Planning early for ski season

If you are looking for the best ski resort deals, plan in early October. Whether you are planning to ski close to home or out West, you are sure to save dollars and headaches. There’s nothing like the present to plan for the future.

Ski trips can be costly. With equipment rental or purchases plus transportation costs, skiing doesn’t come cheap. That is why many of us in the area like to stay close to home for a winter-like adventure at resorts like Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Appalachian Ski Mountain offers a smorgasbord of ski ticket packages including multi-day rates ranging from two to five days. If you are a bit rusty or there is a beginner in your group, this resort has numerous lesson plans featuring the “Learn to Ski Package.” These lessons are offered in the early or late portion of the ski season. Members of the French-Swiss Ski College give students the confidence to hit the slopes.

If skiing is not your thing, Appalachian Ski Mountain offers ice skating and snowboarding. The lighted ice floor allows for skating at night between the resort’s slopes and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. Snowboarding has become the hot trend over the past decade. It has been recently re-energized by the last Winter Olympics with legendary snowboarder, Shaun White.

Appalachian Ski Mountain’s season starts in mid-December and ends in early March.

Go West for skiing adventures

Sometimes you might want to splurge and go out West where the mountains are steep and real snow blankets the region. From California’s Lake Tahoe to Colorado’s Breckinridge, ski buffs put down their greenbacks to experience the thrill of a lifetime.

If you’re like me and barely go skiing, try booking an early ski getaway to avoid the crowds and the serious skiers. Park City, Utah is the perfect place to visit early and enjoy yourself. If you look long and hard enough, you can find a decent plane fare into Salt Lake City. Frontier and American seem to have the most routes to this destination, but Delta, Continental and United also offer deals into Salt Lake City International Airport.

The cozy ski enclave, located about 45 minutes from Salt Lake City has three premier resorts: Park City Mountain, Deer Valley and The Canyons. Park City and The Canyons will open November 16 and 17 respectively. Deer Valley is set to open on December 8. All three resorts have distinct advantages including a variety of lifts, trails and skiable acres. The Canyons measures in as the largest of the three with 3,700 acres and numerous lifts including an eight-passenger high-speed gondola lift and an impressive eight-passenger Cabriolet.

Once you arrive, one of Park City’s three premier resorts can pick you up for a small fee. Aside from the fact that it is a short drive from Salt Lake to Park City, you experience another benefit: no driving on the snow. As you gaze at the Wasatch Mountains, you also become acclimated to the elevation of the area which is 6,720 - 8,460 feet above sea level.

If you arrive early in the season, there might still be man-made snow dominating these resorts. “But once every few years, we do get the real thing,” said Craig McCarthy, Communications Manager for the Park City Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau. That is one reason why ski purists will likely arrive later in the season. They might not want to wait too late because the annual Sundance Film Festival will be in town in from January 17-27, 2008. Even though the filmmaking world pretty much stays off of the slopes, rooms are a bit hard to find.

What is easy to find are lift tickets. You can convert your airline boarding pass into a free same-day lift ticket at one of Park City’s three resorts. This offering is known as the Park City Quick S.T.A.R.T. program. To participate in it, go to the city’s Web site to complete the required registration.

Away from the slopes

After the Sundance Festival put Park City on the world’s radar screen, shops and restaurants sprang up throughout the town. The eatery that has been receiving the most buzz is Zoom, located on Park City’s Main Street. This elegant, reasonably-priced restaurant serves up scrumptious fare including Saffron Scented Creamy Risotto and Fresh Spinach Fettuccine with Sundried Tomatoes.

If Zoom is a bit crowded, you will not go hungry. Park City is home to more than 100 restaurants that serve a range of cuisine from Mexican to Middle Eastern fare.

When you arrive and realize that you might not have the right apparel for the climate, there are scores of shops in Park City’s shopping districts.

Early planning has advantages

When I was in Park City, I hooked up with the Ski Butlers. They came to our room and fitted us with everything. They saved us quite a bit of hassle.

Whether you are traveling near or far for a ski trip, the key to a successful, affordable and no-hassle vacation is early planning.

Web sites:

Appalachian Ski Mountain

http://www.appskimtn.com

Park City, Utah

http://www.parkcityinfo.com

The Ski Butlers

http://www.skibutlers.com

Did you know?

Sources: Park City, Utah Chamber of Commerce, Appalachian Ski Mountain

*In Park City’s mining heyday, more than $400 million in silver was extracted from the surrounding town.

*One-third of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games events were held in Park City.

*Park City has been the home of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team since 1974.

*Appalachian Ski Mountain uses the French Swiss Ski-College for its ski lessons. This organization has taught over one millions skiers and snowboarders.

*Snow-making machines are used in Park City resorts and at Appalachian Ski Mountains. In a given season, Appalachian makes snow about 600 to 900 hours between November and late March.

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