Back to Basics on the Slopes
The packed ski rental shop at Bolton Valley Ski Area in Bolton, Vermont.
To manage the unexpected crush of skiers who've come to the small, 35-year-old resort to celebrate New Year's Eve, owner Ned Hamilton pitches in to service a long line of skiers looking for rentals.
A year ago, Hamilton and a group of local investors bought the struggling 5,000 acre resort. Hamilton says he made the $6 million investment partly for sentimental reasons: Bolton Valley is where he taught his kids to ski and largely to profit from the growing preference among families to ski at smaller, more affordable areas.
Hamilton is convinced that courteous service and good value are what will turn Bolton Valley into a Shangri-La for skiers as well.
One idea he's already borrowed from Utah's luxurious Deer Valley resort is hosts -- people who greet arriving skiers at their cars and help them lug their gear.
If the season goes well, Hamilton also plans to reduce Bolton's $39 a day lift ticket, which is already a bargain compared to the $49 to $59 a day prices at Vermont's larger resorts. Skier Lenore Bruno figures every time her family skis at Bolton, they're saving the equivalent of one ticket elsewhere.
Bruno is among a growing population of skiers who prefer more intimate places where it's almost impossible to lose your kids. While the number of ski areas in the U.S. has declined slightly over the past decade, the number of skiers has increased. National Ski Areas Association Spokeswoman Stacy Gardner says the areas experiencing the greatest volume of skiers are smaller hills in unexpected places like New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas.
The trend toward more family-friendly, less expensive skiing recently inspired Ski Magazine to dedicate a monthly column to the topic called "hometown hills". Editor Greg Trinker says if his readers are any indication, big, glitzy ski areas are out, but amenities are still in.
Prime examples of more purist skiing, says Tinker, are Utah's Alta Mountain and Vermont's Mad River Glen. Canada's deep snow and low exchange rate of the past couple years has lured legions of U.S. skiers to areas such as Quebec's Mont Sainte Anne, a mid-sized, intermediate mountain just minutes from old Quebec City. Even the glitziest mega-mountains, like Vail, are hoping to cash in on this burgeoning back-to-basics crowd. The area has recently dropped its ticket prices by ten dollars and opened new terrain where there's no grooming, no artificial snow, no cafeterias...just skiing.
So how do you find the small resort of your dreams if it's not in your backyard? Again, Greg Trinker.
Trinker also advises using the Internet and, of course, reading magazines. But still, the small resort isn't for everyone. Some skiers say it's the difference between going to a small college versus a huge university: there are advantages and disadvantages to both. And as most skiing families discover, once a certain level of competency kicks in, there's no bigger thrill than navigating the expanse of a giant resort.
I'm Pippin Ross for The Savvy Traveler.
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