Skiing Just the Tip of the Snow Drift for the Resort Experience

Whether it’s snowboarding, dog-sledding, doing hyper-angular moves in a half-pipe, or simply tubing down a hill, skiing has its rivals in winter trips to the mountains.

Lori Epp, director of marketing from Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., cuts through all the snow when she says: “People are coming for multiple days and multiple reasons.”

As the winter sports season begins to find its cold, cold heart, resort planners and activity organizers are hunting new ways to find enthusiasts.

“We want to be an outdoor-adventure headquarters,” says Anna Weltz, director of communications for the jointly owned Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Hidden Valley Resort in Somerset County.

At Seven Springs, activities range from tubing to late-night Snowcat tours, which ride up the mountains in grooming machines.

Resorts also have found it necessary to offer activities such as sleigh rides and specialty areas like terrain parks, where snowboarders can do tricks, leaps and spins on slanted and curved boards.

Seven Springs has seven terrain parks and Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort in West Virginia has five.

It also can mean offering a hint of luxury. Ashli Mazer from Fayette County’s Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is more than willing to admit Nemacolin is not as challenging a ski site as those a little to the east. But, she points out, the spa, luxury dining, dog-sledding and carriage tours create their own winter wonderland.

Tiffany Cook from Peek’n Peak Resort in Findley Lake, N.Y., says “most people come to us to learn.” The resort’s 400-foot vertical drop is only about half that of the 750 at Seven Springs, which creates a better educational site, she says.

But even more dramatic sites put an emphasis on education.

Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort in West Virginia has a 1,500-foot drop and 57 trails. So, it has the size to attract a serious skier, but it also sees the importance of lessons. Dave Dekema, sales manager for Snowshoe, says their staff has “completely revamped our teaching technique.” Teachers now use what he calls “terrain-based teaching,” letting the flow of the ground be a learning tool so participants “want to come back to us.”

If learning sounds too difficult, fear not, there is enough fun to go around. Cook at Peek’n Peak touts the popularity of its bag jump, in which a snowboarder flies down a slope, up a runway and then into a gigantic inflatable bag.

Nearly all resorts have snow tubing, the gentle downhill slide on an inflated doughnut, but some work hard at keeping special events going all year round. Weltz, for instance, says shooting at sporting clays also is a winter activity at Seven Springs.

Epp says crews at Wisp work hard to keep open the zip lines and Mountain Coaster, which is a hybrid Alpine slide and roller coaster.

That varied and wide-ranging number of activities is the most important aspect of winter sports, says Nemacolin’s Mazer.

“The extreme amenities is what attract the guests,” she says.

Sometimes, the fun is too big for one area.

Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, N.Y., close to Lake Placid, is an enormous ski area. It has 87 trails and 11 lifts on mountains where the vertical drop is 3,430 feet. Jon Lundin, a spokesman for the Olympic Regional Development Authority, says Whiteface concentrates on skiing and horseback riding.

“But when we sell the Whiteface experience, we sell the Lake Placid experience,” he says.

Lake Placid, of course, was the home of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics. So, visitors have access to other nearby winter sports sites such as the Mt. Van Hoevenberg cross-country ski area, the speed-skating oval and even the bobsled run.

“So, they come up to do a day of downhill on Whiteface, and then they head into town to do some cross-country or bobsledding,” he says. “We even have a $32 Olympic Sites Passport that you get to see all the Olympic venues, skate on the speed-skating oval and gets a discount on bobsledding.”

The size of the area and the height of the Adirondack mountains “make this Rockies-like skiing east of the Mississippi,” Lundin says.

Other ski-venue owners find the other end of the activity level the best selling point.

For instance, Blue Knob All Seasons Resort in Blair County is a large site with 34 trails and a 1,072-foot vertical drop. But owner Richard Gauthier says its biggest advantage is it “is just a beautifully, quiet place.”

As a result, he focuses on winter sports in a classic sense: downhill with cross-country trails that connect to even more in Blue Knob State Park.

The need to provide a variety of activity keeps resort officials always on the lookout for possibilities. Weltz, for instance, says Seven Springs planners are examining strengths and possibilities for Hidden Valley, acquired just this year.

She thinks the rental program there and the ski school make it stand out in the “winter experience” in the Laurel Mountains.