West Coast-bound business travelers with a day to spare can spend it skiing at any of the nine resorts ouside Salt Lake City on an unusual "Ski Stop" package designed to demonstrate the city's easy accessibilty to the deep powder of the Wasatch Mountains.
For the price of $79.95, travelers receive one night's lodging in Salt Lake City, use of a rented car and a lift ticket to Snowbird, Park City, Alta or any other of the famed northern Utah resorts. A spouse stays free and also gets a lift ticket.
The package is available to passengers on Western Airlines' two daily flights from National and Washington/Dulles. The airline permits one stopover in Salt Lake City, its major hub, at no extra charge. The offer is good Thursday through Sunday nights.
Most of the resorts are less than an hour's drive from Salt Lake, the country's largest concentration of major skiing mountains so close to a big-city airport. Hotels include the Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott and the Westin Hotel Utah.
"Our biggest business is out of the D.C. area," says Nick Nicholson of Salt Lake City's Mountain Tours, which put together the package. Typically, a traveler with a Monday meeting on the West Coast will depart Washington on Friday night for one or two days on the slopes en route. (Additional nights also cost $79.95.)
Or sign up for the ski package on the trip back home.
For information: Mountain Tours, 307 West 200th S., Suite 4002, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101, (800) 453-4522.HOTEL CHARGES: A caution to travelers who use charge cards with credit limits, such as Visa and Master Charge, to pay hotel bills. You might hit the maximum allowed credit sooner than you expected.
When you present a credit card at check-in (or when you make your reser-hotels and motels customarily notify the credit card firm, which deducts the cost of the room and taxes from your credit availability.
The majority of hotels call in the exact charges nightly, according to the American Hotel & Motel Association. In some cases, however, "the amount of the room and tax are estimated in advance, based on the number of days the guest will be at the room." And some add on the estimated amount of such "incidentals" as phone calls and room service.
"Presenting your credit card in a lodging establishment is similar to purchasing a sweater," says Robert L. Richards, the association's executive vice president. "The store will call for authorization, per the instructions from the bank credit card company, in order to tell the bank that you have purchased a certain amount of goods. That is how the bank keeps track of the amount of credit you have available."
The problem arises if the estimated hotel expenses are more than you actually charge. You may decide to check out a day early or pay the entire bill in cash. The freeze on your credit availability, however, may stand for from two to as many as 10 days, depending on the credit card you are using.
For example: You check into a $100-a-night big-city hotel, planning to stay for five nights. The hotel notifies the credit card company, and it freezes the estimated $500 of your bill. But you check out after only two nights, or you decide to pay the $500 in cash. You haven't charged $500, but the credit card company's computer still shows the $500 freeze -- and may continue to do so until the records are cleared routinely.
If you are at or near the limit of your credit, you could be denied any further use of the card during this period. This could put you in an unfortunate financial bind on a vacation or a business trip.
To avoid difficulty, says the hotel/motel association:
* Tell the hotel cashier, when you are checking out, to call the bank or credit card company and have any unused credit released immediately. Some hotels do this automatically, but don't assume they all do.
* If you are a frequent traveler, consider applying for a travel and entertainment card such as American Express or Diner's Club, which do not impose this kind of credit limit.
* Before traveling ask the bank or credit card company to increase your line of credit.
BACK ON THE SLOPES: It's the season, so here are three other ski packages, each providing something different for the experienced skier:
Le Grand Ski: Ski "the untouched back-country of the European Alps," urges Le Grand Ski, a California-based tour company specializing in adventure skiing that offers one-week "Off-Trail Extravaganza" packages. Experienced guides take skiers (advanced intermediates) from the French resorts of Chamonix and Val d'Isere on daily excursions to a winter landscape high above the lifts "where steep chutes lead down rocky summits to large, open bowls." Limited to six participants per guide, who are trained and licensed by the French National School of Skiing and Mountaineering. The per-person price begins at $1,285 (depending on lodging and meal choice), including New York-Geneva round-trip air fare, ground transportation, seven nights lodging, a guide for six days and some meals. Frequent departures January and March. (Le Grand Ski, Redwood Travel, 1344 Fourth St., San Rafael, Calif. 94901, 415-454-4932.)
Swiss Chalets: Instead of a hotel room, you stay in a private chalet in the Swiss or French Alps. Either non-catered (do-it-yourself cleanup and meals) or catered (someone to clean, shop and cook breakfast, apre s-ski tea and dinner). Chalets are for from two to 14 people and are provided by Ski MacG, a 12-year-old British chalet rental firm that has just begun marketing in the United States. Beginning at about $225 per person (depending on lodging choice) for seven nights lodging, two meals daily and airport transfers at Geneva. (Westport Travel Service, 136 Main St., Westport, Conn. 06880, 800-243-3335.)
Colorado Hut-to-Hut: An outing for the hardy, this wilderness cross-country tour outside Aspen explores a one-time training area for mountain Army troops. Open-country skiing, forested paths and spectacular views are promised. Three nights are spent in heated mountain huts or cabins and a fourth at a guest ranch, which welcomes skiers with hot showers, Jacuzzi and sauna. The excursion cost is $390 per person, including all meals and use of packs and sleeping bags. Groups of six to 12, with departures Jan. 19; Feb. 16; March 16 and 23; and April 1 and 8. (Range Tours Ltd., 1540 S. Holly St., Denver, Colo. 80222, 800-525-8509.)
LEARN TO SAIL: A series of week-long learning cruises out of the Virgin Islands, for women only, is being offered by a new Annapolis firm, Womanship.
Why only women?
Because, says founder Suzanne Pogell, women who sail rarely get to experience the thrill of taking charge. Usually it's a husband or male friend who assumes command of the ship.
One businesswoman who has sailed for years told Pogell the women-only course appealed to her because she has "a very protective husband." Actually, says Pogell, a number of husbands have bought lessons for their wives, telling her: "I want my wife to be as comfortable on a boat as I am."
On all of the cruises, Womanship mixes beginning and experienced sailers "in an environment," she says, "which builds team/crew support, confidence and real accomplishment." Instruction is given by licensed instructors in seamanship, boat handling, navigation and maintenance.
Classes board Womanship's 44-foot ship (a Kalik 44) on Friday afternoons in French Town on the island of St. Thomas. The week's exact itinerary depends on the winds and weather, but should include four to six different anchorages in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. The cost is $750, which includes seven nights aboard ship, all meals and instruction. Departures March 29 and June 7, 14, 21 and 28.
Daytime, evening, weekend and week-long classes based in Annapolis are scheduled to begin in May.