Avik News Stories of Note

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Skiing

WHAT'S DOING IN; Stowe
By MARIALISA CALTA

Stowe, Vt., is a resort town with a soul. Nearly every business is locally owned; there is not a chain-affiliated store, restaurant or motel to be found. For the visitor, this tends to lead to frequent encounters with informed, earnest townspeople who have a stake in their community. And the hospitality feels genuine.
The first major influx of winter tourists arrived in 1921, when a winter carnival attracted 2,000 spectators and participants. The first alpine ski trail was cut in 1933 on Mount Mansfield (at 4,395 feet, the state's highest peak) and the town soon began promoting itself as the Ski Capital of the East. Now Stowe lures winter visitors for snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dog sledding and cross-country skiing, as well.


The village proper is compact: a few blocks of churches, stores, restaurants and municipal buildings on Main Street (Route 100). From there, the Mountain Road (Route 108) is a strip of dense but generally attractive commercial development winding upward for eight miles to the Stowe Mountain Resort, which encompasses both Mount Mansfield and the adjacent 3,390-foot Spruce Peak. The Stowe Trolley, (802) 253-7585, makes frequent runs from the village to the resort, at $1 a trip.

Events

The main event of the season is the Stowe Winter Carnival, Jan. 16 to 25, with an ice-carving competition, a snowshoe race, snow volleyball, snow golf, a parade and other activities. Over the 10 days, about 5,000 people attend. Contact the Stowe Area Association, Main Street, (877) 467-8693, www.gostowe.com or www.stowecarnival.com.

The Helen Day Art Center, School Street, (802) 253-8358, www.helenday.com, sponsors its annual Festival of Trees Dec. 9 to Jan. 4, with 15 evergreens trimmed in various themes by local organizations, artists, schoolchildren and collectors. This year the festival will include an exhibit of dozens of antique dolls. Admission, $3.

On Feb. 21, the Tour de Stowe is a day of self-guided cross-country skiing on 8 to 10 miles of intermediate groomed trails, sponsored by the Catamount Trail Association; (802) 864-5794, www.catamounttrail.org. It starts and ends at the Trapp Family Lodge and costs $25 a person (under 12, free), which includes an après-ski party at the lodge. The day will be capped by a dinner-dance at a local club; contact the Vermont Ski Museum for information; (802) 253-9911; www.vermontskimuseum.org.

The Stowe Derby, on Feb. 22, is billed as one of the country's oldest combination Nordic and alpine races, and runs from the top of the mountain to the village, drawing neophytes and experts. Contact the Mount Mansfield Ski Club; (802) 253-7704; www.mmsc-stowevt.org.

Activities

Among the many 19th-century buildings that lend the village its charm is the Old Town Hall (1818), renovated in 2000 to house the Vermont Ski Museum, 1 South Main Street; (802) 253-9911, www.vermontskimuseum.org; free (donations appreciated); closed Tuesday. The museum houses a collection of vintage ski equipment, clothing, photos and memorabilia, and this winter will screen two ski/snowboard movies: Warren Miller's ''Journey'' and Teton Gravity Research's ''High Life.''

A 50,000-square-foot spa and sports club recently opened at the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa, 1746 Mountain Road; (800) 253-2232, www.stoweflake.com. The spa has fountains, mineral baths and a waterfall; 30 treatment rooms; and a menu of 120 treatments, some geared toward men and couples. Daily access fees: $20 for resort guests, $40 for nonguests (access is free with any spa treatment).

Clearly, winter visitors find downhill skiing and snowboarding the biggest draw, and the Stowe Mountain Resort, (800) 253-4754, www.stowe.com, with 48 alpine trails, terrain parks and half-pipe, has packages for singles, families and students. A full-price one-day lift ticket was $60 last year; this year's price will be posted this month. The resort's Web site has an interactive trail map. For snow conditions, call (802) 253-3600. Cross-country skiers will find a 93-mile trail system, made up of the trails from the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross-Country Ski Center and three other Nordic ski areas at Trapp Family Lodge, Edson Hill Manor and Stoweflake Mountain Resort. An adult day ticket, $15, is honored at any of the four centers.

Many outfitters rent snowshoes; Umiak Outfitters, 849 South Main Street, (802) 253-2317, www.umiak.com, also conducts a variety of guided tours, including a Gourmet Dinner Tour ($79 a person including rentals) and a Moonlight Cabin Tour ($39).

Dog-sled rides are becoming increasingly popular. The Eden Mountain Lodge, 25 miles north of Stowe at 1390 Square Road in Eden Mills, (802) 635-9070, www.edenmountainlodge.com, allows visitors to drive or ride in the sleds. Prices start at $220 for two adults for a two-hour jaunt.

Sleigh rides are available at a number of inns and resorts, and an outfit called Gentle Giants, 4000 Mountain Road, (802) 253-2216, will take you on private rides through woods and pastures affording spectacular views of Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak. Prices for daytime rides are $22.50, $15 ages 10 to 14, $10 younger than 10 (under 3 free).

At Stowe Snowmobile Tours, at Umiak Outfitters (above), (802) 253-6221, www.stowesnowmobiletours.com, guided snowmobile trips start at $119 for two hours, which includes boots, helmets and up-to-date machines with heated handle grips.

And for something off the trail, you can find almost every kind of handmade item in Stowe -- leather goods, quilts, furniture, jewelry, clothing and hand-blown glass. One store that has a bit of everything is the Stowe Craft Gallery, 55 Mountain Road, (802) 253-4693, with a stunning array of kaleidoscopes, from $17 but typically in the $130 to $250 range.

Where to Stay

The Stowe Area Association, (877) 467-8693, www.gostowe.com, serves as a central reservations service for over 55 properties and sells myriad multiday packages, some including lift tickets. Rates below are for one night, double occupancy, in the regular winter season, which starts at most properties on Jan. 4. Rates are lower before Dec. 18, and higher during holiday weeks. Some lodgings require two-night stays on weekends, three to five nights on holidays.

The Stowe resort now has 70 slopeside units at the Inn at the Mountain and Condos; (800) 253-4754, fax (802) 253-3659, www.stowe.com. A multiyear expansion, already under way, will add hundreds more. The inn's large, comfortable rooms start at $159 for one bedroom; $329 to $489 for two- to four-bedroom units.

In the village, the 1860 House B&B, School Street, (800) 248-1860, www.1860house.com, on the National Register of Historic Places, features a wood stove and comfy chairs in the common room, and five cheerful bedrooms with small baths from $110.

Those traveling with dogs may find the new Two Dog Lodge, 3576 Mountain Road, (802) 253-8555, fax (802) 253-8556, www.twodoglodge.com, a godsend. Each of the 17 rooms has a dog bowl and dog bed, and six have hand-carved dog-themed furniture. Basic rooms start at $79 and include a turn-down treat for your dog and Continental breakfast (for guests). Dogs can stay free (they must be in a crate if left alone in the room) but dog care (day care, sitting or kennel) is extra.

Budget: The newly refurbished Stowe Inn, 123 Mountain Road, (800) 546-4030, fax (802) 253-4031, www.stoweinn.com, has 18 nicely appointed rooms decorated with antique reproductions and the work of local artists, some with two queen beds, all with private bath, cable TV. In addition, 22 motel-style rooms in the adjacent Carriage House offer more basic accommodations. Rates start at $78, with Continental breakfast.

The 61 units at the Stowe Motel and Snowdrift, 2043 Mountain Road, (800) 829-7629, fax (802) 253-9971, www.stowemotel.com, include motel rooms, efficiency units, two- and four-bedroom apartments, fireplace suites. Five rental houses (with up to six bedrooms) have full baths, fireplaces, VCR's and (in four) hot tubs. Prices start at $89 a night for a basic room (queen bed, cable TV, minifridge, modem hookup and Continental breakfast) and climb to $2,300 a week for the six-bedroom house.

Luxury: The Green Mountain Inn, 18 Main Street; (800) 253-7302, fax (802) 253-5096, www.greenmountaininn.com, has 105 rooms, suites and town houses in seven buildings in the middle of Stowe Village. Standard rooms in the main inn and its annex have a country-inn feel, with stenciled trim and Early American motifs, and start at $119. Accommodations at the nearby Mansfield House are luxurious, with fireplaces and Jacuzzis in the bedrooms, handmade furniture and quilts, marble baths, CD and DVD players and, in several rooms, computers with high-speed Internet access; from $225.

The Stone Hill Inn, 89 Houston Farm Road, (802) 253-6282, fax (802) 253-7415, www.stonehillinn.com, in a secluded nine-acre setting off the Mountain Road, caters to couples (no kids); each room has a king bed with down duvets and Egyptian cotton towels, and a gas fireplace opening to both the bathroom (with Jacuzzi) and the bedroom. An outdoor hot tub is open year round. The nine rooms have a TV and VCR but no phone; two phones and a modem hookup in a common room. Rates start at $325 and include a full breakfast, evening hors d'oeuvres and a 24-hour guest pantry.

Where to Eat

The new Red Basil, 294 Mountain Road, (802) 253-4478, with its martini bar and sushi bar, flavorful Thai cuisine and cosmopolitan ambience, has been attracting crowds since it opened last year. House specialties include grilled shellfish in a curry sauce ($19.95) and an 11-piece sashimi deluxe ($18.95). Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner, weekends from 2 p.m. Dinner for two, with drinks, about $75.

The area's -dining options expanded last year with the addition of Michael's on the Hill, just south of Stowe on Route 100, in Waterbury Center, (802) 244-7476. The Swiss-trained chef and owner, Michael Kloeti, describes his style as innovative European, and serves entrees like herb-crusted rack of lamb with artichoke-potato gratin ($26.95). The restaurant has a subdued, elegant look with earth-tone décor; a pianist plays on Friday and Saturday nights. Dinner for two, with a modest wine, runs about $100. Open for dinner; closed Tuesday.

The Trattoria La Festa, 4080 Upper Mountain Road, (802) 253-8480, serves pan-Italian food in a casual atmosphere. A wine cellar is stocked with more than 300 Italian wines. Crispy duck with a cranberry demiglaze is $19.50; a children's portion of spaghetti is $8.50. Dinner for two with a modest wine runs about $85. Open Monday to Saturday for dinner.

The Depot Street Malt Shop, Depot Street, (802) 253-4269, serves egg creams ($2.15) and other fountain treats, burgers, fries and chili ($3.50) in a 50's themed dining room. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

On a recent stop at the Stowe Coffee House, 57B Mountain Road, (802) 253-2189, patrons included a dog and several babes-in-arms, and the tables were scattered with newspapers. The tiny cafe with six tables serves strong coffee and exotic teas, along with baked goods and light lunch fare. A bowl of corn chowder is $3.75. Lunch for two is about $15. Open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Correction: November 30, 2003, Sunday The What's Doing column on Nov. 9, about Stowe, Vt., included a ski center erroneously, and omitted another, in a grouping of cross-country ski areas that make up a 93-mile trail system that honors a $15 adult day ticket. Topnotch at Stowe Resort and Spa, not Stoweflake Resort, should have been included.

WHAT'S DOING IN; Aspen
By SUSAN BENNER

Early snow -- 17 inches in the last three days of October -- and mildly optimistic predictions for more have Aspen's winter population hoping that the drought is over and the mountains will be whiter this year. Already the ski patrol at Aspen Highlands has started bootpacking the G Zones, 65 acres threaded with 16 double-black-diamond trails in the Highland Bowl that will open for the first time this season.
Whatever the snowfall, the ESPN Winter X Games, a skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling competition that drew 36,000 spectators last year, will return to Buttermilk in January, providing a youthful jolt of exuberance, loud music and feats of airborne daring.

Whether the air you catch is big or little, you know you are in Aspen. The trees -- aspen, cottonwood and fir -- the red brick buildings that remain from silver-mining days, the real Victorians among the ersatz, the smell of pinyon and apple and oak smoke in the air, and the mountains that rise sharply from town all remind you.

Though the snow may be unpredictable, the relatively uncrowded slopes, extraordinary natural beauty and sunshine are almost guaranteed, along with high prices and the usual sprinkling of royalty, titans, film stars and ski bums, on skis or not.

Skiing

Skiing and snowboarding now peacefully coexist at all four mountains, after the ban against boarding at Aspen Mountain was lifted in April 2000.

Skiers dominate Aspen Mountain's steep glades and bumps, snowboarders share the terrain parks at Buttermilk and Snowmass with skiers, and the bowls and walls at Aspen Highlands and Snowmass are big enough for all.

A new base area at Aspen Highlands, designed by Robert Stern, is scheduled to be fully open for business by Dec. 14. Though some miss the funkiness of the old Highlands bar in particular, the heavily timbered lodge-style buildings that replace it are handsome. They house a lift-ticket office, cafes, restaurants and a couple of ski shops.

Opening day this year is scheduled for Nov. 28 for Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, and Dec. 14 for Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.

Single-day lift tickets are $68 for adults; ages 7 to 12, $43; 13 to 17, $53; 65 to 69, $63. Ages 6 or under and 70 or up ski free. A 20 percent discount is offered on four or more days of tickets purchased by Dec. 1. For information or tickets: (877) 282-7736, or go to www.aspensnowmass .com.

Helmets (renting for $5 a day) will be required for children 12 and under who enroll in Aspen Skiing Company ski and snowboarding schools.

Events

This year, if the snow gods are willing, the women's Aspen Winternational World Cup ski races -- the super-G and slalom events -- on Nov. 29 and 30 begin Aspen's ski racing season. World Cup lodging and lift packages, starting at $55 a person a night, double occupancy, are available that weekend. The races themselves are free. Spectators may watch from the sides of the course or from viewing stands at the base.

In the ESPN Winter X Games at Buttermilk from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, some 250 athletes from around the world will ski and snowboard, riding rails, jumps and a super pipe (a higher-walled half-pipe), for medals and cash prizes. The games are free. For both events call (800) 525-6200 or visit www.aspensnowmass.com.

Photographic tableaus of fantasized, often nightmarish, middle-class life by Gregory Crewdson will be on display Dec. 6 to Feb. 2 at the Aspen Art Museum, 590 North Mill Street; (970) 925-8050; online at www.aspenartmuseum.org. ''Louise Bourgeois: The Early Work,'' a show of sculpture, painting and prints, runs from Dec. 13 to Feb. 2.

The Aspen Music Festival will present Edgar Meyer, a classically trained bass player who has been known to cross over to bluegrass, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Harris Concert Hall, 960 North Third Street. Tickets are $45 from the Aspen Music Festival, 2 Music School Road, Aspen, Colo. 81611; (970) 924-9042, or www.aspenmusicfestival.com. The violinist Joshua Bell (Feb. 22) will be among the performers this winter.

A holiday walk through the snow from studio to studio, lighted by luminarias, will take place Dec. 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, 5263 Owl Creek Road, Snowmass Village; (970) 923-3181. The event is the highlight of the center's holiday show, which features ceramics, paintings, prints and sculpture and runs from Dec. 20 to Jan. 17. Closed weekends.

Sightseeing

One of the more scenic winter drives is the 12-mile ride up Castle Creek Road to the ghost mining town of Ashcroft. Once larger than Aspen, it is now a handful of buildings long abandoned. If the views and the altitude don't take your breath away, you can rent cross-country skis or snowshoes for $20 a day at the Ashcroft Ski Touring Center, 11399 Castle Creek road, (970) 925-1971; www .skiashcroft.com. A trail pass for the ski touring center's 25 miles of groomed trails costs an additional $15 ($10 after 12:30 p.m., $6 for children under 12 and seniors). Lessons and guided tours ($65 for three hours) are available.

Closer to town, Aspen Paragliding, 426 South Spring Street, offers 10- to 15-minute paragliding rides with an experienced pilot, from Aspen Mountain for $175 and from Snowmass for $150. Skis or a snowboard is necessary to launch from Snowmass. Reservations: (970) 925-7625.

Naturalists from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies guide two-hour snowshoe tours on top of Aspen Mountain. Tickets, at the Silver Queen gondola office, are $45 for adults and $29 for children and seniors, and include the use of snowshoes and the gondola ride to the top. For information, call (800) 525-6200, or go to www.aspensnowmass.com.

Where to Stay

During ski season most hotels offer lift and lodging packages. Low season is Nov. 28 to Dec. 19 or 20, and returns for the month of April. High-season rates generally begin Jan. 4. Holiday rates are the highest.

At the 19-room Hotel Lenado, 200 South Aspen Street, (800) 321-3457, fax (970) 925-3840, www.hotellenado.com, the small lobby has a 28-foot fireplace and a deck with an outdoor hot tub and views of Aspen Mountain. Most rooms have decks; some have wood-burning fireplaces. Rates begin at $185 for a double in low season and $275 during high season, and include a full breakfast and après-ski hors d'oeuvres.

The Independence Square, 404 South Galena Street, (800) 633-0336, fax (970) 925-1233, www.indysquare.com, has gone condo, which means that its 27 rooms are now individually owned and decorated and in most cases improved. The 1889 brick facade in the center of town remains unchanged. For stargazing or watching the snow fall there is a rooftop deck and hot tub. In low season, rooms with a queen-size bed and a small refrigerator start at $99, including a Continental breakfast and après ski wine and cheese. Ski-season rates begin at $169.

Budget: The Limelite Lodge, 228 East Cooper Avenue, (800) 433-0832, fax (970) 925-5120, on the Web at www.limelitelodge.com, offers 63 motel-style rooms as well as nine apartments and two heated pools in downtown Aspen. Doubles start at $77 in low season and $147 during the regular ski season, and include a Continental breakfast. Ask for a room with a view of Aspen Mountain.

At the St. Moritz Lodge, 334 West Hyman Avenue, (800) 817-2069, fax (970) 920-4032, www.stmoritzlodge.com, the eight rooms with kitchenettes have views of the pool and Shadow Mountain. They are $92 in low season and $148 to $194 during the ski season, Continental breakfast included. (The cheaper hostel rooms and lodge rooms without kitchenettes are very small and very basic.)

Luxury: Sheltered by tall blue spruce, the Sardy House, 128 East Main Street, (800) 321-3457, fax (970) 920-4478, www.sardyhouse.com, is a quietly elegant Victorian built in 1892, with 14 rooms and 6 suites, a heated pool and views of Aspen Mountain. Rates, which include a full breakfast, begin at $195 for a double in low season and $295 in high season. A two-bedroom suite with parlor and fireplace is $500 a night in low season, $600 to $700 after the holidays.

The Hotel Jerome, 330 East Main Street, (800) 331-7213, online at www.hoteljerome.com, also dates to Aspen's silver-mining days, and the 91 rooms have the gracious Victorian style of that era. There is a heated outdoor pool with views of Aspen Mountain. Rooms for two with a king-size bed start at $425 in low season, $560 in high season.

Where to Eat

In high season reservations at least a day or two ahead are essential

Gusto, 415 East Main Street, (970) 925-8222, the newest sibling of Aspen's popular trattoria Campo de Fiori, offers pizza and a bar menu as well as antipasti, pasta and secondi (grilled prawns, roast quail, lamb and duck) in Campo's earthy style. The dining room features exposed brick walls and an open kitchen. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Lunch is between $25 and $50 for two. Dinner can be $30 for a pizza and two glasses of wine in the bar, or $150 or more for several courses and a bottle of wine in the restaurant.

Classic French country fare -- escargots, sweetbreads, seafood stew with aioli, sautéed calf's liver, rotisserie chicken with pommes frites -- is served in a softly lighted room with butter-yellow walls and beaded lamps at Cache Cache, 205 South Mill Street; (970) 925-3835. Reopens for the season Thanksgiving Day, then open daily for dinner, which runs $150 or more for two with wine. The tiny bar is lively and offers a changing selection of less elaborate items for $8 to $15 and good wines by the glass, also $8 to $15.

The kid vote almost always goes to Boogie's Diner, 534 East Cooper Avenue, (970) 925-6610, for hot dogs, French fries, thick milkshakes and huge views of Aspen Mountain. Salads, meatloaf and ahi are also on the menu. Beer and wine are served; lunch or dinner for two is $25 to $35 with a shake, a beer or a glass of wine. Open daily, 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. during the season.

Little Annie's Eating House, 517 East Hyman Avenue, (970) 925-1098, is a good place for a burger and a microbrew. Cozy, warm and crowded, it has red-checked tablecloths and a busy bar. Lunch and dinner daily; $25 to $45 for two with a beer or glass of wine.

To eat at the Pine Creek Cookhouse, 11399 Castle Creek Road, (970) 925-1044, a tiny cabin that looks out over the Elk Mountain Range, diners must ski, snowshoe or take a sleigh from the Ashcroft Ski Touring Center. (Even neophytes are encouraged to ski if they'd like -- the trail is 1.5 miles and gains only 300 feet in altitude.)

The lunch sleigh ride is $20 for adults, $10 for children under 12; the meal may include roasted tomato soup with mandarin oranges and truffle oil or Hungarian goulash, and is about $50 for two. Dinner -- lamb, trout, salmon or caribou, plus the chef's choice of appetizers -- is $85 a person including the sleigh, $65 with skis; drinks extra. The cookhouse reopens Thanksgiving Day. Reservations as early as possible are recommended.


Correction: November 24, 2002, Sunday The What's Doing column on Nov. 10, about Aspen, misstated the price of lift tickets for those 70 and older at Aspen/Snowmass, which includes Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk. It is $63 a day; tickets are not free.

WHAT'S DOING IN; Jackson Hole
By GUSTAV NIEBUHR

Jackson Hole, Wyo., is nearly a year-round destination now; its proximity to some of the nation's great natural wonders, preserved within the national park system, makes it a place to be enjoyed whether the landscape is sagebrush green or snow-mantled white.
Still, midwinter can be especially exciting in Wyoming's northwest. The dazzling sight of the jagged Teton peaks, the delicate early-morning frost on the cottonwood trees and the sunlit mist hanging over the Snake River convey a sense of an American wilderness as fresh as anything the early fur trappers laid eyes on. Even the air, bone-dry and often chilled to zero, is exhilarating.


Jackson Hole is the name the trappers gave to the deep, scenic, 48-mile-long valley watered by the Snake just east of the Tetons. Visitors arriving at the valley's tidy airport or driving up to the town of Jackson on Route 89 will have no trouble finding a smorgasbord of outdoor diversions, with abundant places to ski (alpine and cross-country), snowshoe, snowboard and snowmobile -- and plenty of businesses to get them started.

But the downhill slopes are really the main lure. Two ski areas lie conveniently close -- Snow King, whose trails seem to descend directly into Jackson's southern neighborhoods, and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 12 miles to the north at Teton Village.

Yet exciting as it is to be outdoors, the local atmosphere these days seems to border on the cosmopolitan. Jackson's population had reached at least 6,326 when the last figure was released, in 1999, and as its popularity as a year-round destination and second-home site has grown in recent years, so its indoor life has expanded. New restaurants have opened, as have art galleries, jewelry shops and clothing stores. Many are clustered around the town square, where the buildings open onto a boardwalk and archways of antlers frame the entrances to a small park.

Events


Those who take their culture in indoor comfort have the opportunity to catch the last event of the Grand Teton Music Festival's winter music series, (307) 733-1128, www.gtmf.org. The festival, mainly a summer event, is in its 40th year, and it holds concerts in the 740-seat Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village. The final performance is by the Indonesian-American pianist Esther Budiardjo on March 10. General admission $20.

There is no shortage of events for those inclined to the outdoors, either as participants or spectators. From March 2 to 4, Dick's Ditch Classic, a snowboarding and skiing competition, takes place in the sharply inclined gully of that name above the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort base. Free for spectators; (307) 739-2770.

On March 14 and 15, the United States National Powder Eights, a competition among synchronized skiing teams, will be held in the Cody Bowl, an alpine site outside the resort's boundaries. If the weather is clear, the event will be visible from Rendezvous Peak, to which a tram runs from Teton Village. Round-trip tram tickets cost $15; (307) 739-2673.

The Jackson Hole Ski Club, (307) 733-6433, www.jacksonwyo.com, will hold an annual end-of-winter triathlon, Pole Pedal Paddle, on April 7. It begins with a downhill slalom course at the resort, followed by cross-country skiing and then bicycling down to the Snake River near Hoback Junction, and ends with contestants riding the river in kayak, canoe or raft.

Skiing


Wyoming's oldest ski area, dating to 1939, is at Snow King, whose trails form an ever-present backdrop for central Jackson. The ski area abuts the Snow King Resort, 400 East Snow King Avenue, (307) 733-5200, or at www.snowking.com. On groomed terrain of 300 acres, there are three chairlifts, a rope tow, and more than 20 trails. The ski area, which has a vertical drop of 1,571 feet, rates the difficulty of its runs as 15 percent for beginners, 25 percent intermediate, and 60 percent advanced. Full-day lift prices are $30 for adults, and $20 for ages 14 and under and for ages 60 and older. The resort includes the Great American Ski School, (307) 733-5200, extension 7913, offering 90-minute group lessons daily between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., with rates starting at $28 for a single lesson; private lessons are $30 a half-hour.

Northwest of town, via Route 22 and Route 390, lies the much larger Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, (888) 333-7766, www.jacksonhole.com. At its 6,311-foot-high base is Teton Village, a self-contained settlement built around a clock tower and providing visitors places to stay, eat and shop. Skiers ascending the runs carved into the east face of Rendezvous Mountain have their choice of an aerial tram to the 10,450-foot summit, a gondola that reaches 9,095-foot Bridger Ridge nearby, and eight other lifts. The resort offers a variety of lift-ticket packages, starting at $56 for a day pass for adults, $43 for ages 15 to 21 and $28 for ages 14 or under, and 65 or older. The Ski and Snowboard School, (800) 450-0477, holds full-day group lessons at $65 a person, a half-day's lesson for $50.

Sightseeing


The Teton Mountains, with a dozen peaks rising more than 12,000 feet, can be seen from many points around Jackson. But they are best appreciated up close, in all their stark and rugged beauty. That means from within the bounds of Grand Teton National Park; (307) 739-3300; www.nps.gov/grte. Most of its four million annual visitors are summer folk, but during winter the visitors center at Moose, off Route 89, remains open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It has an exhibit on rare and endangered species and a wide-ranging bookstore that covers the human and natural histories of the region. The center also carries free brochures for those wanting to venture farther into the park on cross-country skis, snowshoes or snowmobile.

Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, (307) 733-7388, or at www .jhsleddog.com, offers a half-day, 12-mile round trip along Granite Creek in Bridger-Teton National Forest with a campfire-side lunch for $135 a person; a full day's outing runs $225.

Closer to Jackson is the National Museum of Wildlife Art, 2820 Rungius Road, (800) 313-9553, or at www .wildlifeart.org, perched halfway up a bluff above Route 89. The museum, with 14 galleries and 15,000 square feet of exhibition space, contains the work of artists like John J. Audubon, Albert Bierstadt and George Catlin, among many others. A permanent exhibit is devoted to the history and near-extinction of bison in the West. Winter hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. General admission $6.

Across the highway from the museum lie 25,000 acres of flatlands and rolling hills that make up the National Elk Refuge, (307) 733-9212, winter range for thousands of elk that migrate annually from Grand Teton park, Yellowstone National Park and the Bridger-Teton forest. The herd is easily visible from the road. But the refuge allows people a much closer look on sleigh rides it operates on a first-come-first-served basis from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Tickets, $12 for adults and $8 ages 6 to 12, are sold at the museum; shuttle buses depart from the museum parking lot for the sleigh rides.

Where to Stay


The Wort Hotel, at the corner of Glenwood and Broadway in Jackson, (800) 322-2727, fax (307) 733-2067, www.worthotel.com, is a Tudor-style brick building in a wonderfully central location, half a block from the town square. Founded in 1941, the hotel's curving bar is inlaid with more than 2,000 silver dollars. It has 60 rooms, with wooden bedsteads, checked quilts and comfortable chairs, creating a pleasing Western ambience. Doubles start at $166 a night ($140 between April 1 and May 15).

Spring Creek Ranch, 1800 Spirit Dance Road, (800) 443-6139, fax (307) 733-1524, or www.springcreekranch .com, is perched on a butte just west of Jackson. The 125 units include hotel rooms, condominiums and four-bedroom houses, all with fireplaces and porches or balconies with Teton views. A hotel room for two with full breakfast is $195 through March 31 and $150 from April 1 through May 31.

Budget: Days Inn of Jackson Hole, 350 South Highway 89, (307) 733-0033, fax (307) 733-0044, or at www .daysinnjacksonhole.com, is conveniently near the fork of Highways 89 and 22, with the latter running west toward the resort and the town of Wilson. The hotel has 78 rooms and 12 suites. A standard room, with two double beds and Continental breakfast, is $99 until March 31 and $79 from April 1 through May 25.

Luxury: Almost a year and a half ago, Singapore-based Amanresorts opened the 40-suite Amangani, off Spring Gulch Road, (877) 734-7333, fax (307) 734-7332, or at www .amanresorts.com. The hotel, on the same butte as Spring Creek Ranch, sets a new standard of luxury for the area. Suites are done in elegantly muted colors. Each opens onto a private balcony with a sweeping view of the Grand Tetons to the southwest. Suites begin at $625. There is an elegant spa on the lower level.

Where to Eat


The Bunnery, 130 North Cache Street, (307) 733-5474, does double-duty as a bakery with a mail-order business for its buns, breads and jams (a large loaf of oats, sunflower and millet on site costs $3.50, a large rye $3.95, and a thick lemon pecan tea bread $6.50). The shop sits at the back of a little nook of businesses around a courtyard, half a block north of square. The menu starts with soups and salads and goes on to vegetarian and egg dishes. Lunch for two with wine about $30. Open for dinner in summer, when pastas and steak are on the menu; prices then are about $40 for two with wine.

A block in the other direction, off the square's south side, is the Sweetwater Restaurant, housed in a renovated (and rather spacious) 1915 settler's cabin, at the corner of King and Pearl Streets; (307) 733-3553. The cabin's original interior walls can be seen in the main dining room. The restaurant is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Dinner entries include rainbow trout, an eight-ounce grilled tenderloin and a venison tenderloin marinated in juniper and cranberry sauce. Dinner for two, with wine, about $65.

Beer aficionados can find a brew pub at the Snake River Brewing Company, 265 South Millward, (307) 739-2337. It has three flagship beers on tap -- Snake River Pale Ale, Lager and Zonker Stout -- at $3 a pint. Diners have a view of the refrigerated, stainless-steel beer tanks in a glass-enclosed area behind the bar. The menu includes pastas like linguine Hellespont, with tomatoes, basil, feta cheese and walnuts, a smoked duck sausage pizza, and roast pork loin on French bread. Dinner for two with beer, about $30.

No establishment can quite top the view from the Granary, 1800 Spirit Dance Road at the Spring Creek Ranch. It offers a panoramic vista of the Tetons in a spare, modern dining room open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Entrees in the evening include elk tenderloin and snapper wrapped in prosciutto and potato. Dinner for two with wine about $100; the wine list has 132 selections.

WHAT'S DOING IN: Killington
By MARIALISA CALTA

With upward of 15,000 visitors on a busy weekend day, the Killington Resort -- a ski area embracing seven mountains in central Vermont -- has the feel of a small city. Cars, buses, skiers and snowboarders bustle toward the slopes against the dominating backdrop of Killington Peak (elevation 4,241 feet), whose vertical white slashes of ski trails draw the eye up.
Although there are plenty of winter activities in the immediate vicinity -- including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and dog-sledding -- and although resort promoters stress that the nonathletic can also find happiness through spa treatments and shopping, the real point of the enterprise is on the slopes.


And the focus there is snow, often an iffy commodity in New England. But this year Killington was off to its best start in terms of natural snow in more than a decade. Just to make sure, the resort has spent $5 million over the past two years to increase its snowmaking capacity by about 30 percent.

A new Super Pipe has been built to attract snowboarders and alpine freestylers, measuring 450 feet long, with 15-foot walls (about three feet higher than a traditional half-pipe). Three terrain parks -- two at the main ski area and one at adjacent Pico Mountain (formerly a separate resort, now part of Killington) -- offer ramp jumps and other features sculptured from snow for skiers and snowboarders. And Killington's Rider Cross -- a racing track comprising rolls, banks and jumps -- is open to both skiers and boarders.

The Snow Zone program, in its second season, has been developed for teenagers who may be leery of traditional ski school or who want to broaden their skills to include telemark and freestyle skiing. Using mostly young coaches (many of them teenagers themselves), the program gives each participant the chance to choose two activities a day; for example, snowboarding and alpine skiing. The cost is $65 a day (with coaching), plus a $25 rental fee.

The Web site www.killington.com has information and links to lodging and restaurants, or call (800) 621-6867. Those who want to concentrate on snowboarding can log on to www.ridekillington.com.

Events


Races will be held for skiers and snowboarders of all ages on the Rider Cross track on Feb. 4 and 25, and on March 4; the cost is $40 ($20 for lift ticket holders).

Champion skiers and snowboarders perform acrobatic airborne maneuvers in the Budweiser Aerial Assault on Feb. 10 and 11. The show includes fireworks over the slopes at 6 p.m. on Feb. 10.

Fireworks are also part of Presidents' Week activities, with the pyrotechnics Feb. 17 and 23 at 8 p.m.

On March 3, the National RetroBoard Championship attracts snowboarders with equipment dating from the early days of the sport -- 1990 or before. Riders are handicapped based on the age of their gear. The cost is $40 ($20 for ticket holders).

Four Super-Pipe Jams -- open at no extra charge to any lift-ticket holder -- will be held next Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 17 and 18, March 10 and 11, and March 24 and 25. Participants can watch a videotape of the event at an apres-ski party.

Skiing


The resort has 200 trails spanning nearly 88 miles and 1,182 skiable acres. The vertical drop at Killington Peak is 3,105 feet. There are 32 lifts, including two high-speed heated gondolas, 12 quads, and a handle-tow for the snow-tubing park. Six of the seven mountain peaks -- Sunrise, Rams Head, Skye, Snowden, Bear and Killington -- are interconnected, but Pico is not. Pico has its own following, including many loyal local people and families, drawn by what skiers describe as its mellow, old-fashioned atmosphere. (''They still use real wood in the fireplace at the base lodge,'' one employee said.) Pico also offers an extensive adaptive-skiing program for those with disabilities.

Killington has numerous rate options; the prospective visitor can shop for packages that include lodging, lessons and rental equipment. Extras include spa treatments, child care and activities like snowshoeing or dog-sledding, some offered by the resort and others by small local businesses.

The following rates are for midwinter (prices are lower in the early and late parts of the season).

A one-day lift ticket is $58 for adults, $53 ages 13 through 18, $36 ages 6 through 12, and $36 ages 65 and older. Children 5 and under accompanied by an adult ski free.

A combination two-day lift ticket with equipment rental is $161 for adults, $151 ages 13 through 18, and $92 ages 6 through 12 or 65 and older.

A day of Learn to Ski or Ride (snowboarding) is $65 for equipment, lessons and lift pass (all ages). Free lift tickets are given to children 12 and under when parents buy tickets for five or more consecutive days (not applicable Feb. 17 to 25).

Where to Stay


Most motels, hotels and inns from downtown Rutland to the resort, 12 miles away, are served by local transportation, known simply as The Bus. Tickets cost $1, but most lodging establishments give tickets to guests. At the resort, the base lodges are served by a free van.

Mountain Meadows Lodge, 285 Thundering Brook Road, Killington, (800) 370-4567, fax (802) 773-4459, www.mtmeadowslodge.com, occupies a converted 19th-century dairy barn and farmhouse. There are 20 rooms and rustic family suites (one with a gas fireplace), and small petting farm, state-certified child care center, sauna, outdoor hot tub, dining room and game room. The lodge also has a variety of winter equipment, including toboggans and snowshoes, for guests. Massages are available. Rooms start at $85 for two with a full breakfast; a modified American plan with full breakfast and dinner is available on weekends and holiday weeks, starting at $152 for two. Lodge guests are eligible for discounted trail fees at the adjacent Mountain Meadows Cross-Country Ski Center, (800) 221-0598, which has more than 35 miles of groomed trails. Arctic Paws Dog Sled Tours operates out of the lodge Thursday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., by reservation; appointments otherwise required. The cost for an hour is $25 per adult, $5 per child.

Snowed Inn, a bed-and-breakfast at 104 Miller Brook Road, Killington, (800) 311-5406, fax (802) 422-8126, www.snowedinn.com, has 19 rooms and a cozy common area with a large fireplace in a modern building of wood, fieldstone and glass set among trees. It also has an outdoor hot tub, and game, exercise and ski-tuning rooms. Each guest room has private bath, cable TV and phone; two rooms called suites have a fireplace and a Jacuzzi. Rates include an expanded Continental breakfast (baked goods, hot and cold cereals, fruits, yogurt, juice, coffee, tea) and range from $85 to $240 for two.

Budget: Beattie's Trailside Lodge, 115 Coffee House Road, Killington, (800) 447-2209, fax (802) 422-5060, www.trailsidelodge.com, is an old-fashioned ski lodge. Its large rooms are sparely furnished with built-in single and double bunk beds. The 33 rooms (28 with private bath) contain 150 beds. Rooms are advertised as TV- and phone-free; two movies are shown nightly in the common rooms, which are large and cozily furnished, with fireplaces. There is an outdoor hot tub, a game room and a ski-tuning bench for use by guests (professional service is available for a charge.) A general wake-up call (which might be by trumpet, strolling guitarist or school bell) is sounded at 7 a.m., and family-style meals (breakfast and dinner, except Friday evening) are served at set times. A number of packages are offered, with prices averaging about $45 a person, including meals. Killington Snowshoe Tours, (888) 422-2818, operates out of the lodge daily by reservation. The cost, $30 a person for 90 minutes, includes equipment rentals, a guide-instructor and snacks; a naturalist gives tours on weekends.

Turn of River Lodge 5672 Route 4, Killington, (800) 782-9867, fax (802) 422-3767, www.turnofriverlodge.com, a bed-and-breakfast in a rustic, 60's-era ski lodge, has 12 rooms with one to four beds (most with private baths) and dorm-style rooms that sleep up to 20. It is about two miles from Killington's Skyeship Base, which connects by lifts to the main base lodge and all trails save those at Pico Mountain. Rates from $23 a person for a dorm room, and from $54 for a private room for two, including Continental buffet breakfast.

Luxury: The Killington Grand, 228 East Mountain Road, Killington, (800) 343-0762, fax (802) 422-6881, opened in 1997. Owned by the ski resort, it is a condominium-hotel-conference center with 200 guest rooms in 132 condominium units; a few of the larger units have saunas and gas fireplaces. It also has health club, steam-heated outdoor pool, spa, restaurant and cafe. Rooms are nicely if not opulently furnished; all have phones, CD players and television with VCR's (video rentals are available in the gift shop). Guests can walk to the Snow Shed (a base lodge with learning center), which is a short lift ride from the main lodge. The basic room rate ranges from $176 for a double to $681 for a three-bedroom penthouse suite that sleeps 10.

Where to Eat


Hemingway's, Route 4, Killington, (802) 422-3886, is housed in a 19th-century building that once served as a boarding house and stagecoach stop. The restaurant has garnered much acclaim for its food and service. A four-course fixed-price tasting menu for two is about $170, with paired wines; $130 without wine. The chef, Ted Fondulas, specializes in game birds, but vegetarian and vegan menus are available nightly. Dinner only Tuesday through Sunday through the end of February; Wednesday through Sunday most of the rest of the year.

The smart and casual Choices, Glazebrook Center, Killington Road, Killington, (802) 422-4030, has a bistro menu and a varied wine list. It serves an array of sandwiches, salads, pastas and entrees (several from the rotisserie) and Sunday brunch. Roast chicken with mashed potatoes and flame-roasted vegetables is $14.25. Dinner for two with a bottle of wine averages $85. Dinner daily; brunch Sunday.

McGrath's Irish Pub, at the Inn at Long Trail, Route 4, Killington, (802) 775-7181, serves light fare (soups, sandwiches, desserts) along with hearty dishes like shepherd's pie and Guinness stew (each $6.95). There is a large selection of Irish whiskey, and live music on weekends. Food weekdays 3:30 to 9 p.m., weekends noon to 9 p.m.; pub open until 2 a.m.

Night Life


For many skiers, a stop at the Wobbly Barn, Killington Access Road, Killington, (802) 422-6171, is de rigueur after a day on the mountain. The sprawling barnboard interior accommodates a child-friendly steakhouse, four bars, dance floor and stage where live music may range from swing to rock.

The Paramount Center, 30 Center Street, Rutland, (802) 775-0903, has a series of live performances in the former Paramount Theater, recently refurbished to reflect its Victorian origins. The schedule this year includes Arlo Guthrie, Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. (tickets $30 and $35); the Theatreworks USA production of ''Peter Pan,'' Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. ($7.50 to $15); and the Irish Rovers Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. ($25 and $30).

Rumbling Up to the Power Runs
By CHRISTOPHER SOLOMON


OMETHING had gone very wrong. It was in the voice of the clerk when I arrived late at the hotel, and in the way a guest leaned over the front desk, conspiratorially, to listen to her. I caught the word "avalanche." I heard the words "just finished skiing a run" and "still haven't found him." Then I heard the name of the company that, for the next three days, was to take me Sno-Cat skiing outside of Nelson, British Columbia.

I sat in the hotel dining room, alone, feeling a widening pit in my gut that until a few minutes previous had only been hunger.

Commercialized outdoor recreation is booming in British Columbia, and Sno-Cat skiing is no exception. Twenty-three Sno-Cat companies now have permission to use the tank-treaded, slope-crawling machines to transport skiers to the province's backcountry ridgelines, a 50 percent increase in just over three years. Several more companies are also seeking approval. That's precisely what the government wants to see. After election victory of his Liberal Party in 2001, the provincial premier, Gordon Campbell, challenged the tourism industry to double revenues as a way to reduce the province's reliance on unstable industries like logging and mining. The government pledged to do its part by processing the applications of outfitters in just 140 days; in the past the process took at two years or longer. Critics have expressed fears that the expedited process gives short shrift to environmental concerns and may allow unsafe companies to open up shop.

Even as competition increases, British Columbia's Sno-Cat skiing industry seems to be finding plenty of customers. More skiers are weary of jockeying for untouched snow at expensive resorts yet want a midpriced alternative to heli-skiing. A week of Sno-Cat skiing in wild country away from lift lines costs about half the price of a $5,000 heli-skiing week. And Sno-Cats, unlike choppers, are rarely idled by heavy weather.

I signed on in February for three days of guided Sno-Cat skiing with Valhalla Powdercats, a company that is entering its third season. It is one of at least seven Sno-Cat operators within a 90-minute drive of the town of Nelson, in southeast British Columbia. As I packed my bags for Nelson it began to snow, and four feet fell in about one week. Only on my arrival did I hear that the day before, a huge avalanche had slammed into a Valhalla group that had just finished skiing a run. A San Francisco man died. The company shut its doors for several days.

