At first thought it would seem that ski resorts are not a good vacation option for those who for various reasons don’t ski or ride the slopes. Most of the mainstream or front-line marketing of these resorts doesn’t do much to help convince those not interested in the extreme alpine aspect of their product as it is all about the high adventure to be found on the slopes. Look a little deeper though and one will find the reality is a great experience can be had at a mountain resort for the non rider if they have an open mind and look for experiences outside of the norm on the slopes.
To begin with the winter resort industry is a very competitive market in that the overall numbers of daily rider visits over many years has been flat. The result of this is that operators have taken a look at the product they offer and realized that there is a whole lot more to the overall experience than the skiing. New slogans alluding to this idea can be found such as “We’re not selling skiing, we’re selling an experience.” Resort managers also realize there is a wide dynamic of both the singles and family groups that make visits. The result of this scenario is both an increase in quality of the normal offerings both on the slopes and off, and an increase in other amenities and offerings, all of which can attract and appeal to the non slope rider.
Outside of the significant improvements seen on the slopes with lifts and grooming, the other areas of the normal experience that have seen good improvements include transportation/parking with efficient bus and shuttle systems, and food and beverage services which translate to better food and such things as a wide selection of homemade breads and soups and good wines and micro brews. Matching current trends, many resort deli or coffee shop type restaurants offer wifi Internet connection and couches for casual lounging or hanging out. At one such place I spotted bookshelves stocked with paperbacks with a sign that said take one, leave one. Another option is many mountain offer rides to foot passengers on some of their lifts to mountaintop day lodges. The ride of choice would be out of the weather on a gondola or tram, but dress warmly for any such ride. For the mom or dad who might not ski but have kids who do, ski schools have upgraded the lesson experience to include more exciting adventure classes that focus more on fun and learning the all mountain experience hitting the parks and natural terrain features so a parent, skier or not, can rest assured the kids are having good time. For the really little ones many places have great daycare centers that even feature snow play areas.
Beyond the normal mountain experience one can now find a wide range of activities at many resorts. Most of the big time places feature state of the art spas and/or fitness centers. Spa options range from the usual massage options to such exotic choices as salt glows and mud baths and herbal saunas. Workout options may include the usual cardio and resistance machines but can also feature classes with trainers, and lap pools or yoga or tai chi. Resorts have also expanded outdoor recreational options. There is always the traditional ice rink, and cross country skiing, but now resorts offer sleigh and dog sled rides, tubing hills, and some places even offer various versions of bob-sledding. Other places might have guided snowshoes tours and I know of one place that features ridge-line snowshoe tours from the top of their lifts. At some areas, snowmobiling with both guided and open rentals are offered.
Aside from the organized and adventurous there are the intrinsic values found just being in the environment where mountain resorts are found. If the weather isn’t too bad there are great walks to be found often through picture book neighborhoods or downtown areas filled with beautiful structures. Make sure you pack good footwear for this that is warm and has good traction. And speaking of downtown, there is always that shopping thing. Many but not all of the shops are high end, but even the ones that are feature stunning displays of their products making it worth the time to just stop in and look. Ski towns also have winter festivals and other events, some related to winter and others not. For example, movie nuts might want to check out one of the Park City Ut. resorts after the Sundance Film Festival when the crowds are down but many of the theaters are still featuring showings of the award winning films. A final option in this category is that at any resort for the non rider there is world class people watching to be had. Find a slope side view and watch people do all sorts of goofy things. Sit at a busy lift-side deck or plaza and watch the parade. Skiing/boarding is a “look at me” fashion parade and the group dynamics between runs involves spoken and body language dramatics regarding the last or next run.
One note on the singles side of things, a little tidbit for single young women who might not ride the slopes yet is that the majority of riders on both skis and snowboards are young men in great shape. At the apres ski scenes there will be a significant excess of these guys and your presence will only spice things up for the better. Be forewarned though they’ll become scarce when the snow flies and are not usually the right person to teach you to ride unless of course they happen to be an instructor.
At a cozy slope-side cafe at a nice Tahoe resort I once struck up a conversation with a lady toting a book in street clothes. When we started talking she said no, she didn’t ski but her family did and she had been going to ski resorts for years and loved it. Asked why, she went on, “I don’t have to cook, somebody else makes the beds, the kids are all happy and entertained and so I can really relax and take walks or read my book.”
This season in particular many bargains will likely be found at mountain resorts and with a little research those who don’t ride the slopes should still find plenty of options at a wide range of areas for a great overall experience.