Spring skiing diehards contend that skiing in the sun is not just the best time to ski, it is the only time to ski. The chilling cold is gone and the lift lines are shorter. There is generally no concern about snow cover, because the snow has been piling up all winter. In some places in the Alps, the season can even be stretched through the summer on nearby glaciers. But spring skiing isn't limited to Europe. It's a worldwide phenomenon, from the highest peaks of the Alps to the slopes of New England, the Rockies and beyond. Among the possibilities:
Chamonix, France. Here, the regular ski season usually extends into May. The area's ski lifts can move an incredible 36,000 skiers an hour in a network of cable cars, gondolas and lifts that are draped around the surrounding mountain peaks like strings of Christmas tree lights.
Val-d'Ise`re, France. This is France's other Grande Dame spring and summer ski center, along with its neighbor, La Plagne, which also opens glacier areas for summer skiing.
Zermatt, Switzerland. If there is a magic kingdom of spring skiing, it is Zermatt, where the dominating Matterhorn continues its almost mystical pull on skiers in the spring and the summer. In spring, however, Zermatt slows down to a moderate bustle, with a calmer and more pleasant pace than the frenetic winter rush. Yet Zermatt never becomes a ghost town, as is the spring fate of most ski resorts.
Cervinia, Italy. The flip side of the Klein Matterhorn is Cervinia, the Italian resort that hosts summer skiing on the Plateau Rosa.
New England. While the European mountains have their glaciers, and the Rockies their powder snow, New England has its corn snow, the end result of the high-moisture-content snow that falls in the Northeast. Corn snow seems to freeze easier than other kinds of snow, and the true corn snow follower knows how to ski in and out of the shadows and from southern exposure to northern exposure as the day progresses. Twenty years ago, skiers used to race in cars from mountain to mountain in search of snow that was "corning up." Now some of the New England resorts are big enough to have multiple exposures and corn seekers can usually find the stuff somewhere on these mountains at any given time of the day in spring. New England's spring skiing mecca is Vermont's Killington, which is usually open for skiing into early June. And like many ski resorts, some prices at Killington start coming down in the spring.
The Rockies. Arapahoe has Colorado's highest summit elevation, and the result is a range of vast snow bowls and rugged moguls that can usually be skied until the lifts shut down. This year, Arapahoe plans to operate until mid-June. In Utah, Snowbird is scheduled to remain open until mid-June. The resort is only 26 miles from Salt Lake City, which means that many skiers pop in for a quick day or two of skiing, often on a business trip.
Mammoth Mountain, California, is planning its traditional Fourth of July race, and there is often good skiing right up until then. Mammoth is Los Angeles' mountain, and the spontaneous life style here is something of an experience in itself, particularly for Easterners -- laid-back L.A. cool in the high Sierras.
Mount Bachelor, Oregon, has progressed from a small family area serving local skiers to a full-blown resort, with good skiing usually lasting through spring. Summer brings ski camps, but there is decent skiing on the summit for everybody. A 15-minute drive takes you to tennis courts and golf courses, and it's common for skiers to log a morning on the mountain and then put in a few hours at another sport in the afternoon.
Whistler/Blackcomb, British Columbia. Perhaps the biggest change in spring and summer skiing this year is that this resort, which always had the most late-season potential in North America, has finally come alive with a wide variety of spring and summer activities. For years, Whistler was the ski resort of choice for Vancouver ski enthusiasts, but because of a lack of accommodations and facilities, it didn't attract wide interest from skiers beyond the city. Still, the scenery has always been breathtaking and it snows and snows without letup. Furthermore, it's not unusual to get fresh snow here in June, July and August. And now the area has built hotel complexes and added other activities, in particular mountain bicycling.
South America. It is in Miami, at the height of the blistering Florida summer heat, that the strangest summer skiing scene of all is acted out a few nights each week. At midnight, droves of skiers from all over the U.S. converge on the airport. There they board charter jets for an odyssey operated by Miami-based SkiL International Reservations System that takes them to Argentina: first to Buenos Aires, then to Mendoza and finally to Las Lenas in the Argentine Andes. When they are done traveling -- the trip is long, but since the Miami-Las Lenas time zones are about the same, they don't have much jet lag -- they find themselves in a seemingly boundaryless resort nearly the size of Rhode Island. Las Lenas has the skiing terrain of a major U.S. or European resort and the U.S., Swiss and French ski teams train there in the summer.
-- W. David Gardner