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May 2011

Non-Skiers Join the Scene

When you add it all up, winter resorts offer much more than just skiing and riding.

Written by Tom Patton | 0 comment

Perform an online search for top ski resorts for the non-skier, and you’re likely to find either a traditional ski town, such as Park city or Aspen, or some exotic European resort. At first glance it would seem that most smaller or isolated ski areas are not a good vacation option for those who, for various reasons, don’t ski or ride. Look a little deeper, though, and the reality is a great experience can be had by non-skiers at many mountain resorts if they have an open mind and look for experiences outside the norm.

Much traditional marketing has been all about the high adventure to be found on the slopes. It offered little to non-skiers to convince them that there are activities to enjoy off skis and board.

But as winter sports have become more competitive, operators have realized that there is a whole lot more to the overall experience than skiing and riding. And that’s good, because there is a broad dynamic found in the family groups that visit our areas. Plus, resorts have installed high-speed lifts at the same time the audience has been getting older. These older skiers and riders get in more vertical in a few hours now than they used to cover in a day. What do they do then?

The result of this is both an increase in quality of the normal offerings both on the slopes and off, and an increase in other amenities and offerings, much of which can attract and appeal to the non-skier as well as the worn-out skier.

Resorts have expanded outdoor recreational options, from skating and cross country skiing to tubing, sleigh and dog sled rides, and various iterations of bobsledding and luge. The growing installation of all-season mountain coasters and canopy tours is another example of the broadening of experiences at winter resorts. As with tubing, these activities require no special skill, and create a sense of adventure.

There are new challenges available, too. For example, Hoodoo Mountain Resort in Oregon has joined the ranks of those who offer snowbiking. Pats Peak, N.H., along with several Colorado areas, also offer snowbiking in some fashion.

Another option at many areas is rides for foot passengers on some lifts to mid-mountain or mountaintop day lodges. At Squaw Valley, visitors can ride the cable car to High Camp, where there is an ice pavilion, a swimming lagoon, spa and restaurants. A non-skier could spend the better part of a day there without ever setting foot in snow, yet can feel part of the Alpine experience.

There are many other experiences to be had in the snow that don’t involve skiing or snowboarding. Both Squaw Valley and Kirkwood offer dog-sled rides through meadows near their base lodges. Other resorts conduct guided snowshoes tours, including ridgeline snowshoe tours accessed from the top of the lifts. Snowmobiling, with both guided and open rentals, can be another draw.

Aside from the organized and adventurous, there are the intrinsic values found just being in the mountain environment. In good weather there are great walks to be found, often through picturebook neighborhoods or through the forest. Many areas provide hiking/snow- shoeing/walking maps with routes both on the slopes and through town. Some ski towns feature historic walking tours, with the more progressive featuring “E-tours” providing info at each stop via iPods or smartphones.

The Great Indoors
Beyond these outdoor adventures, there is now a wide range of indoor activities at many resorts. State of the art spas and/or fitness centers are proliferating. Spa options range from the usual massage options to such exotic choices as salt glows and mud baths and herbal saunas. Workout options may include the usual cardio and resistance machines but can also feature classes with trainers, or yoga or tai chi. Often even the smaller areas or lodges have workout rooms.

Food and beverage services are also widely improved. Many resort delis or coffee shops offer wifi connections and couches for casual lounging or hanging out. Some such cafés, keep bookshelves stocked with paperbacks; some invite visitors to “take one, leave one.”

Perhaps looking to inspire or rejuvenate, Snowbird offers daily free screenings of skiing/snowboarding movies both in the afternoon and evening.

Consider a recent conversation in a casual slope-side café with a lady in street clothes, toting a book. No, she doesn’t ski. But her family does, and she has been going to ski resorts for years—and loves it. Asked why, she explained, “I don’t have to cook, somebody else makes the beds, the kids are all happy and entertained, and I can really relax and take walks or read my book.”

Catering to non-skiers is not limited to big resorts, either. With its slogan “something for everyone,” and situated just 35 minutes from Denver, 750-vertical-foot Echo Mountain Resort has created a unique user-friendly environment. To begin with, the base lodge is at mid-mountain, situated right next to the beginner area and with a broad view over the slopes. Combine that with its Mini-mountaineers kids ski program, offered both morning and afternoon midweek, and the result is a very mom-friendly situation.

“I like to say we’re the wintertime pool,” says general manager Cindy Cady. In that vein, she makes sure that there’s always something going on. Echo is open until 9 p.m. five days a week, with a variety of race leagues and night training facilities in addition to its terrain parks and related events. That makes it imperative that non-skiing moms and other drivers have a comfortable place to read, talk, and surf the Internet, or just watch the kids outside on the hill.

So Echo has created a comfortable lounge where mothers can hang out in the lodge with their smaller children while watching the older kids right outside, all the while socializing with other parents. It’s sort of a coffee shop setup, with free wifi, albeit without the same degree of quiet.

Hoodoo has done something similar in its base lodge by creating a comfortable lounge area for non-skiing guests.

While none of this is completely new, a first-time non-skiing visitor is often hard-pressed to find information on any of this. A website visitor often must dig deep on resort websites or talk to resort customer service personnel to find out about the non-skiing attractions. We all assume these options are obvious, but to those unfamiliar with our resorts, they are anything but.