“I gotta get to Smuggs”
This has been a yearly refrain of mine for some time now. The excuses are long since familiar and trite: “Jay has more powder”, “the lift lines will be really long”, “I don’t feel like the longer drive”, “not all of their trails are open”, “I have to max out my Jay pass first”, etc. Add in a few injuries these past few seasons for good measure.
But earlier this week, I started getting a feeling that it was at last the right time. Smuggs was fully open due to last week’s storm and was getting the same snow that Jay was getting. Lift lines would probably not be an issue due to this being the weekend between two holiday weekends and before the College kids came back to Burlington (and the cold weather certainly helped as well). And I do not have a season pass this year. Friday night before bed, I was giddily excited. Not because I thought today was going to be an exceptional powder day (which it turned out to be!). But rather simply because I knew I was finally going to ski Smuggs, a mountain that by all accounts is my type of mountain, and that made me very excited.
Pulling into Lot 1 at the opening bell, it did not look like more than an inch or two of fresh had fallen. I made the decision to grab my Legend 8000s but quickly changed them out after only a single run. Smuggs had conservatively reported 6-8″ but more than twice that amount could be found in the trees. I skied boot to knee deep fresh every run with plenty of untracked and the occasional thigh deep drift. Suffice to say, it was a very special first day at Smuggs.
Having gone entire seasons without skiing a new area, it is interesting that I have now skied two new areas in less than one week. Not knowing the mountain nor having a proper plan of attack was discomforting at first. But I gradually warmed to the wonderful feelings brought on by novel exploration and discovery. You only enjoy that feeling of wonder and discovery a few times at each area before it becomes just another routine. It was thrilling and tremendously enjoyable, especially considering what I found. Enough waxing poetic, let’s talk trip report already.
Lifeline was a sight to behold from Madonna 1 but I knew I needed to warm up first. I missed the Catwalk cutoff to FIS and followed Chilcoot down to the Madonna 2 section of the mountain where I found 6-8″ of powdery goodness on a variety of ungroomed blue square trails. Next lift up, I decided that Liftline was going to be skied off quickly so that was my next run despite not feeling warmed up yet.
Unfortunately, I did not have my A game and Liftline is not kind to the B game. My cliff and rock jumping skills were not up to par and my back suffered from some poor landings. But the snow was great and the coverage was better than it looked from the lift. No other liftline in New England is this steep, rocky, and long. Madonna 1 Liftline makes Red Line at Magic and Chute at Mad River Glen look like Blue Squares. I will officially go on record that Liftline at Smuggs is the most challenging trail in the east. I look forward to returning and bringing my A game.
Else where on Madonna, Doc Dempsey’s and FIS looked bumped and blown so I opted for Freefall which featured lots of sketchy thin coverage and rocky sections in between bumpy piles of fluff with pow on the edges. An interesting trail for sure. More of the same can be said for Robin’s Run. The real goods on Madonna were generally found in the trees where I explored a wide variety of locales and found some incredible tree skiing that puts Jay to shame.
Over on Sterling, I found more tree shots with varying degrees of powdery goodness. The trails on Sterling seem to be much more of a jumbled mess compared to the distinct and characteristic trails on Madonna. I looked longingly at the tracks heading off the backside towards the Notch, but being alone and in unfamiliar territory, I erred on the side of caution and stayed within the boundary. Given how good the main mountain was skiing and the quickly deteriorating condition of my lower back, additional adventure seeking was not needed.
Smuggs is a mountain for many different skiers and riders as I found out while riding the various double chairs today (all essentially ski on, all day long). Families and vacationers were in full force and a many a father was riding Madonna 1 while the kids were being taken care of down at Morse. And there are powder hounds a plenty but far less and in a much lower percentage of the population than the other Northern Vermont mountains such as Jay, Stowe, Mad River, and Sugarbush. Having a mountain consisting only of double chairs makes lift rides interesting for a solo skier. I found myself deep in conversation with other skiers on all of my non-single rides.
The trails on Madonna have an intense character. Many trails are rather narrow, sometimes rather rocky, and few trails go straight except for Liftline. Trees are abundant at Smuggs and you can find them just like you can at Jay or Stowe. But most of all, the terrain has a top to bottom intensity that bests even Mad River Glen.
Smuggler’s Notch has instantly jumped into my top three favorite ski areas. And after another return visit or two, I am leaving open the possibility that it just may be my favorite mountain in New England. Suffice to say, it will not be many years before I return to Smuggs to make that determination.