficial tips!

    Start with the steepest then the rest gets easier!

    Fear of hitting the slopes is real… I struggle to make it beyond the bunny slopes!

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