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Short Turns: Stowe-Smuggs Interconnect: 65 Years Later

 

SKIING HISTORY

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Short Turns: Stowe-Smuggs Interconnect: 65 Years Later

By Jeff Blumenfeld

Photo above: Tracks across Sterling Pond show the way from Smuggs to Spruce. The reverse trip is all downhill. 

For Alpine skiers, “interconnect” is a route connecting two separate lift networks. The granddaddy of all interconnects, created in 1956, may be the trail between the top of Stowe’s Spruce Mountain and the summit of Sterling Mountain at Smugglers’ Notch. It’s still possible to ski both resorts the same day, although the experience is no longer encouraged by the two Vermont ski areas.


Undated photo shows interconnect trail signs. The route may no longer be posted.

It’s not marked, nor patrolled, and skiers are advised against trekking alone. Still, this little-known half-mile link between resorts continues to delight intermediate to advanced skiers with a taste of easily accessible backcountry that harkens back to when skiing was a true adventure pursued on rudimentary equipment.

Home to Colorful Characters

Smugglers’ Notch derives its name from a history filled with shady characters.

From 1807 until the War of 1812, the U.S. Congress placed an embargo on all British imports, which was a hardship for American farmers and merchants who needed manufactured goods. So “importers” smuggled British merchandise from Canada, through what is today called Smugglers’ Notch Pass. State Route 108 now follows that trail.

More than 100 years later, the Notch was again used for smuggling when the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Bootleggers moved booze through Smugglers’ Notch Pass and from there south to central and southern New England. Caverns in the Notch were ideal for storing alcohol at close to room temperature, while the smugglers avoided revenue agents. Visitors today can still visit the caves.

Alpine skiing came to Stowe with construction of downhill trails by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. In 1935, the old 1919 Toll House was converted to a real base lodge. Sepp Ruschp supervised construction of lifts in 1937. Starting in 1949, Ruschp developed the sunny slopes of Spruce Peak, across the road from Mt. Mansfield, starting with a T-bar.

In 1954, Spruce constructed a double chair to access the Outlook Restaurant perched on the summit, with stunning views to the south.

Calling it a restaurant is being charitable: it had no running water, no electricity and no restrooms, according to Stowe ski area historian Brian Lindner, son of a forest ranger, whose bedroom was in the original base lodge.

Beginning in 1956, adventurous skiers who followed the Long Trail half a mile northward from the Spruce Peak patrol shack (elevation 3,250 feet, 991m) could cross frozen Sterling Pond (3,040 feet, 927m) and ski down the other side to the new Madonna Base Lodge at Smugglers’ Notch ski area. They could then ride a pair of Poma lifts back to the top of Sterling Mountain (3,080 feet, 939m) and reverse course back to Spruce.

Reciprocal Ticket Offered

In the 1990s, Stowe and Smuggs, as Smugglers’ Notch is still called by locals, offered a reciprocal ticket based on a multi-day ticket purchase, used to bolster non-holiday midweek vacations. It was an effective marketing novelty, but Smugglers’ Notch vice president of marketing Steve Clokey says, “They stopped promoting it due to the logistical headaches of grooming, patrolling, and the skill levels of those who were experiencing an intermediate-plus level experience.”

What’s more, when an accident occurred in the mid-1990s, Stowe and Smugglers’ executives became even less enamored with marketing off-piste skiing.

“A Stowe snowcat driver didn’t calculate the turn radius correctly and extended the cat too far onto the ice,” Clokey tells Skiing History.  “The cat broke into shallow water and was stuck on the side of the pond. It was pulled out that night and the incident was reported to the proper authorities.” 

SKI magazine writer Steve Cohen took his family across in 1998. In his story “Ski East: Going over the Top,” (Dec. 1998) he reports, “The two trails connecting Stowe and Smugglers’ are marked with green circles and require more in the way of conditioning than ski skills; parts of the traverse are so flat we needed to herringbone and skate. Still, the 15-minute jaunt has joined two very different worlds.”

Pretty Tame

Today, the Stowe-Smuggs Interconnect trail is only open when Sterling Pond is frozen—some seasons as early as the first week of December.

