The 20/20 Challenge: Smuggs (Week #2) | Outdoors & Recreation | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The 20/20 Challenge: Smuggs (Week #2)

One Snowboarder's Quest to Hit 20 Vermont Resorts in 20 Weeks


Published December 16, 2009 at 11:08 a.m.


Smugglers’ Notch is one of those places where you’re bound to make new friends. This may be due to its glacially slow double chairlifts — when you get on the chair at the bottom of the mountain, you can’t help but be friends by the time, an eternity later, you arrive at the top.

That’s what happened to me on a recent weekday trip to Smuggs. I went by myself, hoping to find a local to show me around. Luckily, Chris Lawrence, an active-duty technical sergeant in the Vermont Air National Guard and a lifelong skier, didn’t mind a tagalong.

Lawrence, 33, lives for powder, and we got a bunch of it this day. Last year, she skied 34 days, an impressive feat for someone who works full time and has a bizarre schedule, to boot — she works nights on the security force at VTANG’s South Burlington base. This year, Lawrence had already skied three of the four days Smuggs was open.

The question an active-duty soldier is asked most often these days is whether he or she has been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Lawrence has not. In her 14 years in the Air National Guard, she has been deployed overseas only once, to Bosnia. She said she wouldn’t mind being sent to the Middle East theater “as long as it’s not during ski season.”

As we rode the lift, the wind whipped our exposed cheeks. By the time we alighted atop

Sterling Mountain, my face felt raw. But I couldn’t complain — I was riding with a woman who probably ate a bowl of screws and nails for breakfast. Plus, the trails were covered in a blanket of soft snow, and the prospect of getting in a few powder turns warmed up my freezing body parts.

Since it’s still early in the season, only about a dozen trails on Sterling were open. The resort’s other two mountains — Madonna and Morse — were not yet online. But Sterling has more than enough challenging terrain to make for a thrilling day on the slopes.

As soon as I strapped in, Lawrence was off, making dainty little turns down Upper Rumrunner, the resort’s hallmark trail. As the terrain opened up, so did she. Lawrence was as graceful a skier as I have ever seen. She appeared to float over the steadily falling powder. For the rest of the day, I marveled at her Suzy Chapstick turns.

We took about a half-dozen runs down Treasure Run, Black Snake and Thomke’s (fun fact: This trail was named for a yodeling Swiss restaurateur). Lawrence, who lives in Georgia (Vt.), kindly suffered my intermediacy by waiting for me at every trail intersection, and keeping her comments about my acrobatic tumbling to herself.

Thankfully, Smuggs is one of those places where looking foolish is OK. It takes pride in being a family resort and, accordingly, plenty of people schussing down the hills look more like George Costanza than Bode Miller. This is a resort where an outsized ego is not necessary, or welcome.

Perhaps Smuggs owes its come-as-you-are attitude to its dubious history as a route for bootleggers during the War of 1812, and again during the Prohibition era. Or perhaps it’s the steep, rugged terrain and no-frills atmosphere that keep bluster in check and make this one of the friendliest resorts in Vermont. Two down, 18 to go.

Hear Lauren's weekly "20/20" report Wednesdays at 9 a.m., on the Mitch and Company morning show on WIZN 106.7 FM.