Deals at Fancy Ski Areas

VAIL, Colo. -- Kids can't have all the fun. We adults yelled the loudest flying down the hill in the giant yellow inner tubes, arms linked in the dark, snow in our faces. We collapsed at the bottom, giggling and breathless, grinning stupidly at each other.

Our children looked at us as if we were from another planet.

``Let's go again!'' we pleaded.

But after a half dozen runs, the kids were ready for the next thrill. Certainly there are plenty to choose from at Vail's top-of-the-mountain Adventure Ridge. The indoor-outdoor complex has ice skating, moonlit snowmobile tours, bobsledding, snowshoeing and rides down the mountain on Snowbikes (a kind of mountain bike on skis). There's a luge track, night snowboarding and even laser tag in the snow.

One thousand parents and kids play every afternoon and evening at this multimillion dollar activities and restaurant center at the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola.

Some ski resorts sniff that Adventure Ridge is ``Disneyland in the snow,'' taking away from the natural beauty of the mountains. However, other industry observers believe it is a model for what's to come as families increasingly want more to do in the mountains than skiing or even snowboarding.

They also want new-style apres-ski options for the kids.

``We've been up here three nights out of five. The kids love it,'' said Bart Nason, a New Yorker, laughing that his 3-year-old fell asleep on the snowmobile.

Nason added they chose to ski here partly because of Adventure Ridge and the evening options it afforded the entire family. ``The kids get up here and wake up again,'' he said.

``Parents might be tired, but the kids are never too tired,'' laughed Chris Takacs who was waiting for her son in the warming hut at the bottom of the tubing hill.

``Whenever people come to visit, this is where we bring them,'' added Dave Wirth, a local furniture maker who had just finished a turn on the ice skating rink with his visiting 16- year-old daughter. The two had spent all day skiing.

``People don't want to stop playing when the ski lifts close,'' Wirth said.

Vail officials say Adventure Ridge has proved such a hit for exactly that reason. It's also a good bet for non-skiing vacationers who come up here -- the elevation is 10,350 feet -- for the the drop-dead Rockies views and the chance to play in the snow with the rest of the family.

The Gondola is free after 4 p.m.. Activities range from free snow hockey to $12 an hour for tubing to $40 Snowbike tours. This is the place to try things you never thought you could. Make like an Olympian, sliding down the luge track on your back, or glide around on ``sled dogs'' (short ski-skates).

Of course you can relax in front of the fire with a fancy coffee drink while everyone else in the family lives out their fantasies. The six-lane tubing hill (there's a shorter, adjacent track for younger children) clearly gets the most traffic.

``It's nice that this doesn't require a lot of muscles,'' said Marsha Gordon, a Texan, who had used plenty of muscle power skiing earlier that day.

``This is as much fun as skiing,'' declared 9-year-old Ben Raynor from Louisiana.

I don't know if my crew would go that far, but the tubing hill, they agreed, was one of the high points of our recent Colorado trip.

Teens, meanwhile, have made Adventure Ridge their own special refuge. They tube, snowboard under the lights and gather at Terminal Pizza, built in the old gondola terminal.

``This place gives us something else to do at night besides watch TV,'' explained one 14-year-old who was gobbling pizza.

Parents, at the same time, indulge in a quiet fondue dinner at the Wine Stube while their older kids play snow hockey. (The ski resort also offers supervised Night Owl evenings for children at Adventure Ridge for $35 per child. Call 970-476-9090 for dates and times as well as activities reservations.)

Many families opt, as we did, to spend the evening at the mountain top, staring with dinner at the Shooting Star Buffet. The $12.95-per-adult and $7.95-per-child cost for the soup-to- salad-to-hand carved meats-to-desert seemed a veritable bargain in pricey Vail.

Of course, in the late ski season, Vail, neighboring Beaver Creek, Aspen and the other tony Western ski resorts may not be as much out of reach as you might think. Consider some of these deals:

-- Round-trip flights from Newark, Dallas, Chicago, L.A. and Miami, among other cities, direct into Vail/Eagle Airport are available from American Airlines for $99 with the purchase of a land package at one of the participating resorts. Call the Cool Deals Hotline at Vail 888-286-6135 or visit the Web site at www.snow.com.

-- The ski-in, ski-out Mountain Chalet at Snowmass offers rooms-with-breakfast-and-soup-lunch, starting at $112 a night for a family of four at the end of March. Call 800-843-1579.

-- Rent a two-bedroom condo at The Enclave at Snowmass for just over $200 a night -- half the price from peak season. Call 800-365-0410.

-- Book a three-day package starting at $85 per person at one of a group of locally owned Aspen hotels beginning mid-March. (Call 888-452-2409 or visit the Web site at www.skiaspen.com.)

-- The luxe ski-in, ski-out Beaver Creek offers $400 rooms for $135 starting mid-April, the last week of the ski season. Call 800-233-1234.

-- Fly Continental Airlines to Telluride, book through Continental vacations and you can ski free for every night you stay. Call 800-634-5555 or visit www.telski.com.

The best part: You don't have to sacrifice great skiing to enjoy the bargain rates.

There's a 58-inch base Vail's summit -- more at Snowmass and Aspen Highlands -- and so much new snow that the skiing is the best of the season. See you at the top of the tubing hill.

(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?'')

(Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or e-mail to eogintz@aol.com. While every letter cannot be answered, some of your stories may be used in upcoming columns.)

(c) 1998, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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