AlpineZone Challenge 2011 – Steve Clokey of Smuggler’s Notch

The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Steve Clokey, Ski and Ride Manager at Smuggler’s Notch in Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 10/20/2011:

deadheadskier: During the past few years, there has been rumblings of converting the Sterling Double Chair into a High Speed Quad or Six Pack. Is this still part of the long term plans for Smuggs?

Steve Clokey: Smuggs has done some preliminary work on Sterling Mountain to test the effectiveness of the flow of downhill traffic in the event we replace the double with a quad. The work over the past involved reshaping the RumRunner trail to widen and regrading to offer an easy transition from the summit. Additionally, several new trails were created off the top like Bootleggers and Thomke’s Express. Our market is always debating the downhill experience against how quickly they get to the summit, and we want to make sure we do the right thing. We need the terrain & snowmaking in place along with the additional parking we recently have added to accommodate any volume increases. I would expect we will be moving in that direction in the near future for more uphill capacity.

Riverc0il: Should lift capacity be increased on Sterling? I would like to know how Smuggs plans to handle the increased downhill traffic and resulting skier/rider congestion and worse conditions that result from increased traffic.

Part of what makes Smuggs such a great place to ski is fairly narrow trails and low density of skiers (due to the lower up hill capacity of its lifts). How does Smuggs balance wanting a high speed lift vs retaining character and good trail conditions (Burke faces the same problem with their new HSQ but Burke has more real estate to spread out than Sterling, even accounting for its tree skiing options).

Steve Clokey: The question of skier/rider density is very important and relative to that we are studying how to provide the best experience possible. There are several schools of thought which the marketing department also has a love/hate relationship with. We would love to install new high speed detachable quad lifts for quick uphill trips but we would hate to just move the lift lines from the base to the summit. On top of that, a current price tag on these machines of $3-4 million needs to be passed on in lift ticket and pass pricing. Always a tough analysis given these tough economic times we seem to be living through.

xwhaler: Any plans at all to get back involved in the Warren Miller program with regards to vouchers or coupons?

Or any affiliation with ski discount cards, groupon, liftopia, etc.? I did see a Smuggs groupon last year but in general don’t come across too many deals for Smuggs when compared to other mtns in Northern VT.

Smuggs is definately a good value when comparing regular priced mid week or wknd tickets against other resorts but you do seem to be lacking a bit in the discount game.

Steve Clokey: Smuggs is sponsoring the Warren Miller movies in Burlington, VT, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto this fall. If you attend any one of these shows, you’ll receive a FREE lift ticket to Smuggs valid through 12/24.

thetrailboss: Can you comment as to what happened with the reciprocity deal with Stowe that once existed? Can skiers and riders expect to see that ever again or is it gone?

Steve Clokey: The Stowe/Smuggs connection was a real interesting marketing concept. It allowed skiers & riders to take the lift to the top of Sterling Mountain and cross the Sterling Pond from the Smuggs side and drop right onto the trails on Big Spruce on the Stowe side. The return trip back up Big Spruce and down the narrow winding trail back to Sterling made this connection a memorable experience. With every great marketing idea comes some operational challenges that sometimes are difficult to overlook. Difficult to coordinate were patrolling and grooming, for starters, was a little tentative. Additionally, some changes were made on the Stowe side with lifts that dropped the easy access, leading to more hiking that is a little less family friendly. It would be great to see these two resorts come together again to figure out how to make that work but right now it seems like a longshot.

Nick: What does Smuggler’s consider it’s main characteristics? I always had the impression of Smugg’s as a family mountain. As a matter of fact, my wife visited Smuggs fairly often several years ago, before she even skied…. is that the demographic you are actively targeting and will continue to target, or do you have any initiatives to broaden the appeal, despite some very good advanced terrain?

Steve Clokey: Smuggs is and will continue to be “”America’s Family Resort””. Reconciling that brand identity with some of the most exhiliarating terrain in the east is what I think confuses people. We’re not a small 300 foot vertical of snow covered lighted terrain garden slope outside a metro area offering up the description to what most people call a “”family mountain””. Our resort is open year around offering experiences that include summer and fall adventure packages that families love. The resort is catering to families in a way that we provide a diverse experience for all ages and all abilities. In fact, we have families that come back year after year and tell us the stories of when their kids were toddlers and started skiing here.

Now, those same toddlers are adults and bringing their children because they remember the exciting times they had on vacation here. Non-stop entertainment, activities, and real big mountain terrain with a diversity that allows for any level skier or rider–plus over 300″” of natural snowfall on average doesn’t hurt either! Come on up and bring the whole family–we’ll guarantee the fun.

Magog Fishy: Two of the ski areas closest to you (Stowe & Jay) are undergoing major base expansions and each is replacing a major lift. Additonally, two of your other competitors – Tremblant and Bromont – have had significant growth over the last 15-20 years. Granted Stowe is geared towards a different demographic, but Jay is aggressively targeting families, is building a waterpark (which has been one of Smuggs hallmark), and is arguably more convenient for many Quebecois. From what I know the ski industry is not growing and the Northeast/Eastern Canada populations are not really growing.

