If you had Smugglers’ Notch & Stowe planning to build an interconnect gondola on your 2023 ski industry bingo card, I know that you’re lying. The News & Citizen reports that Smugglers Notch and Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont are actually collaborating on a plan that would connect the two popular ski resorts. The move is a head-scratcher, as Smugglers’ Notch is family-owned and not on any major season pass product, while Stowe is owned by Vail Resorts.
One terminal would be at the top of Sterling Mountain over at Smugglers’ Notch, while the other would be at the top of Spruce Peak at Stowe. The gondola would have a fairly small capacity, with only 26 carriers, and a carrying capacity of 1200 people an hour. The 2600-foot-long lift would have 9 lift towers and would go above the Long Trail, Elephants Head Trail, and Sterling Pond. The project would take place over two summers to avoid periods of Bicknell thrush’s nesting and breeding.
Smugglers’ Notch and Stowe Mountain Resort has been working discreetly over the past couple of years to get approval for a gondola that would connect the two sides. Discussions between the two ski resorts have been ongoing since Stowe was bought by Vail Resorts in 2017. Smugglers’ once promoted a trail on their trail map, called Snuffy’s, which connected the two ski resorts. It is now not listed as a public trail, but it remains open as a backcountry run when there’s sufficient snowfall.
A big hurdle that this project has yet to overcome is the environmental analysis. The new gondola would require 42,000 square feet of selective tree removal. In addition, they want to move a small portion of the Long Trail, known as one of Vermont’s most famous thru-hikes. Mark Delaney, who is the executive at Smugglers’ Notch, described that portion of the trail, which is located near Sterling Pond, “more closely resembles a dog park than a wilderness setting on many days.” They believe that moving the trail would provide for quieter and more in-the-woods experience for thru-hikers.
As part of the deal, Vail Resorts and Smugglers’ Notch would offer 164 acres of land that would be conserved. Smugglers’ is offering 72 acres of land, which it is currently acquiring from the town of Cambridge for $50,000. Stowe is offering 92 acres of land in a variety of locations, which includes “the only area immediately adjacent to Sterling Pond that is still in private hands.”
Danielle Fitzko, who is the commissioner of Vermont’s Forests, Parks, and Recreation, released the following statement to The News & Citizen:
“We are still in the early stages of the project review process, which takes into account factors such as ecological impact, land management, and public accessibility. This careful approach ensures that all aspects are thoroughly evaluated, and any potential benefits are weighed against possible concerns.”
The big question from this is what does the future hold Smugglers Notch? If the interconnect happens, would Vail Resorts buy Smuggs? I would personally say no, as Smugglers Notch has remained committed to being family owned and operated. I could still see them selling if it’s the right price though, as Vail would value Smugglers’ for its family-friendly atmosphere, plentiful lodging options, and off-mountain activities.
One idea which I think is the most likely is that Smuggs becomes a partner with the Epic Pass. This is something that mountains that are not owned by Vail, like Telluride and Kicking Horse, do. Alternatively, they could keep it as is, which would be an upcharge, as with Smuggs’ current lift ticket price being $85 for most days of the 2023-24 season, it’s within a reasonable range for wealthier Stowe guests.
In terms of a timeline, this seems like something that is far out, with my prediction being that if it happens, it could take at least five years from now before it could come to life. In addition, this will likely face opposition from environmentalists and backcountry skiers. The path to making this happen will be pretty contentious, which could lead Stowe and Smugglers’ Notch to eventually question whether the move is worth it. With all of these factors and storylines, this will be one of the most interesting Northeast skiing topics to follow in the years to come.