The primary economic engine for the Town of Cambridge is the Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort, to which people often refer in both speech and writing as “Smugg’s.” In the snow-free months, it’s possible to drive from the town and resort of Stowe to Smugg’s and Cambridge, but in the winter, the two ski resorts are separated by an impassable mountain road (the Notch that I drove through on my way in and out), and they’ve developed into very different places. Smuggler’s Notch aims to be the perfect place to spend time — regardless of season — as a family, and everything that an individual or a family could need is included in the resort.
Before my trip, I connected with Mike Chait, the Smugg’s public relations director. My focus was on the relationship between the resort and the town. How do a large resort and a small town interact? Mike estimated that the resort employs about 1000 people in the winter and about 700-800 in the summer, and that about 20% of the staff comes into town for a season. Smugg’s also employs local kids and students from nearby universities. And he estimated that the year-round visitor total is up around 450,000.
Mike is originally from the Chicago area and he was introduced to the passion that gave his life direction — snowboarding — as a teen. He first came to Smugg’s as a hiking guide and then part-time ski instructor and he worked his way up to ski-school director and, for the past four years, the communications team. He is a man who has truly found his place and his people. I can’t include the details on all the facets of the resort that he described but, from the on-site day care, to the playgrounds, to the mountain bike training area, to the 9- and 18-hole disc golf courses, he made it all sound pretty great!
As for the relationship between the resort and the town, he said that Jeffersonville (the village within the Town of Cambridge that is closest to the resort) especially depends on it. The off-season weeks of spring and just before ski season act as a test on local businesses as to whether they’ll survive another year. But the resort depends on the town, too, both for the long-time residents who work there, as well as for housing for the staff members who are in the area for a shorter time. The resort doesn’t offer housing for most staff members, but new arrivals are pointed toward resources where they might find an apartment or a room in someone’s house. Mike noted that housing can still be a challenge.
(The one group within the staff who are offered housing is international students from the southern hemisphere, who work at the resort during their summer, which coincides with the ski season.)
The ski area has been connected to the town since its earliest history, when Cambridge residents developed trails for their own use. The resort now leases much of its site from the State of Vermont or local governments; as a result, the resort needs to be accountable regarding its impact on the environment.
The resort continues to be closely connected with the town, participating in fundraising events and hosting school groups. The resort’s owner lives locally, and the resort points visitors toward the town for picking up groceries or other essentials during their stay. The Smugg’s website highlights the company’s community giving and during my visit a team was prepping tents for a fall festival that Mike said is well attended by the local community.
I should note that my September visit fell during a quiet period at the resort: kids are back in school so there are fewer families; the leaves hadn’t quite changed color; and Smugg’s doesn’t open for skiing until November. Nonetheless, I passed folks out for a hike and a hardy couple swimming with a small child in a heated outdoor pool.
I haven’t been asking directly about politics during my visits, but I did ask Mike. I had been thinking about the staff, given the mix of folks in Cambridge for the long-term and for short stays. But he answered from the perspective of skiers. He said that skiers and other guests are diverse politically and occasionally there’s a “divisive conversation” on a ski forum or even a chair lift, but “The snow is a commonality. When they get here, everyone is the same.”
How would you describe Cambridge?
It’s a place our employees can call home, a close-knit community. We care about each other. People know each other and it’s hard to keep secrets around here.
It’s not always easy to live around here in the winter but people help each other out. Everyone gets together, no matter what drama they may have. There are a lot of motivated hard-headed individuals who get things done. This place is magic.