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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to

Time to hit the Slopes

Thanksgiving typically marks the beginning of the North American ski season.
While some ski areas may not open until early December, it’s never too late
to start planning for some winter fun. If you can’t wait to get started then
head north of the border to British Columbia. The Whistler/Blackcomb ski
area just outside Vancouver, arguably the world’s number one ski resort,
opened for business on November 22. A combination of great skiing for a
small price makes this resort an attractive option that might be too good to
pass up. The cheap price tag comes thanks to the weak Canadian currency; at
press time about 62 cents to the US dollar.

The Whistler/Blackcomb ski area is also home to the top three resorts
according to Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s 2000 readers poll. The Westin
Resort and Spa, Chateau Whistler Resort and the Pan Pacific Lodge came out on
top for skiers, snowboarders or those just looking for a beautiful winter
setting. This charming village has over 100 restaurants with an intern
ational cuisine to please the most discriminating food critic. Did I
mention great skiing?

If you want to try slopes a little closer to home you might be in for a long
wait if your travels take you to the Colorado Rockies. Unusually warm
weather in Colorado and Utah has forced the cancellation of the World Cup
downhill. Officials in Park City, Utah, site of next year’s Winter Olympics
are bracing for a potential disaster if it doesn’t start snowing soon. Some
resorts in Colorado and Utah above 9,000 feet are open, but those below
remain closed, with many reporting it’s too warm to make snow. Aspen and
Vail opened Thanksgiving weekend, but too less than desirable conditions.
The good news, snow is forecast for the mountains of Colorado and Utah over
the next week, which hopefully will be enough to bring some much needed
relief to these areas.

Southern California ski areas are open for business on a limited basis, as
early season snows have failed to materialize. At press time, Mammoth had 15
of 150 trails open. Several other resorts planned to open over the
Thanksgiving weekend, but you should call ahead for conditions.

The lack of snow and an already weak economy could mean bargains galore this
ski season. And choosing the best time to head for the slopes could also
save you a small fortune. The most expensive times, and thus the time to
avoid planning that ski trip are over the Christmas holiday and again on
President’s Day Weekend. If you’re on a tight budget, the best time to ski
would be the early season, prior to December 22 or the late season after
President’s Day, where discounts on lodging, airfare and lift tickets could
run as high as 30 percent. Both options are a little risky if there’s a late
winter or an early snowmelt. A better time to go would be after Christmas
but before President’s Day, when the snow is a little more reliable. You
won’t get the price breaks of the early or late season but you should be able
to find some great bargains nonetheless.

Another way to save a little money is to plan for mid-week Sunday to Thursday
ski trips rather than weekends. You’ll find a lot of two-for-one specials on
lift tickets and many hotels and lodges offer multi-night packages at great
prices. Packages that combine airfare with lodging usually offer better
prices than trying to book each separately. You should plan on flying out of
the resorts on Tuesday or Wednesday for the best deals. Also try staying in
town at a hotel rather than one of the resorts if price is your primary

You want cheaper lift tickets? Try buying them at gas stations, grocery
stores and other outlets. They are usually considerably cheaper that
purchasing tickets at the resort ticket window. This is especially true in
big market ski towns like Denver and Salt Lake City.

When shopping for ski packages check the Internet for your best deals by
going directly to the resort or ski area website of your choice. They will
offer deals there you won’t find anyplace else. Another place you might want
to check is with the airlines. Many carriers have vacation package deals in
place through their own companies. For example, America West has a site
called America West Vacations. Southwest, Northwest, Delta, United, American
and others have similar package deals offered through their vacation
subsidiaries. Before booking a combination air and hotel package make sure
you inquire about the type of hotel you’ll be staying at and the restrictions
on your airline ticket.