Video and photos by Dylan Thomas
If you could provide the ultimate fun experience for your kids, what would it be? That’s what Smugglers’ Notch asked themselves two years ago, when they decided to redesign their Fun Zone. Here’s what they came up with:
A two-story, 26,000-square-foot building, home to (hold your breath) an arcade, laser tag arena, ‘Smuggs Warrior’ course, multi-sided climbing wall, giant inflatable slide and obstacle course, slot car track, foosball, shuffle board, mini golf, private party rooms, a cafe (licensed for adult beverages) and an entirely separate loft for toddlers.
On April 1, the Fun Zone 2.0 will officially open to the public. The facility, which marks a major upgrade from Smuggs’ first Fun Zone–housed inside a large inflatable tennis bubble–has a final price tag of around $4.4 million.
“We can do so much more now that we have a permanent structure,” Mike Chait, Smuggs’ Public Relations Director, said. “The old Fun Zone just wasn’t practical. It was a bubble. It cost a fortune to heat it and inflate it. If we had storms like Stella, we would have to close because the snow weight would start to push the bubble down. It was great for a few years to say, ‘Hey, let’s see if this is successful,’ and it was. So we decided to invest properly.”
Chait has personally test-driven almost every feature in the Fun Zone 2.0. On a tour through the new facility with Vermont Ski + Ride, his eyes widened with excitement as he explained the giant clear rock wall, the obstacle courses and the Smuggs-themed laser tag arena, which hosts a bull wheel centerpiece.
In the arcade, he demonstrated how to play a game that shoots laser beams out of a wall. “You have to go over and under, like in the movies,” he says, ducking and jumping. “And there’s another game where you can go through and break them all. This space is really cool in here, once it’s all rocking. There’s music thumping through here, and lasers are shooting out.”
Through a set of glass doors, two parallel obstacle runs make up the ‘Smuggs Warrior’ course, a take on the popular American Ninja Warrior TV series. Players can race a friend or family member, or, with the built-in timing system, they can race the clock. In the future, Chait says Smuggs staff may open the course for Tough Mudder or Spartan Race training.
To the left of the Smuggs Warrior course, a see-though, multi-sided rock wall leans against the second floor balcony, offering an opportunity for face-to-face races.
“They loaded it off the truck, and I knew it was going to be clear, but I had no idea it was going to be this cool,” Chait said. “You can go up onto the second floor and literally watch people, and cheer your friends or family on from there. Say you have a kid who’s apprehensive about climbing, or a little scared about heights. If you’re a parent, you can go right up on that rail and say ‘I’m right here.’ You can give your own high five through the glass.”
For the adrenaline junkies, there’s the ‘Leap of Faith,’ a large orange punching bag that hangs suspended from a 30-foot-tall frame. A platform extends from a ladder, challenging (harnessed) daredevils to leap and grab hold, which, according to Chait, isn’t as easy as it looks–though it doesn’t exactly look easy.
“The idea is you can climb up, you stand on that platform, and you’ve got to jump and bear-hug the punching bag,” he says. “Our project manager’s son has been in here testing things for us, and he just had a blast on it–I think it took him three times to get it. But he got it, and then he just let go, and the auto-belay lowers you down slowly.” (The Leap of Faith will be staffed with an attendant who will stand on the platform and double-check harnesses.)
The Warrior course, rock wall and Leap of Faith are pay to play, ranging from $4 to $10 per session. All pay to play components, including the arcade, can be pre-paid with a scan-able RFID card, which eliminates the need for loose change or prize tickets. Parents can hand their kids $30 on the card and leave them to play while they head for the slopes (though kids 12 and under must be supervised by an adult).
Up a flight of stairs, the second floor is divided into two sections: the “Ozone”–which features favorites from the first Fun Zone like inflatable obstacle courses, a giant slide, mini golf and table games like ping pong and foosball–and the Little’s Loft, which is separated by another set of stairs.
In the Little’s Loft, toddlers can play with Big Blue Blocks, giant foam building shapes that are sturdy enough to build, but soft enough to collapse without doing damage. Giant comfy chairs offer a secluded spot for parents to relax and mothers to nurse. Coat hangers and cubby spaces will allow parents to unpack and get comfortable. Kids can play on rocking horses and in a mini inflatable obstacle course, and inside a kid-size country store, fully stocked with mock Vermont products.
“I tested this out on my two-year-old and it was a hit, so we’ve got that going for us,” Chait said, sitting at a tiny counter inside the country store. “She spent hours in here, just playing, and it was probably the cutest thing ever. That was how I knew, I was like– ‘but how does it check out with a two-year-old?’”
The Fun Zone 2.0 is funded by local banks and a Smugglers’ Notch investment. Designed by Vermonters and built by local construction companies, Chait says what they’ve ended up with is something totally unique.
“I’m fairly confident that there is nothing else similar to this, in all of its capacities, anywhere in the country,” Chait said. “That’s really what we were going for, to build an all-encompassing, comprehensive complex, and that’s what we’ve got, Fun Zone 2.0.”