Aside from possible chair lift replaements, does Smuggs plan to make any major base infrastructure and/or marketing changes to insure it continues to thrive in an increasingly competitive market?

Steve Clokey: Ahhhh….competition and how does Smuggs survive against massive infrastructure improvements? Your question is very interesting because you include an element that always comes back to the growth model–sustainability (ski industry is not growing)?. I think it is great that resort operators have the financial backing to borrow or have capital to expand their operations and offer new and exciting components to the guest experience. The tricky part of this puzzle is how do you pay for it?

At Smuggs we have a year around resort that provides vacation packages that don’t just depend on winter revenues. Our ownership is currently independent (and proud of it), and we work hard to provide the best experience (against any of our competitors) possible for our guests without burying ourselves in large debt to do it. Surveys and guest feedback programs allow us to react to make sure this component remains at a very high level.

Employees are also high level service personnel and are devoted to providing a great guest experience–that’s why we remain #1 in the rankings for our family programs. Our capital investments over the past few years have included the new ArborTrek Canopy Tour, expanded gladed trails, snowmaking and grooming equipment, facility expansions and upgrades, along with some new programs for family entertainment and activities. Continuous improvement is happening at Smuggs so stay tuned!

deadheadskier: While Smuggs markets itself as a family ski destination, I don’t think many people realize that it arguably has expert terrain that ranks in the top 5 in the east. Even with the ‘Triple Diamond’ Blackhole glade, I think Smuggs is off the radar of many expert skiers in the east.

Do you feel that by focusing so hard on the family resort demographic that Smuggs maybe missing the boat in attracting advanced skiers in riders looking for a destination vacation? I say ‘destination’ as I know Smuggs attracts a lot of local advanced skiers and rider.

Steve Clokey: The destination “”advanced”” skier or rider ultimately catches the underground vibe of Smuggs expert terrain, deep natural snowfall, unbelievable glades, and of course the only triple black diamond in the East, usually without reading the recent marketing brochure. Many of our vistors will never venture down some of this mind blowing terrain so Smuggs keeps this info “”stashed”” away from the general marketing materials. We can unleash the lion to advertise this monster–but the headwall on Madonna can tame even the best of them most of the time!

Nick: Do you have an on mountain demo center? If so, what brands do you carry? Any plans for a Demo day this upcoming season with representatives from multiple brands of skis?

Steve Clokey: Our 3 Mountain Equipment does offer high end demos any day of the week. The beauty with our program is that you can try them before you buy them. There are multiple brands for skis including Rossignol, Volkl, Dynastar, Solomon, and Head. The snowboard line that is carried is primarily Burton for the resort. Go to for more rates and info on our deals. We also will have multiple on-slope demo days over the course of the winter and you should check our on-mountain events page for those dates.

Nick: Can you talk about your grooming policies and mogul policies, i.e. how you handle fresh snow after a dump (does it get groomed out or let a bit), and your snowmaking capabilities?

Steve Clokey: Smugglers’ does receive some of the highest natural snowfall levels in the East because of our Northern Vermont location and proximity to lake effect snow coming off Lake Champlain. Also, with our north facing slopes we hold the snow and preserve the softness that comes with less direct sun beating down on it during the day. With over 60% snowmaking coverage our plan is to lay down a deep snow surface (usually 12-24″” depending on the slope) to have ample coverage in the event of any warm trends so we don’t lose trail counts.

This method differs from the mountains that lay out their plan to open as many trails in the shortest amount of time which is sometimes a gamble during unpredictable early season weather. This philosophy has been very helpful in the past to keep our trails open and skiable while others have had to close down trail counts. Smuggs also has a snow guarantee that allows you to ski or ride for your 1st hour and if you’re not completely satisfied we’ll provide you a full credit for a future date. Check out our No Bull Snow Report for the latest conditions with Hugh Johnson, Snow Reporter.

Nick: Are there any other long-term capital improvement or vision plan for Smugg’s over the next 5 – 10 years? What are the next big items on the hit list, including summer months (i.e. expanding mountain biking our outdoor rec). I know Smugg’s’ is one of the more popular destinations but I’d be interested in hearing more about any additional or new initiatives that are on the books.

Steve Clokey: The future of Smuggs is very bright indeed! Given the mass amount of acreage we have available for terrain improvements our short-term goals are to work on expanding terrain and snowmaking. Without adding those we don’t want to increase uphill capacity. We certainly will also look at increasing uphill capacity once those other components are in place and with that we will need to continue increasing on-mountain parking, base lodge facilities, and other guest inclusions. Continuous improvement is our goal.

To view forum comments on this Challenge and the Challenge Results, please visit the following page: