Ski Vacations for the Nonskier

Deirdre Hamilton is no fan of snow or cold. She doesn't like heights either. Yet every winter she vacations at a ski resort.

``My kids ski and my husband skis,'' explains Hamilton, who lives in Northern California and is a consultant. ``I gave it a try -- I even took lessons -- but I just don't like skiing. It's too cold.''

That's not to say Hamilton twiddles her thumbs in a crowded ski lodge getting bored and grumpy. She doesn't. She stays busy gambling near Lake Tahoe or getting a massage at Snowbird in Utah. ``I want to have fun too.''

These days, that's easy to accomplish most anywhere the family wants to ski, observes Laura Sutherland whose newest book, ``The Best Family Ski Vacations in North America'' (St. Martin's Griffin, $15.95), has just been published. It is a must-have for families who like vacations in the snow.

Sutherland suggests plenty of non-ski activities as well as ``family statistics'' for 45 resorts detailing everything from day care to where to get medical care and money-saving deals.

``I think ski areas are very aware that to attend to families, they have to take into account the needs of nonskiers in the group, whether a grandparent, a parent or even a child who twisted his ankle,'' said Sutherland, who spent last winter touring ski resorts with her two children. ``The resorts are doing more and more.''

There are health clubs, full-service spas and indoor water slides (try the Avon, Colo., recreation center), boutiques, outlet malls and galleries galore, ice skating, sleigh and snow mobile rides, dog sledding and snow shoeing, even hot air balloon trips, ice climbing, play and dance performances and art classes.

There's maple sugaring and antiquing in Vermont, gallery-hopping in Aspen and Santa Fe, among other places, and the chance to explore ancient Native American cultures in Southern Colorado and Taos. Soak in hot springs in Steamboat Springs, Colo., or tour an old silver mine in Park City, Utah. Enjoy a leisurely country breakfast, gourmet lunch or ride a horse-drawn sleigh to dinner in the woods.

You can take Artist in the Mountains classes at Vermont's Smuggler's Notch resort (Call 800-451-8752) or gamble all night near the Lake Tahoe ski areas (Call Heavenly, which spans Nevada and California at 800-2-Heaven). Take a snow jump lesson or luge ride at Park City at the new Winter Sports Park, the site for some of the 2002 Olympic events (800-222-PARK) or a bobsled ride at Whiteface Mountain Ski Area at Lake Placid in New York, the home of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics games (800-44PLACID), or attend a concert at at Beaver Creek's new Vilar Center for the Arts in Colorado. (Call Beaver Creek at 800-243-8053.)

Tubing -- it's like sledding but you ride on an inner tube down a chute or hill -- is especially hot this season. More than 30 ski areas around the country are will introduce snow tubing, says National Ski Areas Association. An added plus: It costs under $20 for hours of fun.

``Kids are used to lots of different activities and they're pushing their parents to do different things,'' believes John Alderson, who develops and oversees new family programs for Vail and Beaver Creek. Consider Vail's year-old Adventure Ridge at the top of Vail Mountain where kids and parents alike can tube, snowboard, ice skate, snowshoe or even play laser tag. The Ridge is such a hit, especially with teens, that it's already being expanded. (Call Vail at 800-278-2372.)

``People these days want an all-around winter vacation experience,'' explains Judy Daniels, a spokesman for Northstar-at-Tahoe in California. ``Instead of going to Disney World, we'll go skiing.''

Growing numbers have never skied. Daniels notes that the most popular offering at the resort is an Introduction to Skiing or Snowboarding package that enables someone to rent equipment, get a lesson and try the sport for $50, roughly the cost of a lift ticket. (800-Go- NORTH)

Stephanie Bass would rather cross country ski, hit the local health club or relax in front of the fire with a mystery while the rest of her family are out on the slopes. ``There are always plenty of other nonskiers floating around too,'' she says.

Ski resorts report, though, that even die-hard skiers and snowboarders now want time to do other things on their ski vacations besides race down the mountains For one thing, the baby boomers are getting older and may not be able to ski as hard from morning till dusk -- especially when they're trying to keep up with their kids.

My gang, I admit, is happy when I quit early because they will ski faster and harder without me. My sister Amy Fieldman likes to get off the slopes a few hours ahead of the rest of her family just to relax. ``That way I get a few hours to myself while the kids are still in ski school,'' she explains. ``I don't need a lot to do because I'm tired.''

Park City's Charlie Lansche thinks skiers now are skiing a lot harder in fewer hours than they realize because high-tech, fast lifts get them up and down the mountain much more quickly than in the past. Instead of taking 23 minutes to ride the gondola up the mountain, high-speed chair lifts now take less than half that long. Lines are shorter, too.

That doesn't interest the nonskiers in the crowd, of course.

More important, urges Deirdre Hamilton, pick a ski area that has plenty for nonskiers. ``You've got to be a little selfish,'' she says. ``It's your vacation too.''

(Look for Eileen Ogintz's books from HarperCollins West: ``A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains'' and, for parents, ``Are We There Yet?'')

(c) 1997, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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