I am so up on Smuggs. I can’t even say the name without smiling and feeling better. Smuggs is one of only three or four ski areas that I connect with on an emotional level. Perhaps the honeymoon is not over yet. But I don’t think that is the case. Despite only having skied Smuggs four times, the connection already runs deep. It’s a special place.
The expansive tree skiing grabs me like no where else. The types of trees, spacing varieties, topography, and vertical all combine to offer an immensely pleasing experience. Much like other Northern Vermont areas, Smuggs tree skiing is a choose your own adventure and the best adventures are often off map. But by thinking outside the pack, there are so many seemingly obvious shots that remain untracked days after a storm.
When you are still scoring boot deep untracked an hour after a leisurely lunch break, you know it’s been a very good day. If you were not at Smuggs today, you might want to stop reading at this point. But if you were one of the few killing it at Smuggs today, you’ll want to read on to relive the day that was.
The decision on Smuggs should have been a no brainer. But I had also been considering Cannon and Jay as options that were significantly closer; each with their own merits. But neither could claim the merit that made Smuggs the clear choice: a top to bottom lift pod opening up for the first time this season three days after the last snow storm.
Madonna I spun for the first time this season today to the tune of no lines excepting the first two rides. I rode single–on a Saturday, at Smuggs, on Mandonna I, on a powder day–many times. Yet the line for the Sterling Lift was out of control. What could cause such madness? The only open run from the Madonna summit was Upper Chilcoot–a total luge run–to Link (later joined by McPherson’s to Playground on natural). Without powder below it, Upper Chilcoot was a great reason for most skiers to wait in line for Sterling.
For the rest of us, the day was a boot deep (and often deeper!) waterbar filled extravaganza. Patrol was displeased by what was happening and I earned a warning. But they soon relented and disappeared after having briefly guarded entrances and exits: powder to the people. The powder was stunningly delicious, soft but with support without being overly dense. Perfect cream cheese. Deep enough so that coverage and base damage were not issues though waterbar hoping was a skill in much demand.
Run after run, more tracks were laid down. But the untracked remained late into the day. And the tracked one time still skied exceptionally well. Today was a triumph after a difficult start and stop beginning to the season. Smuggs is only one big dump away from being fully online excepting glades and the steep stuff. Low angle glades still deserve caution.
“Discretion is the better part of valor.” A proverb I sagely doled out last week at Stowe in the climbing gully to a snowboarder that had never hiked the ridge before. And it was advice I was heeding myself Friday morning. Original plans called for a summit of Mount Washington and descent via a western facing gully that I have yet to ski. Exploring a new area solo when I did not have beta on snow conditions and feared possible wind and clouds blowing in later that day did not add up well in the risk assessment arena. Perhaps I was overly cautious in my decision making but I by passed the Route 3 exit and continued north en route to Smuggs.
A decision to go lift serviced on Friday could not possibly have gone wrong whereas a mishap was certainly a possibility with the alternative (though that is part of the sense of adventure!). I arrived at Smuggs shortly after 10:00 A.M. to find the snow still in the process of softening due to a hard freeze the night before. I took a warm up run on Sterling hitting the lower part of Exhibition under the lift where bumps were still rather firm. I tried to follow the sun and made my way over to Madonna 1 and skied down to the bumps under the Madonna 2 lift which were still firm and a little icy. I opted to take a short break and let the sun do its thing.
“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.