During the past two ski seasons, some of the major resorts out West pumped a chunk of their income into new, high-speed lifts to get you up the mountain faster. For this season, the Western resorts have been working on ways to get you out of your home town and onto their slopes quicker and more conveniently than before.

This is the most welcome news in a season that will see ski resorts across the country introducing new and unusual ways to tempt skiers to their slopes.

In Aspen, Snowmass, Crested Butte and other big Colorado ski centers, as well as Jackson Hole in Wyoming, the improved air service is an alternative to air traffic jams at Denver's airport and long drives or bus rides over winding, treacherous winter roads. For the first time, Aspen, perhaps the country's premier winter playground, can be reached by nonstop jet from Chicago, Dallas and the West Coast.

This also is the season in which the top price for a single-day lift ticket climbs to an awesome $36 (on holidays) at Deer Valley in Utah, $35 at Ajax Mountain in Aspen, $34 at Stratton Mountain in Vermont and into the slightly lower 30s at Colorado's Snowmass and Vail, Snowbird in Utah, Stowe in Vermont and elsewhere. These prices drop, however, when you buy a multiday lift ticket.

At the same time, because a skiing vacation has become so expensive, many resorts have put together reduced-priced packages aimed at making it at least a little easier to afford a trip. Many are designed for families, but older skiers, too, are the beneficiaries of special reduced rates and such seniors' programs as a skiers' Elderhostel. And a Colorado reservations service has compiled a roster of moderately priced bed-and-breakfast homes, inns and lodges in five Rocky Mountain states that cater especially to skiers.

The snowboard, a sort of surfboard or skateboard for the slopes, seems to be booming as a diversion for downhill skiers. More ski resorts are permitting snowboards on their mountains, and new snowboarding centers are opening this season at Stowe in Vermont and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado. In snowboarding, you glide down the mountainside on one chubby board instead of two slender slats, and you don't need ski poles.

In addition:

Cross-country skiers can look forward to more choices for inn-to-inn skiing, including a European holiday in the Jura Mountains.

Some ski resorts are promoting new off-slope activities for nonskiers in the group who don't want to be left out of a winter getaway.

Low transcontinental air fares are making California a temptation for East Coast skiers, and the state is seriously wooing the Eastern market.

At least one ski area, Bolton Valley in Vermont, makes it easier to decide if the resort fits your needs by allowing you to borrow a videotape of its attractions by mail.

First-time downhill and cross-country skiers can take advantage of a free learn-to-ski day on Jan. 8 at participating resorts throughout the country, including several in nearby Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Here's a closer look at some of these and other new and unusual programs for the upcoming ski season:

Air service: Utah's major ski resorts have always been blessed with the convenience of Salt Lake City's airport. Within an hour or so of landing there, you can -- if you push it -- be standing in line waiting for a lift ride up the mountain. Resorts in Colorado and Wyoming long have looked on enviously. In recent years, but especially this year, they have made a big effort to improve accessibility.

One reason, say ski resort operators, is that the public seems to be looking for shorter but more frequent skiing trips. As a result, they head for the places they can get to and from quickly.

To serve the four resorts of Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass, United Express (operated by Aspen Airways) will offer nonstop jet flights from Chicago (Midway) on Friday, Saturday and Monday and from Dallas on Thursday and Sunday. Flights also will be available from the West Coast. The new flights supplement United Express and Continental Express (operated by Rocky Mountain Airways) from Denver.

To serve Crested Butte, United and Delta Airlines this season will join American Airlines in offering nonstop jet service to Gunnison, about 28 miles from Crested Butte. United will fly from Chicago (O'Hare) on Saturday, augmenting United Express service from Denver. Delta will fly from Salt Lake City on Wednesday and Saturday. American flies twice daily weekdays and three times daily on weekends from Dallas. Continental Express flies from Denver.

To serve Steamboat Springs in Colorado, American, which began jet service last season, is offering increased flights this year. There are once-daily nonstops from Chicago (O'Hare) and Dallas and thrice-weekly (Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday) flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Northwest flies Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from Minneapolis and Continental Express has daily flights from Denver.

To serve Jackson Hole, American is again offering nonstop jet service from Chicago -- one flight daily on weekdays and two flights on Saturday and Sunday -- based on the success of its inaugural flights last season. American also is introducing a daily flight from Dallas. Delta flies from Salt Lake City and Continental Express from Denver.

For information: Contact individual airline reservation desks.

Budget packages: An almost bewildering array of packages confronts a traveler planning a ski vacation. They are offered by the resorts themselves, by airlines serving the resorts and by travel agencies, some of them specializing in ski vacations.

One way to proceed is first to pick a destination that most tempts you -- even the ritziest places tend to have some inexpensive accommodations -- and then ask about any package plans, especially those designed for families. Rates generally are lowest before the Christmas/New Year holidays, in January immediately after the holidays and in late March and early April after the crowds have gone home.

Among the packages:

Breckenridge in Colorado features a "Ski Free/Stay Free" package during the off-season periods. Buy three days of skiing and three nights of lodging and you get a fourth day of skiing and a fourth night of lodging free. The package is available from now to Dec. 17, again from Jan. 4 to Feb. 28 and from April 4 to 10. For information: 1-303-453-2918.

Bolton Valley has dubbed weekdays in January "College Weeks." From Jan. 3 to Jan. 29 (except Jan. 14 to 18), a rate beginning at $55 a day buys a night's lodging, one-day lift ticket, breakfast and dinner, access to the resort's Sports Center and such special activities as nightly entertainment at the James Moore Tavern. For information: 1-800-451-3220.

Any Mountain Tours, an Arlington tour operator, is offering four-day "long weekend" ski trips to Colorado, Wyoming and Utah for less than $500 per person (double occupancy). The package includes round-trip air fare, four nights' lodging and a four-day lift pass. Departures are in early December, January and April. For information: 1012 S. Cleveland St., Arlington, Va. 22204, 979-4300.

Early birds to Keystone Resort in Colorado get a free day's lift ticket when they purchase one night of lodging at $49 person. Normally, a one-day lift ticket alone sells for $30. The package is offered only on a double occupancy basis. Children 12 and under stay free in their parents' room, although the cost of their lift tickets is additional. The package is good for one or more nights through Dec. 19, the Thanksgiving holiday included. The package is repeated in spring, from April 3 to April 30, at $55 per person. For information: 1-800-222-0188.

At Christmas, normally a peak price period, Crested Butte in Colorado is offering a "Christmas Present" package. Between Dec. 19 and 26, children 12 and under ski free when skiing with a parent who has purchased a five-day lift ticket. (A child's five-day lift ticket normally is $66.) Each family also gets a Christmas tree with trimmings. Condo guests receive a 10-pound turkey and a bottle of wine while hotel guests are treated to Christmas dinner. For information: 1-800-525-4220.

Senior skiers: Elderhostel, a low-cost vacation and education program for individuals over age 60, has put together a series of learn-to-ski weeks at the Sunday River Inn and Sunday River Ski Resort in Maine. It is just one of a number of programs throughout the country aimed at older skiers.

For a price of $215 per person, enrollees are provided five days' lodging at Sunday River Inn, meals, daily skiing lessons and instruction in such subjects as New England antiques, basic astronomy and American paintings in Paris.

Sessions begin Nov. 22, Dec. 6, Jan. 17, March 13, March 20 and March 27. For information: Elderhostel, 80 Boylston St., Suite 4, Boston, Mass. 02116, 1-617-426-8056.

Elsewhere, Bolton Valley has scheduled a Senior Citizens' Week from Jan. 25 to 29. Age 55 qualifies, and guests get a 50 percent discount on a five-day lift ticket (normally $110, reduced to $55); a 25 percent discount on a room at the Lodge at Bolton Valley (normally $80 to $100, reduced to $60 to $75, based on double occupancy); and discounts on ski lessons. For information: 1-800-451-3220.

