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Five myths about ski vacations

Published: 01/20/2015
By Everett Potter, Special for USA Today -- As the cost of ski vacations continues to rise, there's a perception that ski resorts cater only to the well-heeled and are more interested in selling valuable real estate than supporting a venerable winter sport. Here's the truth behind five current myths about skiing.

1. Ski resorts have become too Disneyfied.

Admittedly some resorts now resemble winter theme parks, but there are still a handful of places where the emphasis is on skiing, old-fashioned lodges and a tradition of families who return year after year. Resorts like Mad River Glen in Vermont, Grand Targhee in Wyoming and Alta Ski Area in Utah haven't succumbed to glitz and fashion.

"For many guests, Alta is a place where their grandparents used to ski," says Connie Marshall, marketing director of Alta, which is known for hotels like the 75-year-old Alta Lodge and for a philosophy that places skiing above everything else. In fact, it's one of the last resorts in the United States that still bans snowboarding. "Both locals and skiers who come from all over the world come back to Alta every year to be steeped in the tradition of soft powder snow, iconic family-owned ski lodges, and just plain utter beauty," Marshall says.

2. The rest of my family doesn't ski and will be bored.

That depends on where you go. At Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, the last of the 19th-century grand dame hotels in New England, offers a genteel way to appreciate winter, with roaring fires and vast public rooms that have breathtaking views of Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast. Besides downhill skiing, the resort's menu of activities includes an acclaimed spa, tubing, dogsledding, zip lining, snowshoeing and some of the best cross-county trails in the region.

"We've introduced a lot of people to cross-country skiing," says Ellen Chandler, Nordic Center Director of the 100 kilometers of trails she oversees. "It's worth remembering that the Mount Washington Hotel caters to winter vacationers, not just skiers."

At Jay Peak in northern Vermont, a recently built water park adds to the fun. In Jackson Hole, Wyo., snowmobiling and winter excursions into nearby Yellowstone National Park keep non-skiers busy. Deer Valley, Stowe, Aspen and Telluride all offer a mix of activities and shopping to appeal to non-skiers.

Vermont's Okemo Mountain reports an increase of multi-generational families vacationing together, thanks to the resort's dedication to providing a variety of events and activities with broad appeal.

"When they're not skiing and snowboarding, families can enjoy ice skating, snow tubing, snowshoeing and swimming," says Bonnie McPherson of Okemo. "There are even some unexpected activities like riding Okemo's Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster or, new this year, kids' guided snowmobile tours on pint-sized Polaris sleds."

3. You spend most of your travel time delayed or stuck in connecting airports.

No one wants to spend their winter vacation in the air, especially with kids in tow, so smart skiers avoid connecting flights and choose mountain gateways that are accessible by non-stop service. Cities like Salt Lake City and Reno are prime. Fly into Denver and it's a reasonable car or van ride to Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge. If you can get a non-stop flight to smaller regional airports that serve Steamboat, Vail or Jackson, you'll be way ahead of the game.

4. I can't afford to buy all that special ski clothing for just a short vacation.

Ski rentals have, of course, been available for years but now a new company called GetOutfitted.com rents ski clothes online. The clothing is delivered to the guest's ski hotel before arrival at no extra charge. When the ski vacation ends, there are pre-paid mailer bags that guests can drop off at the resort's front desk or in a USPS mailbox.

5. It's just too expensive to ski.

There are hacks that can significantly lower the cost of ski vacation. For example, don't stay at the resort but nearby. The best example of that is downtown Salt Lake City, which has just rebranded itself as Ski City, and with good reason. Hotels like Little America are less than half the cost of slopeside lodging but are just a 40-minute drive away from such classic Wasatch resorts as Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude.

For those who want to avoid the often steep cost of a rental car or SUV, the TRAX light rail system, which debuted in 2013, links Salt Lake City International Airport to downtown. It allows skiers to travel seamlessly by light rail from the airport to the city center and then reach the slopes via the UTA Ski Buses.

"Salt Lake is the only ski destination in North America with world-class skiing as well as all other amenities you'd expect in an urban setting," commented Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake.

In the evening, skiers staying in downtown Salt Lake can walk to an impressive variety of downtown restaurants and bars with a full range of prices, go shopping at the open-air City Creek or catch a Utah Jazz game. You can't do that at any resort.

When it comes to lift tickets, sites like Liftopia.com and SlidingontheCheap.com offer discounts of up to 80% depending upon the time of year and the resort. In many ski towns, lodging choices have grown thanks to sites such as VRBO.com and HomeAway.com.

Arguably the best way to save money skiing this winter is to simply wait. After March 20 or so, when spring skiing begins, the mountains typically have a season's worth of snow but the crowds are gone, drawn away by spring pursuits like golf and tennis in many part of the country. This is the time of year that ski resorts usually begin heavily discounting rooms and even lift tickets. Go to ski.com to find spring deals all around North America.

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