Shaken, but not wanting to turn tail, I called and filled a last-minute opening at Baldface Lodge. Another Nelson-based outfit, Baldface is one of a few Sno-Cat skiing companies in the province that run multiday trips out of their own remote mountain lodges that can be reached in winter only by helicopter ferry or snowmobile. Baldface also has an impressive cadre of ski guides led by John Buffery, an internationally known avalanche-safety teacher.

As the helicopter rose from Nelson into the folds of blue mountains, its windows revealed slope after open slope where avalanches had ripped out and run toward the valley floor. I knew our guides wouldn't place us near such suspect terrain. But when you're on edge, every fact that the senses sponge up acquires new menace. That night I picked distractedly at an avalanche-safety handbook I had bought, but I couldn't concentrate. On the lodge's stereo, Stevie Ray Vaughn was singing "Couldn't Stand the Weather."

The next morning we strapped on avalanche transceivers and listened as our lead guide, Ramin Sherkat, lectured on Sno-Cat skiing's do's and don'ts. Mostly, they were don'ts: Don't ski until told. Don't lose sight of your assigned partner. Don't stray from where the guide tells you to ski. We practiced using our transceivers, which send out signals that allow other users to locate a buried comrade. Ramin's lecture, and the beacon practice, seemed particularly urgent and thorough after what had just happened a few mountains away. Though mellow, Ramin also knew he had to prove himself as the group's alpha male: when their blood is running high, powderhounds are anarchists. Unless well schooled, they are deaf to orders.

"I've been backcountry skiing for 20 years and I've never had to dig someone out, and I don't plan to today," he concluded, somewhere between a drill-sergeant's command and a reassurance.

Baldface Lodge sits at 6,700 feet in the southern Selkirk Mountains, placed among whaleback ridges gentle enough for Sno-Cats to climb yet with steep flanks bearded with hemlock and fir. The other Sno-Cat with its load of 12 skiers went its way for the day, and ours soon disgorged us on a ridge crest above the lodge and departed, leaving us to gape at the sights along the horizon: Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, the Purcell Mountains and Valhalla Provincial Park. A whoop went up. Ramin smiled, a magnanimous dictator. One by one, we left the view to chase him down a mellow run called BB Bowl.

The higher open bowls above timberline tantalized, but Ramin kept us away from the places where tall timber did not anchor the restless snowpack. It was small sacrifice: I have skied with five Sno-Cat skiing companies, and the tilted forests of the southern Selkirks serve up the steepest and best tree skiing I've done. We dodged through glades of hemlocks tinseled with moss. Some seemed to shift and materialize without warning at the tail end of a swooping turn. Others occasionally drew one of us, head first, into the suffocating tree wells that form in deep snow around their trunks (hence the need to ski with a partner). On each run, both Ramin and our "tail gunner" guide skied with a pack containing shovels and avalanche probes, as did one other member of our group. Baldface was not a vacation aimed at "gapers," as some skiers term anyone who is hesitant or fumbling.

Words fail when you try to describe how it feels to make clean, fast turns down a steep mountainside in snow that bow-breaks at your knees. My fellow skiers were no help; after each run they were all happy expletives and wide grins. It made me think of Hemingway's taciturn characters in the story "Cross Country Snow": "There's nothing really can touch skiing, is there?" Nick said. "The way it feels when you first drop off on a long run."

"Huh," said George. "It's too swell to talk about."

Some novice Sno-Cat skiers, however, are a little disappointed until they settle into the experience. Runs are often brief, usually less than 2,000 vertical feet. (Drop much lower and the return trip uphill, in a Sno-Cat that moves at 9 miles an hour, could take all day.) A typical day Sno-Cat includes only about nine runs and 12,000 feet of skiing, which a hard-charging skier can post before lunch at Vail.

Then there's the transportation. Sitting in a cab bolted to a Sno-Cat's back as the machine growls and lurches uphill on roads of packed snow can make for a rough ride. Sometimes, when the vehicle is jostling and the windows are fogged and you lose the horizon and a whiff of diesel exhaust finds your nostrils, you feel that your breakfast may make a return appearance. On my first Sno-Cat trip several years ago, before I learned to stake out a window seat, I took Dramamine.

Now, I almost look forward to the rides uphill. The cab of a Sno-Cat is a movable barstool. Crammed shoulder-to-shoulder for up to a half-hour at a time, skiers bond quickly. Stories are swapped. Blue jokes ricochet around the cab. (Sno-Cat skiing, like heli-skiing, seems to attract more men than women.)

At about 3:30 p.m. the Sno-Cat dropped us off on a ridgeline for a brief ski back down to Baldface's handsome timber-framed lodge. If our Sno-Cats were the satellite hangouts, the lodge, a three-story great room with a soapstone stove, was the communal clubhouse. We ate well at big tables in the honeyed glow of the larch center beams. Afterward, some repaired to the outdoor hot tub. Some found a leather couch and a book. Some found the bar. For a dehydrated skier who was coming from sea level, the 5 percent beer on tap from the Nelson Brewing Company lost nothing in the exchange rate.

Medicated with Advil or Scotch, we rarely lasted late, or cared what our bedrooms looked like. This was good. Baldface's owners expect to expand the lodge and build 23 permanent rooms by the winter of 2005-6. Until then, the sleeping quarters are spare rooms within heated trailers, placed side by side and connected by a frosty hallway. Padding through the set of "Ice Station Zebra" at 2 a.m., clad only in boxer shorts, is a rude way to reach the bathroom.

The days blurred together. Each morning we awoke early, downed a big breakfast, loaded into the Sno-Cat, piled out like paratroops on ridge tops for bouncing rides down runs with names like Cheeky Monkey and the Tao of Pow. Each afternoon we returned to the lodge's hot soup and warm fire. The sign-up list for massages began to fill.

Departure day was a parting gift. The dropcloth of clouds that had settled over our trip's middle days lifted. Morning sun slanted through the old-growth trees like cathedral light from high windows, and lighted up the new hoarfrost. The air was spearmint. The snow had continued to stabilize, and our guides smiled and pointed us down an untouched run called Cold Mushi. From the bottom we watched the young snowboarders in our group free-fall from the 20-foot cliffs. We cheered when they landed well, and louder when they didn't.

Ramin only smiled when we asked to do it again. He took us to another ridge and told us that we'd been good clients, and had listened well. "Now you've got your reward."

The run, Confirmation, had not been skied since the big snow. A steep rib, perhaps 45 degrees in spots, cascaded from the ridge's backbone, furred with hemlock and lumpy with rollovers and drop-offs. Soon we were all roaring down, trailing hoots and looking our best of the week.

At the bottom almost all of us were slapping hands, saying lots of things, as they climbed inside for another ride skyward. For once, I didn't join in. It was too swell to talk about.

Visitor Information

Nelson, British Columbia, sits on the edge of Kootenay Lake in the lap of the Selkirk Mountains.

With a population of 9,300, Nelson is the Berkeley of the Kootenays - a thriving little town with a countercultural atmosphere, peopled by graying American draft resisters, students who attend local schools of art and Asian medicine and young mountain-loving athletes. The only businesses that outnumber the head shops and hemp clothing boutiques are outdoor gear stores.

Getting There

Skiers from the United States who don't drive to Nelson frequently fly into Spokane, Wash., which is served by several major airlines, and then rent a car for the 145-mile drive north across the Canadian border. Air Canada flies into Castlegar, British Columbia, about 25 miles from Nelson, but local people refer to the airport (thanks to frequent bad weather) as "Cancelgard"; plan on arriving a day early to avoid complications. Round-trip fare from Vancouver is $213, at $1.23 (Canadian) to the United States dollar.

Debbie's Shuttle, (250) 229-5374, (208) 651-0922, www.debbiesshuttle.com, runs a van service from the Spokane airport daily during the winder, with Nelson round trip $125.

Lodging

The Heritage Inn, 422 Vernon Street, (877) 568-0888, www.heritageinn.org, is housed in a 106-year-old building, complete with 43 Victorian-style rooms and creaky, Victorian-era stairs. Located downtown, the hotel also has several restaurants and bars, so it can be noisy on weekends. Rates for a double room with full breakfast begin at $64.

The Dancing Bear Inn, 171 Baker Street, (877) 352-7573, www.dancingbearinn.com, is a handsome hostel that accommodates 43 people in shared, private and family rooms, and a cozy central room with a fireplace. Rates begin at $16.25 a night for shared rooms that accommodate six or eight people, and $37 for private double rooms.

Dining

For good espresso, and a taste of the Nelson vibe, head to Oso Negro, (877) 232-6489, 522 Victoria Street.

Many locals dine at Rice, 301 Baker Street, (250) 352-0933, which offers a combination of cuisines from sushi to tapas, frequently using local and organic ingredients.

Dinner at the All Seasons Café, 620 Herridge Lane, (250) 352-0101, is one of the best meals between Vancouver and Banff, and the menu features items like cornmeal-crusted tofu. Entrees $14.50 to $26.

Activities

Baldface Lodge, (250) 352-0006, www.baldface.net, offers three- and four-day Sno-Cat skiing trips in the mountains above Nelson. Packages begin at $366 a day plus tax, and include accommodation, meals, safety equipment, ski rentals and ski guides. A round-trip helicopter flight to the backcountry lodge costs $122. Ski season usually is mid-December until early April.

Another Nelson-based outfit, Snowwater Heli-Skiing, (866) 722-7669, www.snoh2o.com, offers multiday Sno-Cat skiing packages with accommodation at the company's backcountry timber-frame lodge. The trip rate is $366 a day.

It's worth making time to ski at the Whitewater Winter Resort, (800) 666-9420, www.skiwhitewater.com, a small but steep ski hill, with a vertical drop of only 1,300 feet, about 10 miles outside of Nelson that gets lots of snow. A lift pass is $34.

Guided snowmobile trips and backcountry skiing can also be arranged. For information about activities: Nelson Visitor Info Center, www.DiscoverNelson.com, (877) 663-5706.


Ski Trends: Superpipes and Miniparks
By MEG LUKENS NOONAN


HE country's major mountain ski resorts are more determined than ever to be all things to all people this winter - whether they are fans of Lincoln Logs, Linkin Park or Lincoln Navigators. That means skiers will find new lifts and programs devoted to children and beginners, souped-up terrain parks for hot-shot Generation Y "freeriders" and a commitment to the kind of services - from spa treatments to ski caddies - that ease the ski experience for aging baby boomers.