From Smuggs, it takes about 20 minutes to pole across Sterling Pond and then descend into a meandering narrow trail that rolls easily to the Sterling trail on Stowe’s Spruce Peak. Take that down. Then, from the base of Spruce, take the Sensation high-speed quad back up to the peak. Ski Snuffy’s trail to the peak of Sterling Mountain, then take Rumrunner to Smuggs base. You’re back where you started in less than an hour, roundtrip.

“The toughest part is having to trek the flat surface of Sterling Pond—a little work-out but then it’s all downhill to the base of Spruce,” says Clokey.

Adds Stowe resort historian Brian Lindner, “It’s a pretty tame trail, except for some drop-offs, and is as narrow as a one-lane road. It harkens back to the way skiing used to be when I started as a kid in the 1950s, but I certainly don’t miss that vintage ski equipment.

“During my first experience with the Stowe-Smuggs Interconnect, it was 1960 and I was around eight years old. The best gear available at the time was wooden skis and leather boots. I realize now skiing was much more dangerous back then. The improvement in gear has made skiing so much better and safer. “Don’t ever make me ski in beartraps again,” he jokes.

Apparently, that’s another kind of ski adventure entirely.

ISHA board member Jeff Blumenfeld, of Boulder, Colo., is president of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA.org). He remembers skiing the interconnect as a kid in the 1960s. The trail seemed a whole lot scarier.

Snapshots in Time

1960 Ski Like a Girl

Pretty Penny Pitou is the likeliest American bet for an Olympic gold medal. But unlike the hapless U.S. men’s team, which lost all of its chances when Buddy Werner broke his leg, the women’s team could win with any of its six girls. —“Pretty girls of highly promising American Team get set for Winter Olympics,” which profiled Pitou, Renie Cox, Linda Meyers, Joan Hannah, Beverly Anderson and Betsy Snite before the 1960 Squaw Valley Games. (Life magazine, February 1960)

1969 Ski and Smell the Roses

“South Americans are like Europeans. It’s important to have fun and watch the scenery,” said Othmar Schneider, the former Olympic slalom champion who heads the 13-instructor ski school at Portillo, 55 miles northeast of Santiago. “Americans are more serious. They are too involved in skiing and don’t see the scenery.” —Enid Nemy, “Where Ski Buffs Migrate in Summer” (New York Times, August 31, 1969)

1971 Plowed into Oblivion?

Currently, the most widely taught method, The American System, can, in my opinion, be a woefully long process that starts the beginner in the venerable “snowplow” position and frequently leaves him there for life. —Stan Fischler, “The Ski’s the Limit” (New York magazine, November 1971.)

1985 Booting Up

By the time ski shops call it a season this year, they will for the first time have sold more rear-entry than traditional boots. Although this is no great surprise, it still represents a major shift in our boot-buying habits. Five years ago, rear-entry boots were still exotic footwear for skiers who wanted something different. This season, they’re commonplace. —John Henry Auran, “Rear Entry Redux” (Skiing magazine, Spring 1985)

1990 Fear Is My Copilot

Fear is a constant companion. The racers themselves admit freely that this is “the race of fear,” head and shoulders above any other test of concentration, skill and plain ordinary guts in the world. Dr. Sepp Sulzberger, who raced it long before it reached legendary status, reports that racers in his era would lose bladder and sometimes bowel control right at the start. —Serge Lang, “The World’s Toughest Race” on the Hahnenkamm downhill. (Snow Country magazine, January 1990)

2008 Skiing Real Estate Not Recession-Proof

After years of rising prices, ski-town real estate has cooled. Sales were down as much as 50 percent across all resort markets in the first half of 2008. “The resort market could not be sustained,” said James Chung, a New York real estate consultant for the ski industry. “People aren’t buying stupidly anymore.” —Paul Tolme, “Mountains of Real Estate” (SKI Magazine, October 2008)

2021 High-Class Aspen Caper

Thieves cut a hole in the storeroom wall of the Louis Vuitton store in downtown Aspen and stole as much as $500,000 worth of merchandise, police said. One man and one woman, along with two vehicles, were caught on surveillance video. The thieves entered an unlocked hallway at the back of the store and cut a hole in the drywall just large enough for one person to enter. —Jason Auslander, “Aspen’s Louis Vuitton store targeted in brazen $500k burglary” (Aspen Times, June 8, 2021)

 

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