So imagine your favorite fiercely independent little coffee shop talking to Starbucks about selling out. Imagine your favorite fiercely independent little bookstore talking to Barnes and Noble about selling out. Shift to the ski industry…imagine Smuggler’s Notch Resort in Vermont talking to Stowe Mountain Resort (aka Vail!) about connecting the two resorts with a lift?! There couldn’t be two more unlikely potential ski partners than the proudly independent Smuggs and the Vail owned Stowe, but there you have it. We realize a connecting lift isn’t the same as selling but, WOW!

You may have noticed from other articles that we mostly ski in the west, but our roots run deep in eastern skiing. I grew up (using the phrase loosely) skiing in the east. It wasn’t until our parents took us out west when my brother and I were in high school that I realized a plastic garbage bag (to protect you from the rain) wasn’t standard skiing attire.  I have always said that with identical great conditions I am as happy at one of our old Vermont haunts (Jay Peak, Stowe, Mad River Glen, Sugarbush) as anywhere out west.  Hence we still closely follow developments in the eastern ski industry, and, frankly, pride ourselves on being in the know regarding even minor changes in the eastern scene.

So… it rocked our world when we heard this year about Smuggs and Stowe talking about connecting the two areas.  Maybe you knew about it, but we didn’t. And if you tell us you knew about it prior to June of 2023 you are either a liar or you work in the upper echelons of Smuggs, Vail or for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.  It wasn’t until a VT based newspaper successfully made a public records request that it was revealed in mid ’23 that the two resorts have been slinking around for SIX YEARS discussing the matter.

For us, the close physical connection near the top of these two resorts is the definition of nostalgia.  I grew up skiing these two areas with family and there was a flatish “trail” crossing a pond that we traversed from Stowe to Smuggs (turns out the trail is called Snuffy’s). We would then ski Smuggs for a couple runs and make our way back to the more civilized Stowe side. Even back then Smuggs seemed remote and separate from the real world. As a kid the traverse between the areas was incredibly unique, and looking back on it I guess this was my first exposure to “backcountry” skiing.

Some of the initial reaction to the possibility of a lift (the parties eventually focused on a gondola) was positive. There is certainly a “cool” factor to it, and some viewed this as a needed spark for a part of Vermont that had been perhaps resting on its laurels for too long. But then along came reality and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (the “VANR”). This state agency describes itself as “…charged with oversight and management of Vermont’s natural environment on behalf of the people of Vermont.”

An arm of the VANR determined they could never foresee approving the project despite Smuggs offer to effectively exchange 152 acres of land with the state that they felt had similar flora and fauna as the land that would be used for the gondola. The VANR’s negative view has caused the proposed project to be put on hold. Smugg representatives have claimed that the project is not in Monty Python status (“not dead yet!”) and plan to do further economic studies to show the positive financial impacts of the project. But, suffice it to say that it ain’t happening in the near future.

We at conSKIerge can rightly be accused of being knee jerk anti-development folks. We like things old school – old double chairs vs. modern six seaters, etc.  Therefore it is a little hard for us to admit that we indeed think this lift would be “cool” and that we would have been one of the first on the gondola. Also, despite the physical closeness of the two areas, they couldn’t more different in mood. Being able to ski both resorts in one day would add a new dimension to both areas.

There is a quintessential double edge sword embedded in this proposal however. We love Stowe. We love Smuggs. But our love for each is for very different reasons, and we want it to stay that way. Despite its well deserved reputation as family friendly, Smuggs is a little rough around the edges and reminds us of Vermont before Vail showed up. And Stowe is famous for The Front Four and a little bit of glitz. We certainly wouldn’t want any connecting lift to be the first step towards making the two resorts indistinguishable. And doesn’t some of this smell perhaps like Vail’s first step in taking over Smuggs? Ouch!

See VT Digger article posted when the news first broke – VT Digger on Proposal  and their article discussing its demise – VT Digger On Lift’s Demise.

Be Well; Ski Well.

conSKIerge co-founder

Kevin Dennis is a life long ski bum with a 34 year legal career on the side. Now retired, he skis 80+ days a year. While he lives in Alta UT in the winters, he has traveled extensively through skiing and has skied almost every major resort in North America (and many you have never heard of). He continues to hit the road often throughout the western United States and Canada and trips over the last several years have included ventures in British Columbia, Montana and Colorado. Whether you want to know about the behemoths like Aspen or Squaw or are interested in the road less travelled (Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana or Whitewater in BC anyone?), Kevin has been there, has an opinion and you will most likely have to tell him to shut up after a half hour!