What's New

For only the second time in two decades, a major new ski resort will open in the West. Tamarack, on the shores of Lake Cascade in west-central Idaho, is set to make its debut Dec. 15 with 5 lifts, 25 trails, a 10-acre terrain park, 19 miles of Nordic skiing and the hot feature of the moment: a 500-foot superpipe for snowboarders and skiers on twin-tip skis. Guests can stay in any of 62 two- and three-bedroom single-family well-appointed ski-in ski-out log cottages with concierge services. Moonlight Basin in Montana follows up its inaugural season with a new quad providing access to 27 new runs.

Stowe, Vt., kicked off its 10-year $250 million Spruce Mountain village and mountain redesign project by replacing a 1960's-era double chair with a high-speed detachable quad chair, adding a new triple chairlift and cutting a new beginner trail designed to have a consistent 8-to-10-degree pitch (best for learning) all the way down.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado comes into the season with new owners. Tim and Diane Mueller, who own Okemo in Vermont and run Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire, will cut the ribbon on their acquisition with a new chairlift to three fresh trails, more grooming machines, new terrain parks and pipes, and a marked shift in marketing focus away from the mountain's extreme slopes and toward its family-friendly terrain. And Alta, in Utah, gets a long-wished-for base-to-summit chair.

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire's largest resort, continues to grow this winter with a dozen new trails and glades in the Rosebrook Summit area. The resort has joined with the Mount Washington Cog Railway, which will operate in winter for the first time and bring skiers partway up the 6,288-foot peak. Two milelong groomed trails parallel to the train tracks will be negotiable by intermediates and beginners.

Gladed trails, cut through stands of trees, are increasingly popular among advanced skiers. Deer Valley, Utah, and Big Sky in Montana have new lifts to expanded gladed terrain. Jackson Hole, Wyo., has opened 200 acres of bowls and tree skiing. In Vermont, there are new wooded trails at Okemo, Smugglers' Notch and Sugarbush. Novices can pick up tips in the new Wicked Venture Zones - simulated forests made out of flexible poles - in Waterville Valley, N.H., before trying the far-less-forgiving real thing.

Visitors to Vail will notice a handsome new stone-and-steel bridge across Gore Creek at the Lions Head base - the first step in a $500 million multiyear plan that includes real estate and retail development. Vail will also be grooming 33 percent more of its trails, thanks to 10 new Sno-Cats.

Beginners' Luck

After a 1999 National Ski Areas Association survey found that only 15 percent of first-timers became committed skiers and snowboarders, resorts began searching for new ways to attract and retain novices. This winter, that push is evident nationwide.

Winter Park in Colorado has expanded its Sorensen Park learning area from one-half acre to five acres and begun a program in which novices start out on snow bikes - bicyclelike contraptions that have skis instead of wheels - to get the feel for gliding. Stratton Mountain in Vermont, among others, will offer women's and girl's Burton Learn-to-Ride clinics with snowboards designed to speed up learning - and reduce the number of falls.

Squaw Valley in California adds a double chairlift for beginners in its year-old base learning area, as well as a second moving-carpet surface lift at its children's center. Park City, Utah, and Mammoth Mountain, Calif., have new chairlifts for their learning areas. Buttermilk, in Aspen, gets a new high-speed quad chair with a midway load station, allowing beginners and youngsters to do laps on West Buttermilk's gentle trails.

Terrain Mania

Terrain parks and superpipes continue to be huge draws at ski areas of all sizes. Many resorts, such as Keystone, Colo., Northstar-at-Tahoe, Mammoth Mountain and Waterville Valley in New Hampshire are opening scaled-down miniparks, aimed at beginners who want to practice park-style skiing and snowboarding in an unintimidating setting.

Killington, Vt., has devoted nearly its entire Bear Mountain area to the free-ride movement with a peak full of jumps, rails and tables, and a new superpipe. Copper Mountain in Colorado has a new lighted terrain park that will open on certain Saturday nights and is free. New superpipes are in place at Sugarloaf in Maine and Snowbird, Utah. Buttermilk, host to the ESPN Winter X Games, Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, will leave the terrain park features in place for guests.

Whistler/Blackcomb, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics, will get a taste of the international stage when it puts on the 2005 World Snowboard Championships this January. Pipe events will be held on the new superpipe on Blackcomb Mountain, lighted for night skiing and riding.

The Good Life

Several luxurious properties are newly opened or renovated. The St. Regis Aspen has undergone extensive remodeling and reopens this month with a 15,000-square-foot spa and 20 new rooms. The venerable 1936 Sun Valley Inn has been extensively remodeled; all rooms will have flat-screen plasma TV's, high-speed Ethernet connection and DVD players.

The Grand Sierra Lodge, the biggest and newest addition to the Village at Mammoth, opens with studio to three-bedroom condominiums. And early next year, Taos will have the new Edelweiss Lodge and Spa, with 31 luxury ski-in ski-out condos.

The Four Seasons Whistler resort has opened at the base of Blackcomb Mountain with 273 rooms, each with a fireplace, and a full spa. As good as a British Columbia glacial clay wrap might sound, though, there are times when all skiers really want is someone to help them carry their gear. Windham Mountain in New York is happy to help. This winter, on weekends and holidays, free snow caddies will meet skiers curbside, take their equipment and walk it over to the slopes for them while they park the car. Now that is luxury.


MEG LUKENS NOONAN, who lives in New Hampshire, writes frequently about skiing.

Slowing Down Where Skiers Race
By ERIC PFANNER


HEN Bormio, a medieval town tucked away in the Alps of Lombardy, plays host to the World Championships of skiing this winter (Jan. 28 to Feb. 13), the elite of the downhill racing world will hurtle down the slopes and split seconds will make all the difference. When there are no races, however, Bormio takes a more relaxed approach to life. The daybreak rush to the lifts that infuses ski resorts around the world with early energy is notably absent in Bormio, where the cobblestoned streets stay quiet until midmorning.

Though Bormio is nestled amid snowy peaks not far from the Swiss and Austrian borders, in spirit it seems many miles away from those northerly neighbors. If not for the rock walls and glacier-capped peaks that hem it in, one could almost imagine Bormio somewhere in the Umbrian hills, not in the Alta Valtellina, a high valley only a few miles from the main spine of the Alps.

My girlfriend, Tamzin, and I arrived in Bormio last winter after a long train ride from Zurich, past St. Moritz and over the Bernina Pass. We were immediately struck by the cultural contrasts that the Alps - where deep valleys and snowbound passes strictly limited travel and communication until the last century - still manage to magnify and compress.

The first thing we noticed about Bormio was that the architecture seemed more Mediterranean than Alpine. In the town center, at least, there was nary a chalet in sight. Medieval town houses lined the cobbled streets, and narrow passageways were covered with frescoes.

We joined in the passeggiata the nightly walk that is ritual of nearly every Italian town. The Via Roma, the main pedestrian route through the center, was packed. Jazz was piped into the street from loudspeakers, softening the tones of a thousand conversations about New Year's plans, from teenagers to their parents to their fur-clad grandmothers.

Skiing was not necessarily foremost in anyone's mind. Indeed, Bormio is as well known as a spa town, or simply as an all-around resort. It's an ancient place, and the Romans went there for its thermal springs.

The remnants of the Roman baths now serve as the foundation of the Bagni Vecchi, an elegant hotel and spa perched on a mountainside outside town. Several hotels closer to town have their own spa facilities, and there is a modern bath complex, too.

The combination of challenging Alpine skiing, après-ski relaxation and the aesthetics of a medieval Italian town is hard to resist. Generally, when I go skiing, I like to get up at the crack of dawn, assess the weather and the snow conditions and get to the lifts early. Tamzin and I stuck to that plan on our first morning, but it became increasingly difficult as the week progressed.

Even on our first morning, we found plenty of things to distract us from the fresh snow as we headed through Bormio toward the lifts up to the Cima Bianca, a broad-flanked, 10,000-foot peak that is the main attraction for skiers and snowboarders.

To start, just outside our the door of our hotel, the San Vitale, there was the tiny 12th-century Church of San Vitale. The tower leaned slightly and plaster was crumbling off the walls, revealing primitive frescoes. We took a peek at the whitewashed interior, beautiful in its simplicity.

In the cobblestoned main square, the Piazza del Kuerc, also known as the Piazza Cavour, a veiled sun was rising over the sharp mountain ridges to the east of town, catching the medieval and Renaissance facades of the buildings lining the square in its early light. A pair of stone towers, the 12th-century Torre degli Alberti and the 15th-century Torre Civica stood out just outside the piazza.

Soon we headed across an old stone bridge over the Torrente Frodolfo, which runs through the middle of town, and picked our way through a few more narrow alleys before the surroundings turned more typically Alpine. Most of the ski gear shops and a relatively unattractive array of modern "sport hotels" have been pushed to the outskirts of town, surrounded by parking lots for the ski lifts. We quickly left these behind as we rode up in a gondola to Bormio 2000, a large, mid-mountain junction of skiers and lifts, and upward to the peak of Cima Bianca.

Though Bormio is a regular stop on the World Cup ski tour and it has upgraded some facilities, many of its lifts remain more sluggish than the standard. This has its advantages, though. While skiers were clustered around Bormio 2000, which refers to the altitude in meters, the runs elsewhere on the mountain were much less crowded than those at many other Alpine resorts.

The top of the Cima Bianca was wrapped in a thick, snowy fog, and we had it practically to ourselves that day. Nearly a foot of snow had fallen overnight, and it was still coming down, but once we were part of the way down, a strong Mediterranean sun poked through at times.

The Cima Bianca is a lone peak, with only a few narrow runs from the top. But they are long and full of interesting turns and dips. We were far above the timberline, and views stretched from the 12,800-foot Ortles massif to the foothills above the smoggy plains of industrial Lombardy. We bashed through broken-up powder that was refurbished by the snow showers every time we rode up the lifts that first day.

The snow cover was good, and we were able to ski all the way to town - an impressive vertical drop of nearly 6,000 feet. Below the top, the terrain grew trickier, with steeper, narrower runs and a few icy moguls rearing up from the newly fallen snow.

Fortunately, there was a good place to stop for lunch, the Chalet dei Rododendri. Service was a bit chaotic, but the food - hearty osso buco, and veal pounded thin and perfectly grilled - was delicious.

That fortified us to ski the rest of the way down. The snow softened as we headed below the tree line, and the vast mountain panorama slowly gave way to more intimate views over the roofs and spires of Bormio.

Though you can cover most of the runs at the Cima Bianca ski area in a few days, there is plenty of variety for skiers or snowboarders in Bormio. A second, smaller mountain lies just outside town at Valdidentro, and there are two other ski areas - Santa Caterina and Livigno - within easy day-trip range. Even St. Moritz can be reached in a few hours.

After two days at the Cima Bianca, Tamzin and I headed for Santa Caterina, a family-oriented place nestled in a steep-sided valley about 20 minutes from Bormio by bus, in the Stelvio National Park. It prides itself on being the home of the skier Deborah Compagnoni, who won gold medals in each of the three Winter Olympics in the 1990's and whose name shows up on the fanciest hotel in town (and not a few other places).

