TRAVEL LAB REPORT
RESEARCH QUESTION: Do any of the glut of skisomething.coms that litter the World Wide Web provide enough useful information to warrant an investment of your time?
METHODOLOGY: Mind-numbing hours spent on the Internet clicking through dozens of ski sites. Our highly subjective prerequisite for inclusion: The word "ski" had to be in the address and the site could not represent a specific resort.
RESULTS: There's a lot of worthwhile information on the Internet about ski resorts, equipment and conditions, but finding it is time-consuming. The sites' resort finders, which purport to tailor- pick the right resort for you, are not good enough to use as a sole source for choosing a vacation destination. Most of the sites are heavy on advertising, which you can view as either annoying or informational. Our top 10 picks:
* Skimaps.com is a slick, multifaceted site. In addition to trail maps for major resorts worldwide, its best features include an ongoing gear auction and decently priced packages that you can book online.
* Complete-skier.com does a good job detailing European resorts. Its chalet- finder feature has good deals--one package for seven nights in Zermatt for two at a two-star property was recently priced at $760.
* Skinet.com, from Ski magazine, posts good and timely articles (one recent piece told readers of an early dump at Mammoth) and has a better-than- average interactive resort finder that's hooked in with the magazine's rankings.
* Ski-guide.com provides detailed and simple-to-use descriptions of 570 resorts in North America. Useful link to www.lastsecondclub.com, a resource for finding discount last-minute ski accommodations.
* Skiresorts.com has a good resort finder, but you have to massage it to get the right answers. If you don't provide enough info, it's likely to recommend Lost Trail Powder Mountain (huh?) as the best resort in North America for you. Good link to mountainzone.com for ski package auctions.
* Skicentral.com provides direct links to the ski areas' Web pages, a nice feature if you want to get to the source.
* Skitown.com lists some good travel packages, but its ambitious graphics are sometimes more distracting than intuitive.
* Skipages.com is a useful search engine designed just for skiers and snowboarders, with links to more than 800 sites.
* Skiodyssey.com is simple and easy to use, but it doesn't contain as much information as Ski-Guide.
* Ski.com's "Wolf's Lair" has good reviews of top U.S. resorts, as picked by the site's senior editor, Michael "Ski Wolf" Mininni. You can tell he's actually visited the resorts.
CONCLUSION: You can plan a wonderful ski vacation using these sites, but make sure you have more time than money before you start down that slope.
WHAT'S THE DEAL?
Asia for $800; Sleep Free in Atlantic City
* Pacific Bestour Inc. offers two trips to Asia for under $800 each. The tours (one to Beijing, one to Hong Kong) cost $719, plus about $70 in taxes. (Prices valid for departures Jan. 1-March 11; book 30 days in advance to avoid late booking fees. Credit card purchases cost an additional $50.) The Beijing deal: round-trip Northwest air; five nights at the TianLun Dynasty Hotel overlooking the Imperial City, or the New Otani Hotel; Great Wall tour; breakfasts; and transfers. The Hong Kong package: round-trip Northwest air; five nights at the Grand Tower Hotel; half-day island tour; and transfers. The daily flights leave from BWI or National, with a small surcharge for weekend departures. Northwest air fare alone usually costs about $940 to Beijing and $1,044 to Hong Kong; air fare discounters run closer to $800. Details: 1-800-688-3288, www.bestour.com.
* For the holidays, the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort is giving away a complimentary second-night stay during the week--sort of. Until Dec. 23, Monday-Thursday, the hotel is charging $102.80 for double occupancy for the first night and nothing (except a $2 surcharge) for the next. The rundown: If you can snag the lowest usual double-occupancy rate of $56.88 per night, this "two-for-one" deal saves you a mere $9. But that rate is available only on certain dates, and if you can't get it you'll pay closer to $100 (rates go up to $282). To get the bonus night, tell the reservationist you want the "Eve" promotion. Details: 1-800-257-8677. --Andrea Sachs
TRAVEL TIP 123
Scan 'n' Shop
PROBLEM: You like to shop antiques stores and flea markets abroad, but because of the language barrier, it's hard to describe what you're looking for.
SOLUTION: Carry photos of items that you collect, says tipster Michael L. Frederickson of the District, who sent along Exhibits A, B and C to prove his point-- shots of old corkscrews, apothecary bottles and jars, and vintage team photos. "Now that I have a scanner, I print several images on a sheet of paper that fits in my wallet, ready for any translation hurdle. If the shop doesn't have what I'm looking for, they'll often direct me to shops that do."
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SITE OF THE WEEK
To start researching any travel destination,
This list of country (and U.S. state) Web sites is a fast, easy, smart place to start a Web search of any place you're headed on vacation. Each listing starts with the official site and adds just two or three other good ones. While it serves to promote the ink-and-paper "Online Travel Guide" ($12.95) and the Vacation Travel Mart retail agency, it's as succinct and useful a set of destination links as we've seen.
HOME NEXT WEEK?
Smithsonian lecture on Imperial Russian Palaces, Dec. 8, Ripley Center, 202-357-3030, www.si.edu.
Fredericksburg: Dec. 13-30, Gingerbread House Exhibit, 1-800-678-4748. Home sweet home takes on new meaning at Kenmore Plantation, where edible homes are displayed in all their candy-coated glory.
Maritou, Colo.: Jan. 8, Great Fruitcake Toss, 1-800- 642-2567. Leftover fruitcake (from any decade) is hurled, launched, wheeled or putted at the base of Pike's Peak. BYO fruitcake, or rent for a quarter.
Monoklissia and Petra, Greece: Jan. 8, Midwives Day/Gynaecocracy, 212-421-5777. Feminism rules the day, when midwives are feted and women let loose with Dionysian abandon.