Conditions Good For Yule Ski Trips

Bountiful snow from California to the Rockies has increased hopes for a good holiday season while New England struggles through weather so warm it has made snowmaking impractical in some areas.

Hotel reservations are up in the West and many airlines report solid bookings for the end of December. Consumers also have seen a flurry of deals to entice them.

“Snow was thin before Thanksgiving. Since then, the snow started and our phones have been ringing like crazy,” said Becky Moore, director of sales for Squaw Valley on the California-Nevada line near Lake Tahoe. Moore said the resort has the best holiday conditions since 1988.

After an unseasonably warm fall, a flurry of snowstorms opened up ski runs throughout the West. Vail, as an example, has received 7 feet of snow since Thanksgiving.

“Christmas is within a couple of points of last year, and last year was the busiest Christmas our resorts have ever had,” said Adam Aron, chief executive officer of Vail Resorts.

At Big Mountain in Montana, spokesman Brian Schott said, “We had a little scare as most resorts did with the balmy weather in early November. Now we have more snow than we did until March 15 last year.”

Kip Pitou, president of Ski Utah, said Deer Valley and other Utah resorts are hoping for a record season, but cautioned that the price-cutting deals could hurt profits.

In Steamboat Springs, Colo., where nonstop flights have been sold out for a month, a promotion that offers the third day of skiing and third night of lodging free has been extended to Dec. 24. Hotels have reduced lodging minimums to two nights.

“We are going gangbusters now,” spokesman Andy Wirth said.

Aspen is offering a $99 roundtrip airline ticket from Denver, including a lift ticket. In Jackson, Wyo., flights are more than 95 percent full for Christmas week.

Joan Christensen of Winter Park, 60 miles west of Denver, said some resort officials believe vacationeers are waiting until the last possible moment to book trips, and then working through Internet sites.

“They're making sure the economy is OK, and they are making sure Fred still has his job,” she said. “It can be unnerving because you don't know how much staffing you need.”

The resorts know their season will be affected by the lingering effects of the weakened economy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Our country has undergone a national trauma since Sept. 11. Stress levels have been high. An escape to the mountains sounds pretty good in that context,” Aron of Vail said.

Christensen said there could be a good side to the tragic events: “We think the people believe the mountains are a haven from the turmoil of the world,” she added.

In New England, meanwhile, snow has been scarce.

David Dillon, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, said New England resorts are hoping for colder weather next week so they can make snow, and at last one good storm before Christmas.

“I still think we will benefit from some in the market who want to stay closer to home. There are people whose lives revolve around skiing who will go out West and ski here, too,” he said.

By ROBERT WELLER © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed