An Insider's Guide to the Best Backcountry Skiing at Smugglers' Notch Resort

Take the trail less traveled and find the powder that awaits you.
Take the trail less traveled and find the powder that awaits you. Mike Trioli, Lifelong skier and Alpine Specialist at Skirack
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When it comes to finding the right resort to visit, there are many factors to consider. Terrain, accommodations, family entertainment, and après ski options are just a few that can make or break your decision to spend a day, a weekend, or even a season at any one mountain. Smugglers' Notch Resort, aka Smuggs, provides a healthy helping of all of these. In addition, it also offers up some of the most diverse terrain in VT on—and off—the trail map.

You can spin laps in the woods off Madonna and Sterling and feel fulfilled. You can also find the notorious Black Hole, the only triple black diamond in the East. Skiing it and coming out the other end in one piece feels like a big pat on the back. Follow it up with a victory beer in the lodge with friends, and the feeling can't be beat.

Want more? Well, to some, the greatest challenge and victory in skiing can be discovering that hidden gem, that spot that only the locals know about—the trails with funny names that, when you look at the trail map, you may say to yourself “I don’t see that anywhere.” If these freshly powdered and steep trails appeal to you, Smuggs is the best place to bring out your adventurous side and to utilize all the skills you have learned over your years of skiing and riding.

The line is worth the work
The line is worth the work Mike Trioli, Lifelong Skiier and Alpine Specialist at Skirack

According to Mike Trioli, lifelong skier and Alpine Specialist at the Skirack in Burlington, there are many different routes you can take to navigate your way through the backcountry at Smuggs. Here's what he recommends.

On the backside of the Sterling Chair lies Sterling Pond. This summertime destination makes for an easy hike in the state park, and offers beautiful views of the pond surrounded by woods. In the winter, you will find ski tracks leading across the frozen water and into the surrounding trees. Go directly across the pond and you will find yourself at the lowest drop-in point in the area. If you are interested in gaining still more elevation, turn left and follow a boot pack up the ridgeline where you will find many other spots to take the plunge into powder.

If you pass up the many drop-in points along the way, you will eventually find yourself at the top of the Spruce Peak chair at Stowe Mountain Resort. From there, a right turn uphill and into the trees will lead you to even more amazing tree skiing. Some traversing, along what in the summertime are hiking trails, is necessary, but when you find that magical spot, the trees instantly part open and deep powder is right at your feet.

Catching some air in the backcountry at Smugglers' Notch.
Catching some air in the backcountry at Smugglers' Notch. Courtesy of Smugglers' Notch

Like any backcountry area, skier traffic is lower in these spots keeping it fresh much longer than resort skiing. The best part of skiing and riding this terrain is that it all leads back to Route 108, and a quick hike brings you to the upper parking lot at Smuggs. Don’t forget your snowboarding friends however, they may need a shove or pole to slingshot them along the flat sections of the road.

Depending on how you’ve prioritized your day, you can make this an all day lap fest or a solid final run off last chair on Sterling. To be clear, the backcountry at Smuggs is not for the faint of heart. Many challenges and dangers exist as with any tree skiing. A few turns of deep powder can lead you to a cliff or a dead end of trees. Finding the top to bottom run may take some time but when you know your line it becomes a rewarding adventure. Expecting trial and error will only be beneficial for your mindset when venturing into unfamiliar terrain.

An experienced Smuggler will tell you to make friends with a local and have them show you the ropes. You can follow folks out of the boundary, but that doesn’t mean you can keep up. Even if you find the traverse into the woods, it can still be a challenge to find the right place to drop-in. Ultimately, hazards in the trees and backcountry are a common occurrence, but following proper backcountry ethics and practices will minimize these instances and give you the chance to take risk and find the adventure you were hopefully seeking. Bring a partner, know your line, and expect the unexpected.

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