It could be tacit acknowledgement from the snow sports industry that global warming is for real and may soon threaten their main draw -- the white stuff on the hill. Or, more likely, mountain resorts, which have seen essentially flat visitor numbers over the past decade, are seeking new revenue streams.
Whatever the catalyst, many resorts and their surrounding communities are now offering a fat menu of off-slope activities -- from sleigh rides and performing arts to fly-fishing and indoor climbing gyms. Historically, this was not a major issue in destinations that were real towns before their snow sports boomed -- places like Taos, N.M.; Aspen, Colo.; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Park City, Utah, which had year-round communities and thus at least a handful of galleries, shops, fitness clubs and museums to give the slope widow something to do.
At Maryland's Wisp, snow sports include tubing down the mountain.
(Timothy Jacobsen For The Washington Post)
But now a wide range of resorts that long relied on their terrain to draw winter visitors are billing themselves as full-spectrum winter destinations. Many ski areas, especially small ones that cater to day-trippers, will continue to focus on skiing and snowboarding. But the marquee resorts know that to compete they must evolve.
Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, says the off-slope trend is driven in part by multi-generational family vacations. "You have grandparents, parents, kids and grandkids all going to the resorts, and many people don't want to spend all day on the mountain," he says.
Berry also credits the high-speed chairlift: "You can get a lot of skiing or snowboarding done in a short period, so the question becomes, what do you do the rest of the time? In the past, you were in a lift line half the day. Now, you ski for four hours and maybe you're done, and there's time left for other activities."
Aside from snow tubing -- the kid-oriented phenomenon that stormed resorts over the past five years -- Berry says enthusiasm is high nationwide for backcountry snowmobiling and horse-drawn sleigh rides. "One thing the industry learned from the advent of snowboarding is that there are lots of ways to enjoy yourself outside in the winter."
Or perhaps, as you'll see below, inside. Here is a sampling of the extracurricular activities offered by U.S. ski resorts, by region; contact your favorite resort for details on off-slope attractions.
Squaw Valley, Calif. Wilderness Adventures (530-550-8133; $95, reservations required) offers hour-long dog-sledding tours through the Squaw Valley Meadow. A guide drives a team of Alaskan huskies while guests ride in a four-person sled. Squaw also offers sleigh rides in Squaw Valley Meadow, through Verdi Trails West (530-479-0217; $25 to $45 per person for 30 minutes). The handcrafted sleighs range in size from two to nine seats and are pulled by blond Belgian horses. Details on all winter activities: 800-403-0206, www.squaw.com/winter/winteractivities.html.
Black Diamond Wine Exchange (530-584-0105) hosts wine tastings in the village several afternoons a month.
The Canyons, Park City and Deer Valley, Utah. For an unusual dinner, book a table at the Viking Yurt, situated at 8,000 feet on the slopes of the Canyons resort. The evening includes a sleigh ride 1,000 feet up the mountain to the yurt or Red Pine Lodge, where you strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis for the rest of the guided journey. The five-course meal features venison, bison, caribou or other thematic fare, plus a mug of spiced glogg (from $100 to $150, plus tax and tip). Info: 435-615-9878, www.thevikingyurt.com.