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Plenty of snow left for spring skiing in the US

STEVE Moulton's got his skis packed for several spring outings in Vermont - along with his suntan lotion and sunglasses.

Moulton, 53, loves skiing this time of the year. "The only people left on the slopes are fun-loving, genuine folks who love skiing for what it is - fun," he said. "Nobody's out to impress with their expensive attire, there are no lodge skiers, these are the real ski people ... and when you need a break, you can just hang out on the patio listening to tunes or, if lucky, some live music, or sit on the side of the mountain enjoying the day."

The New England region's ski resorts are rounding out a season full of generous amounts of snow and good attendance. They're hoping for a strong finish before people start bringing out their golf clubs, boats and tennis rackets.

"This has been an outstanding winter for snowfall and the ski areas really couldn't have asked for much more," said Karl Stone, marketing director for Ski NH, a statewide association representing alpine and cross-country resorts and lodging properties in the US. Stone estimates that total spending on skiing and related activities by the end of the season will reach more than US$800 million, a bit higher than in the past few years.

Curt Hazeldine, 50, who enjoys skiing and snowboarding, said the snow can get a little "mashed-potatoey" and the weather a bit fickle in the spring, but it's still a great time to be outdoors.

"Bad conditions/weather on the slopes beats any day at home or at work," he said.

In addition to skiing, the spring brings a variety of events at mountain resorts: pond skimming, snow golfing, cardboard box races, motor bike racing, as well as beach and reggae parties and concerts. A lot of the resorts are offering promotions for reduced passes, daily lift tickets, food and drinks. Some inns are offering spring ski getaway packages with discounted resort vouchers, like the Mulburn Inn in Bethlehem, New Hampshire.

The theme at March's pond-skimming event at the Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont was superheroes and comic book characters, spokesman Josh Arneson said.

"We had a lot of hippies for the 1960s, a lot of disco-groovin'-type folks for the 1970s theme," he said of past themed pond-skimmings, in which intrepid skiers and snowboarders try to cross a cold, slushy man-made pond without getting wet. "We get over 100 competitors."

SkiVermont president Parker Riehle anticipates Vermont will reach the 4 million mark in skier visits this year as the state has benefited from the third-snowiest winter on record. Estimates for this season were not available yet; last year, the season resulted in more than US$750 million in direct spending.

At Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, spokesman Craig Clemmer said the resort reached a base snow depth of more than 2.5 meters in January, a month earlier than usual, followed by lots more snow. That's made for great skiing conditions, as well as for unconventional events, such as the finals of the Winterbike Championship Point Series. "That's pretty fun, watching all these mountain bikers coming down the snowy hillside," he said.

In Maine, where more than US$500 million of economic activity comes from skiing and snowmobiling, most ski areas have plenty of snow, said Greg Sweetser, executive director of Ski Maine. "The state of Maine has the longest ski season of any ski area east of the Rocky Mountains," he said, with some resorts opening as early as October and closing as late as May.

At Sugarloaf, free lift tickets are available for children ages six to 18 with a minimum stay of three midweek nights.

Paul Clark, 44, a fan of spring skiing, said people expect to battle the elements during winter skiing - wearing layers and layers of clothing, and hand and feet warmers to cut the biting chill.

"Make it through a winter's day of skiing and you feel like you've conquered the snow gods!" he said. "But when spring grants its gifts to the ski slopes, it is a gift that must be received ... and remember that gifts such as these are rare and few."


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