There are big plans to develop the ski area in coming seasons, including a new gondola that will whisk skiers to the top and open up some new terrain. For now, however, it's an old-fashioned sort of place, with mostly drag lifts rather than chairs. A brochure advertises that ski instructors can provide "friendship" in addition to pointers on improving your turns.

Santa Caterina is a shady, cold mountain, so it holds the snow well, and there were even fewer people skiing there than in Bormio. We whizzed down trails covered with smoothly groomed, packed powder, and some serious vertical drops.

THREE long days of serious skiing and eating (including pizzoccheri, a form of pasta, and bresaola) took their toll, and it was time to loosen up our tired muscles. After getting back from Santa Caterina, we headed to the Bagni Vecchi, the old baths built into the cliffs outside Bormio.

Spa-goers have taken these waters, which pour out of the rocks at more than 100 degrees, for at least two millenniums, perhaps dating back to the Etruscans; Pliny the Elder, the ancient historian, is said to have written of the springs. Construction of the baths, a sprawling complex that burrows deep into the rock, began in Roman times, with expansions during the Middle Ages and up through the 19th century.

The Roman baths require special reservations, so Tamzin and I had to content ourselves with the medieval and Imperial portions, the latter built during the 19th century. We joined the mostly youthful, Italian crowd in the unisex dressing rooms (there are private stalls) and changed into swimsuits, flip-flops and bathrobes, which are provided.

For the next two hours, we waded through the naturally hot water in a series of basins, sprayed our limbs with jets of it and relaxed in cool-down areas when the warmth grew overwhelming.

The highlight was an open-air pool, perched on a shelf above the valley, into which the water flowed straight out of the mountainside. Down the road lay Bormio, towered over by the Cima Bianca; up above, there were only stars.

"It was wonderful?" the woman at the counter asked as we returned our bathrobes and slippers two hours later. Indeed it was, and finally we, too, had slowed down.

Visitor Information

Getting There

Bormio is in the Alta Valtellina, a long, wide valley in the central Italian Alps that runs from near Lake Como almost to the Swiss border. By car, the 120-mile trip from Milan takes about three hours.

Trains run from Milan to Tirano, about 25 miles southwest of Bormio, and cost $9.75, at $1.30 to the euro; a bus run by Autobus Perego, (39-0342) 701-200, www.busperego.com, finishes the trip from there for $4.

Where to Stay

Most of Bormio's hotels are outside the old town center, intended for skiers (and driving convenience) but short on charm. Of the handful of closer-in places, Hotel San Vitale, (39-0342) 904-771, fax (39-0342) 904-771; www.miramontibormio.it, is a good choice for budget-conscious travelers. The 29 rooms are spare but spacious and the location, just off the Via Roma, is attractive and convenient. Double rooms range from $105 to $177 a night.

Hotel Posta, (39-0342a) 904-753, fax (39-0342) 904-484; www.hotelposta.bormio.it, along the Via Roma, is more luxurious, and includes its own spa and fitness center. The 60 rooms have modern furnishings, though common areas have a more old-fashioned Alpine feel, with vaulted ceilings and antiques. Doubles cost about $130.

Where to Eat

Two local specialties are ubiquitous: Bresaola, the dried beef of the Valtellina region, that is served with oil, lemon juice and other accompaniments, and pizzoccheri, a kind of buckwheat pasta that is served with cabbage, potatoes and melted cheese.

Ristorante Notte e Di, Piazza del Kuerc 15, (39-0342) 903-339, serves both, along with steaks and pastas. Dinner for two with wine costs $90.

On the mountainside below the Cima Bianca at La Rocca, Chalet dei Rododendri, (39-0342) 905-034, makes a good lunch stop. The menu is extensive for a mountain restaurant, with the usual selection of Italian pastas and veal-based dishes, as well as mountain fare such as polenta. Lunch for two costs $75.

What to Do

The main mountain at Bormio, Cima Bianca, has 16 lifts and 30 miles of marked runs. Two nearby areas, Valdidentro and Santa Caterina, have a total of 18 lifts and about 45 miles of trails. A day pass for all three areas plus nearby Livigno, costs $41.50; a six-day pass is $105 in high season.

Bormio has a modern spa complex, but the main attraction is the Bagni Vecchi, or old baths, (39-0342) 910-131, fax, (39-0342) 911-576, www.bagnidibormio.it, are about two miles out of Bormio, on a steep hillside in Valdidentro. Taxis from Bormio hotels cost about $5 a person. General admission provides access to the Grotta Sudatoria, the medieval and Imperial baths, and to the open-air pool; prices range from $35 to $41.50 depending on the day you go, and include the use of a bathrobe, towel and locker. The Roman baths can be visited only by reservation with a group of five or more.


ERIC PFANNER is London correspondent for The International Herald Tribune.


Keeping Your Head Above the Snow
By BONNIE TSUI


S ski season approaches, ski resorts and other organizations across the country have begun stepping up their backcountry education and avalanche safety initiatives. For good reason: a lot more people are heading out into the backcountry on their skis, ratcheting up both the excitement and the danger factors.

In the 2002-3 season the number of avalanche fatalities in North America reached a record, 58. Half of those were backcountry skiers and snowboarders, including a group of high school students on a class trip, experienced backcountry guides, and a world champion snowboarder, according to the Forest Service National Avalanche Center. (The others killed included climbers, snowmobilers, hikers and snowshoers.) Last season, there were 32 fatalities, 10 of them involving skiers and snowboarders.

"In the last two decades, backcountry skiing and snowboarding has definitely been growing," said Craig Dostie, publisher of Couloir, a backcountry adventure magazine based in Truckee, Calif. "The sport used to have the reputation that you had to be an extreme skier to go into the backcountry, but now it's the cool thing to do, adventure-wise. There's of course the avalanche danger, which is unpredictable, and it can certainly kill you whether or not you are prepared."

Those who go out of bounds near a ski area can often be less experienced and less likely to recognize the dangers of unstable snow. Thus, the ski industry is responding with education programs designed to heighten awareness and minimize the risk.

At Kirkwood Mountain Resort near Lake Tahoe, Calif., the dramatic popularity of the resort's out-of-bounds areas led to the creation of the Expedition Kirkwood program last year. More than 100 guests signed up last season for backcountry awareness clinics, avalanche beacon training sessions, and Sno-Cat skiing tours and hikes that focus on backcountry safety.

Beacon Basin is an avalanche-training facility at Kirkwood run in partnership with Backcountry Access, which makes snow safety equipment. Participants are taught how to use avalanche beacons to locate a buried skier or rider. Eleven avalanche transmitters are permanently buried in a snowfield for beacon users to practice location skills. Training at Beacon Basin is also part of daylong backcountry awareness courses, which are offered monthly and focus on learning about snow conditions, risk assessment and safety procedures. Expedition Kirkwood's programs range from two hours to two days.

Outside a resort's boundaries, skiers and riders have to depend on their own knowledge and snow safety skills, said Tracy Miller, a Kirkwood spokeswoman. "The backcountry terrain outside Kirkwood's boundaries is very steep - Class A avalanche terrain - but unlike the resort, there is no snow safety work performed," she said. "For the most technical skier or rider, it can be treacherous. For the inexperienced, it can be deadly."

Many resorts offer avalanche and backcountry awareness sessions during the National Ski Area Association's National Safety Awareness Week, Jan. 15 to 21. The ski areas include Beaver Creek and Breckenridge, both in Colorado, and Big Mountain, Mont., which uses an avalanche-rescue-dog program called Powder Hounds to attract younger skiers and snowboarders. "We try to teach people the basic knowledge of traveling in the backcountry, including route selection, equipment use, weather effects on the snowpack, and how to proceed in your group safely once you've decided to descend," said Addy McCord, patrol director at Beaver Creek. "Always watch your partner, always have an escape route, things like that."

On Feb. 5, Arapahoe Basin, Colo., will hold its third annual Beacon Bowl and Avalanche Awareness Day, which invites participants to test the latest avalanche gear and to attend clinics; there is also a time trial competition to find a buried avalanche beacon; all proceeds benefit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Other areas offering programs are Snowbird in Utah; Summit in Snoqualmie, Wash; Squaw Valley in California; and Telluride in Colorado, which in its annual three-day Telluride Avalanche School (Jan. 3 to 5 this season) gives students American Avalanche Association Level 1 certification.

"When you look at all the avalanche accidents, especially the recent accidents, you have about half knowing what they're doing, but the other half just don't know anything - they're completely uneducated and bumble into a dangerous situation," said Bruce Tremper, director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, which teaches dozens of avalanche courses each season. Last year, three young snowboarders died in an avalanche near Aspen Grove in Utah.

This month, the Utah Avalanche Center joined with the online gear retailer Backcountry.com and other partners in an avalanche safety campaign geared to school-age children and young adults, called Know Before You Go. The program includes a narrated video with extensive footage of avalanches, local avalanche professionals telling stories about close calls or accidents they have experienced, and presentations on basic avalanche signs and safety practices. The program will begin in Utah schools, but will be used as a model for mountain communities across the country.

"What's happened over the course of the last 10 years is that the gear and the technology far outpace people's avalanche skills," said Craig Gordon, an avalanche forecaster and director of the Know Before You Go program. "So they're able to get out into the conditions, but then they don't know how to handle themselves or recognize basic instabilities. That's where the danger is."

Those who venture off piste should have proper backcountry safety equipment with them and know how to use it, said Greer Terry, communications coordinator for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. "Our backcountry is one of the primary things that the resort is known for," Ms. Terry said. "Our open-gate policy means that there are actual gates around our perimeter. There are warning sounds telling you that you are leaving the patrolled area, indicating the avalanche danger for the day, and if you choose to, you can go out of the gates and access over 3,000 acres of amazing terrain. But once you leave the resort, it's hike to and hike out, and you're on your own, so it's important that people know what they're doing."


BONNIE TSUI writes about travel for the Escapes section.


Packed Powder Via Your PC
By BOB TEDESCHI


HEN Walter DeTour, of New Canaan, Conn., logged on to Weather.com last December and saw yet another snowstorm forecast for New England, he did what any responsible parent would do: He put his son, Tyler, into the car and drove five hours north to Stowe, Vt.

"Tyler was going to be out of school anyway," Mr. DeTour said of his 16-year-old son. "I figured why not get up to the mountain?"

Ski aficionados have long made use of Weather.com to chart getaways. But in recent years, the offerings of other ski-related sites have improved significantly.

Sites are not only better organized than in the Web's earlier days, but they frequently contain better information than what was available even two ski seasons ago. Skimag.com, snocountry.com and others, for example, have recently started services to help match skiers with the best mountains and snow conditions.

Even weather.com has improved its ski features. Later this month, it will add a new element, the Weekend Outlook, which will highlight Saturday and Sunday forecasts for resorts closest to a selected location.

