Vail Valley Feature
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Skiing and Snowboarding Tips
Although downhill skiing has long been the classic winter activity, snowboarding—once the bastion of teenage "riders" in baggy pants—is fast catching up as a mainstream sport. Telemarking and cross-country skiing still have loyal followings, though these skiers tend to prefer the wide-open backcountry to the more-populated resorts.
Although it snows somewhere in the Colorado high country every month—and resorts can open their lifts as early as October and close as late as the fourth of July—the traditional ski season usually runs from December until early April. Christmas through New Year's Day and the month of March (when spring-breakers arrive) tend to be the busiest periods for most ski areas. The slower months of January and February often yield good package deals, as do the early and late ends of the season.
Rental equipment is available at all ski areas and at ski shops around resorts or in nearby towns. It's often more expensive to rent at the resort where you'll be skiing, but then it's easier to go back to the shop if something doesn't fit. Experienced skiers can "demo" (try out) premium equipment to get a feel for new technology before upgrading.
In the United States the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) has devised a progressive teaching system that is used at most ski schools. This allows skiers to take lessons at different ski areas. Classes range in length from hour-long skill clinics to half- or full-day workshops. Deals can be had for first-time and beginner skiers and snowboarders who attend morning clinics and then try out their new skills on beginner and intermediate slopes for the remainder of the day.
Most ski schools follow the PSIA teaching approach for children, and many also incorporate SKIwee, another standardized teaching technique. Classes for children are arranged by ability and age group; often the ski instructor chaperones a meal during the teaching session. Children's ski instruction has come a long way in the last 10 years; instructors specially trained in teaching children, and equipment designed for little bodies, mean that most children can now begin to ski successfully as young as three or four. Helmets are often de rigueur.
With some lift ticket prices increasing every year, the best advice is to shop around. Single-day, adult, holiday-weekend passes cost the most, but better bargains can be had through off-site purchase locations (check newspaper Sunday sections and local supermarkets, such as King Soopers and Safeway), online discounts, multiple-day passes, and season passes. You can always call a particular resort's central reservations line to ask where discount lift tickets can be purchased. With a little legwork you should never have to pay full price.
Ski areas mark and rate trails and slopes—Easy (green circle), Intermediate (blue square), Advanced (black diamond), and Expert (double black diamond).
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