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Archive for Sunday, November 14, 2004

Beyond the slopes: Resorts offer more for nonskiers

November 14, 2004

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Last winter, roughly 57 million visitors descended on the nation's ski resorts. Yet more of them are going there with little or no interest in actually riding a chairlift up the slopes and schussing down the mountain.

While alpine skiing and snowboarding remain two of the most popular choices for wintertime travel, a growing number of Americans think other snowy pursuits like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are more their speed.

They're also more affordable. After all, if you want to go skiing at a premier U.S. resort like California's Heavenly Valley or Idaho's Sun Valley, you could pay well more than $60 a day for a lift ticket. While that may buy you a pass during peak season at many locales, you'll also have to contend with long lift lines and crowded slopes.

In recent years, ski resort operators have worked to diversify their properties to appeal to a broader spectrum of visitors.

The snowboarding boom gave the industry the youth-oriented jolt it needed in the 1990s to ensure growth. At the same time, active Americans who want to stay fit while vacationing have boosted the popularity of slower-speed winter sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

More ski areas also are revamping their holdings by adding "terrain parks," which feature half-pipes and other installations on which daredevils can test their mettle.

Terrain parks also feature settings where families can roam freely with inflated inner-tubes fashioned into lightweight sleds that make for a wild, bouncy ride. In Vermont alone, there are more than a dozen terrain parks.

Long before the half-pipe riders and snowboarders started to appear at U.S. ski towns, there were small contingents that set up loosely maintained cross-country skiing trails at golf courses and other wooded areas. For decades, so-called nordic skiing programs were sparsely used and considered outside the mainstream of the skiing set, which was more about glamour and hot-dogging.

Today, nordic centers are much more prominent. They're a vastly more tranquil and inexpensive alternative for people who are turned off by the alpine ski scene.

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