That feature will complement a useful weather-related service already on the site, the Snow Finder application, which allows users to select from scores of states and cities worldwide, and choose resorts with ideal snow. (To find these features, click on the Ski link near the bottom of the home page, to the right of the Recreation link.)

Niche sites also offer weather guidance. BestSkiWeather.com, for instance, is run by Jim Roemer, a meteorologist and avid skier in Hyde Park, Vt. Mr. Roemer, whose service is in its third year, said that at least five major ski resorts, including SnowBird in Utah and Stowe in Vermont, used his services to compile weather reports for their Web sites.

Studying Peak Weather

Unlike many meteorologists, he says, he studies weather patterns of high-altitude locations in winter, and so claims to have a better read on snowy conditions. (Most meteorologists study how the weather will affect higher population areas, rather than, say, the top half of a mountain in a remote area of Vermont.)

His counsel is not free, however. Subscribers pay $239 a year or $49 monthly for forecasts and powder alerts, which arrive via e-mail.

As most skiers know, a good weather forecast does not always mean good skiing. Resort Web sites are replete with information regarding open trails, snow base and the number of ski lifts operating, among other things. But when faced with an array of choices, clicking through to each of the mountain Web sites can be tedious.

Snocountry.com is a good alternative. The Web site's parent company, SnoCountry Mountain Reports, is an industry trade association providing mountain-related information to a wide range of news media outlets (including SportsThursday in The New York Times), and is one of the more comprehensive sites for ski conditions in North America, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.

The Web site offers pull-down menus that quickly lead you to a region and state. On a single page, users can compare the mountains on the basis of snow conditions, available ski lifts, night skiing and operating hours, and click through to a more detailed page on a given resort. The information comes from the resorts, but snocountry.com says it updates more frequently than even the resorts do.

On the comparison page, readers find descriptions of the mountain that are less than hard hitting, but still yield useful information. Atop each ski area's page, users also find basic data on the mountain, like the summit temperature and the percentage of trails devoted to various levels of expertise.

In late October, the company redesigned its site and added several features. Among them is a cellphone text-messaging service providing alerts when snow conditions meet the subscriber's standards.

SnoCountry, which is based in Lebanon, N.H., is also helpful for cross-country skiers. From the Cross Country tab on the left side of the home page, the site offers ski areas in various regions, with listings about the availability of single and double tracks, snowshoeing and even dog trails. Other vital information, like the availability of hot tubs or warming huts, is also presented in an easy-to-find format.

The Right Resort

To find descriptions more apt to reveal a mountain's weaknesses than those on SnoCountry, click to Skimag.com or Skiingmag.com. The Web sites are, as the names suggest, the online components of the well-known magazines for powder enthusiasts. (Ski is devoted to families and more upscale skiers, while Skiing is for more extreme skiers.)

According to Doug Sabanosh, the managing editor of both Web sites, the most popular feature of both Skimag.com and Skiingmag.com is the Resort Finder, which is based on an annual survey of magazine readers and ski experts. That feature, which is found on the left hand side of both sites' home pages, allows users to click on attributes they deem important in a resort.

Looking for a resort in the Midwest, for example, I clicked on three of the 20 attributes - snow quality, service and family. The search engine sifted through the surveys to find the resorts that scored in the top five for each. Notably, only resorts that scored in the nation's top 60 are included in the results, which, in my case, was topped by Nub's Nob, in Harbor Springs, Mich.

From there, the Resort Finder provides a page of resort-specific information from the magazines' editorial staffs, along with links to past articles about that resort so you can track its progress relative to other area peaks.

Both Skimag.com and Skiingmag.com also include forums where readers weigh in on a range of issues. But for more varied voices, GoSki.com is a worthwhile stop. Like other sites that rely heavily on reader submissions for content, though, users are well served to approach GoSki with some patience.

For instance, below a cursory profile of Jackson Hole, the Wyoming resort, is a compendium of readers' comments on the mountain, anchored by tips on good bars, hotels and restaurants in the area. While some of the submissions are useful, others would benefit from editing.

In January, GoSki will undergo a facelift, according to Richard Bilodeau, vice president for marketing, research, and technology for Resort Sports Network, GoSki's parent company. Among other things, the new design is intended to make it easier to navigate the site.

One element that will remain consistent on GoSki is its extensive use of Webcams to provide a glimpse of mountain conditions. Resort Sports Network operates an extensive network of Webcams, covering popular North American ski resorts. The images, found at RSN.com, are updated at least once a day, and distributed widely among online media sites like weather.com and snowboardermag.com.

Snoweye.com offers more global Webcam coverage, with extensive views of European mountains (some of its North American mountain images are provided by RSN.com). Resort-specific sites can sometimes offer even better views.

Aspensnowmass.com, which covers the Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk ski areas, offers live Webcams all winter during daylight hours. Rather than offering one angle of the mountain, as some Webcam sites do, AspenSnowmass.com gives skiers different vantage points.

For skiers who are brainstorming hotels and restaurants in a given area, and who want a more comprehensive offering, SkiCentral.com misses little, at least among North American mountains. The site, which is based in Ottawa, is a directory of Web sites related to ski areas throughout North America, Europe and Australia.

According to Dave McGrath, the site's founder and manager, SkiCentral includes links to roughly 10,000 Web sites, mostly on this continent. SkiCentral's editorial team searches for sites on lodging, events, real estate, ski clubs and vacation operators in a given resort area, and lists the paying advertisers first in each category.

Below those links, though, are many worthwhile sites. One such site, PurcellHelicopterSkiing.com, was helpful to Mr. DeTour and his son, Tyler, of New Canaan, this fall. The site, which specializes in tours of the Purcell mountain range in Canada, turned up a five-day package that was nearly 50 percent less expensive than similar packages south of the border.

Mr. DeTour booked the trip online, and quickly set himself to the task of getting in shape for five days of chasing a 16-year-old through the powder.

"He thinks he'll be able to keep up with me," Tyler said. "But he'll be huffing and puffing."


E-mail: tedeschi@nytimes.com


Big-Time Snowboarding on a Little Mountain in New Jersey
By DENNY LEE


RIVE just one hour from Manhattan, the vacation brochures promise, and find yourself in one of North America's best terrains for freestyle snowboarding, an Olympic-size halfpipe that draws top-tier riders, and a full-service spa that rivals any found in Aspen. Yes, all the amenities of a top ski resort can be found in New Jersey. Or so the promoters of Mountain Creek insist.

The 47-mile journey to Mountain Creek is not especially encouraging. Route 23 cuts through a tableau of smoldering factories, bloated strip malls and bedroom communities tucked behind concrete noise barriers. And the brochures never talk about rush-hour delays, which can double the advertised driving time.

Nearly two hours into the drive, however, the view from Vernon, N.J., changes. The malls recede and four white-capped peaks emerge like rolling sand dunes.

Size is clearly not the mountain's greatest asset. With a vertical drop of only 1,040 feet, Mountain Creek could easily be remade into one enormous bunny slope, which might suit many weekend visitors just fine. But what nature has not bestowed on Mountain Creek, its deep-pocketed investors have compensated for. Like many vertically challenged ski areas nationwide, Mountain Creek has refashioned itself from a mediocre downhill mountain to a top-notch park for snowboarders and freeskiers.

Six years ago, the ski industry giant Intrawest bought the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski resort and gave it a zippier name, Mountain Creek. Along came seven higher-speed lifts, plenty of snowmaking and an elephantine Zaugg Pipe Monster for carving a competition-ready superpipe. Five terrain parks, which offer bannisterlike rails, tabletops and other surfaces to perform tricks on, cover one-fifth of the mountain.

The resort's reputation soon outgrew the mountain, helped in no small part by Danny Kass, a local legend and the 2002 Olympic silver medalist for halfpipe, who was reared on these very trails.

Last winter, the readers of Transworld Snowboarding magazine ranked Mountain Creek third best for "rail and jib variety" in North America.

But fame comes at a price and, in this case, the downside is the crowding. On a recent Saturday, after a foot of fresh snow fell on the region and the thermometer edged up, attendance hit a staggering 13,000. (When Mountain Creek first opened, 8,000 people was judged a busy day.)

The resulting lines can drive even the most Zen visitors toward madness. There are long lines to reach the parking lot, long lines to buy lift tickets at $52 a pop, long lines to pick up rental equipment (assuming that they do not run out, which can happen with snowboards), and long lines to use the restroom.

In Mountain Creek's defense, the resort lost its lodge to a fire several months before its grand opening five years ago, and quickly erected six temporary tents, constructed of white polyester and aluminum poles, to house its cafeteria, bars, kitchens, locker room, rental shop and restrooms.

The lift lines, thankfully, run smoothly and efficiently, even when they look like the checkout counters at Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve. That is in large measure because of the new lifts. The Cabriolet, for instance, is an open-air gondola that can whisk eight passengers at once to Vernon Peak in less than four minutes. (During the summer, the gondola converts into a transport rack for mountain bikers.)

Once on top, there is a choice of 45 trails that dip and weave across the mountainside.

West Coast riders may scoff at the notion of the more difficult black diamond trails being found in New Jersey, but a few trails, like Eagle Hunt and Zero G, offer thrills to titillate the most jaded snowboarder or skier. The terrain parks are clustered along the northern face of the mountain, where a crew of riders-cum-welders unleashes new and scarier rails every year.

Ten trails are designated green for easiest and are often the most crowded as well. A good option is to come on weekdays, when lift tickets are $39 and the crowds melt away. Or alternately, arrive at dusk for nighttime skiing, when 10,000 watts of floodlights sparkle like strands of yellow pearls.

Lifts stay open until 9:30 p.m., and on Thursdays, New Jersey Transit offers a new bus service between the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan and Mountain Creek, departing at 3 p.m. and returning at 11:42 p.m. The round-trip, which costs $16.90 and is scheduled to take an hour and 45 minutes each way, operates through the end of February.

But there are also plenty of reasons to spend the night. The Vernon Valley/Great Gorge area is a well-established vacation playground that has long drawn visitors for its golf, water park, hiking and camps. The Minerals Resort and Spa, down the road, opened last November at Crystal Springs, a master-planned community of vacation homes and five golf courses. The new Elements Spa offers a painless way to massage those aching muscles after slipping on an icy patch.

Back at Mountain Creek, a new gated neighborhood known as Black Creek Sanctuary has Adirondack-style town houses for rent from $229 to $449 a night, complete with full kitchens, gas fireplaces and the obligatory hot tub. More is to come, as Intrawest moves ahead on a 1,100-unit real estate development and a pedestrian village, including a new base lodge.

But the beauty of Mountain Creek is its proximity to New York. You can snowboard or ski for an entire day, and make it back in time for that dinner reservation. And if traffic is on your side, the New York skyline will re-emerge an hour after departure, beckoning like another mountain that needs to be conquered.