In Colorado, an industry survey indicated that 6 percent of skiers on the state's slopes are 65 or older. Most of the resorts trim the price of a lift ticket substantially for seniors, although the qualifying age varies from 60 to 65. Several provide free skiing for age 70 and older, among them Aspen Highlands, Breckenridge, Vail and Winter Park. At Crested Butte, skiing is free at 65.

Bed and breakfast: If a high-rise hotel or condominium apartment isn't your idea of a romantic ski vacation, consider a small bed-and-breakfast inn run by skiers. Kate Peterson Winters, who seven years ago founded Bed & Breakfast-Rocky Mountains, an inn reservation service, is now introducing Skiers' Bed & Breakfast. She has more than 50 listings at or near major downhill and cross-country ski resorts in Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. Most are moderately priced.

Among the choices are a restored farmhouse about 20 minutes from Aspen at $55 to $60 a night for two people; an inn near Breckenridge, where $65 a night gets you a room for two, full breakfast and a hot tub on the outside deck; or a room at Winter Park for under $70 where the two hosts are a gourmet cook and a ski instructor who once was an Olympic competitor.

A directory describing participating inns (without addresses) can be obtained by sending $3 to Skiers' Bed & Breakfast, P.O. Box 804, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80901. Or reservations can be made by phone, without consulting the directory, 1-303-630-3433, on weekdays between noon and 5 p.m. (Mountain Standard Time).

Snowboarding: A relatively new sport, snowboarding seems destined to become popular with skiers looking for a new challenge at their favorite resort. As in surfing, say the experts, you use "the hips, upper body and a rhythmic shifting of weight to maneuver the board down the slope."

Some resorts still ban the boards, considering them incompatible with skiing. But others, such as Breckenridge, have actively courted boarders by establishing snowboard centers providing lessons and equipment sales. Two new centers opening this year are at Stowe and Arapahoe Basin.

At Stowe, for example, snowboarders are allowed on all trails except what the resort calls its four "super expert" ones named Starr, National, Goat and Lift Line. The new sport is "just an offshoot of skiing," says ski school director Peter Ruschp, "and as long as people follow the rules of the road, any way people want to slide down the mountain is fine with me." To buy a lift ticket, however, snowboarders must either pass a certification test given by the ski school or successfully complete a lesson.

Inn-to-inn: One of the most pleasant aspects of cross-country skiing -- at least for the easy-going amateur -- has been the emergence of inn-to-inn skiing packages. More experienced skiers can manage on their own. But if you are hesitant to explore winter woodlands alone, you can sign on with a small, guided group. While you are on the trail, a van carries your luggage on to the next inn.

Among the possibilities are the series of three-, four- or five-day packages offered by North Wind Touring of Waitsfield, Vt. They are open to beginners -- lessons are given -- or experienced skiers who have the option of tackling longer and more difficult trails. A weekend is $210, a four-day tour is $420 and a five-day tour is $525, all per person based on double occupancy. The rate provides all meals, lodging, taxes, tips, guide service and snowshoes, if you want to try your skill on snowshoes one day. For information: North Wind Touring, P.O. Box 46, Waitsfield, Vt. 05673, 1-802-244-5726.

For a longer trip abroad, Mountain Travel, an adventure tour organizer in California, is offering a nine-day inn-to-inn package in the Jura Mountains along the Swiss/French border. According to Mountain Travel, the Juras have "one of the largest nordic {cross-country} trail systems in the world."

Skiers can expect to cover 12 to 14 miles a day, about a five- to six-hour outing, over trails through mostly rolling but sometimes hilly terrain. Accommodations are at gites des etapes, described as hikers' lodges holding 20 to 50 people. Breakfast and dinner are served at the lodges, where the food is reputed to be excellent.

Departures are scheduled for Jan. 30, Feb. 27 and March 11. The land cost from Geneva is $950 and includes meals, lodging and ski rental. For information: Mountain Travel, 1398 Solano Ave., Albany, Calif. 94706, 1-800-227-2384.

For the nonskier: "Some folks would love to go along for the ride -- even though they don't ski," says a spokesman for Waterville Valley, a popular family ski resort in New Hampshire. So, as other resorts have done, it was worked up a program of activities for the nonskiers in the family or the group.

Waterville is offering a five-day "I Don't Ski" package that begins at $150 per person (double occupancy). For that, nonskiers get lodging at a country inn, a hearty continental breakfast and access to the resort's sports and fitness center for tennis, swimming, racquetball and other spa programs. They can also take a sleigh ride through the countryside, go ice skating at an indoor rink or lounge beside the fireplace with a book. For information: Winter Vacations, Box P., Waterville Valley, N.H. 03215, 1-800-258-8988.

At midseason last year, the spiffy Snowbird resort in Utah's Wasatch Mountains unveiled the Snowbird Spa at Cliff Lodge, a luxurious full service fitness and health center. Skiers are welcome after a day on the slopes, of course, but it's the nonskiers who can take the most advantage of the one-day to one-week spa packages that promise lots of pampering. One of the spa's most agreeable features is its 54-foot heated rooftop pool for serious lapping or scenic soaking.

A full eight-day package treats the nonskier to the spa's pool, mountain-view exercise facilities, a personal fitness evaluation, five massages, two facials, a manicure, a pedicure and an herbal wrap or "parafango," which involves applying a mixture of heated volcanic ash and paraffin to sore or tired muscles. This, plus seven nights' lodging (double occupancy), three spa meals per day at any of the Cliff Lodge restaurants and airport transfers, begins at $1,575 per person (depending on arrival date and category of room). A five-day, four-night plan begins at $950. A two-day, one night plan begins at $250. For information: Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, Snowbird, Utah 84092, 1-800-453-3000.

Ski previews: It's an idea that could catch on.

Vermont's innovative Bolton Valley has produced a five-minute video tour (VHS or Beta) of the resort's ski trails, lodge and condo accommodations, dining rooms, children's facilities and its Sports Center, which has tennis courts and a glassed indoor pool. "It gives viewers everything they need to know to picture themselves at Bolton," says spokeswoman Kathy O'Dell-Thompson.

A copy of the tape, "Bolton Valley, Pure and Simple," can be borrowed by phoning Bolton Valley at 1-800-451-3220. A $10 deposit is taken with a credit card, but it is canceled when the tape is returned. More than half the borrowers keep the tape, says O'Dell-Thompson, which pleases her. It may mean they want it as a souvenir of their subsequent trip or they are showing it to friends.

"Let's Go Skiing": Last year's day of free skiing for beginners -- "Let's Go Skiing, America" -- proved so successful, it's being repeated this season on Friday, Jan. 8. First-time skiers will be treated to a free ski lesson, rental equipment and access to a participating resort's beginner slopes.

During the following month (through Feb. 7), those same beginners get lessons, rentals and lift tickets at reduced rates.

To qualify for a free day, beginners must make advance reservations by contacting a resort of their choice, either downhill or cross-country. Participating downhill resorts nearby include Bryce and Massanutten in Virginia; Canaan Valley, Silver Creek, Snowshoe and WinterPlace in West Virginia; and Ski Liberty, Ski Roundtop, Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, Elk, Jack Frost, Camelback, Big Boulder, Alpine Mountain, Blue Marsh, Doe Mountain, Little Gap, Montage, Mount Tone, Shawnee Mountain, Ski Denton and Tussey Mountain, all in Pennsylvania.

Cross-country resorts include Mountain Lake in Virginia; White Grass in West Virginia; and Big Boulder, Shawnee Mountain and Hidden Valley in Pennsylvania.

To obtain the subsequent reduced-rate package, beginners must purchase a coupon from a participating ski shop. As a part of the program, the ski shops are offering a free New Skier Information Kit with tips on safety and proper clothing.

For the names of participating ski shops and resorts throughout the country, call 1-800-88-TO SKI.