From shopping to snowbiking, fun beyond the slopes

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Stowe, VermontRemember when the lone nonskier in every family group, often the long-suffering mom, would spend her days sitting by the fire in the noisy base lodge trying to read amid the hubbub?

With the proliferation of destination winter resorts, that unappealing prospect is no longer the only way to go. Full-service spas, shops that sell more than hand-warmers and ski boots, cute restaurants and even art galleries have given ski vacations a broader appeal.

In addition, easy, off-slope winter activities such as lift-assisted snow tubing, dogsledding and snowshoeing are increasingly available.

In other words, although ski purists might take umbrage at this concept, you could have a terrific time at a number of winter resorts without ever strapping on a pair of skis or a snowboard.

Casting a wider net

The good news for travel agents is that they can cast an increasingly wider net when marketing winter vacations to their clients, given the variety of other attractions.

The Adventure Ridge activity center in Vail, Colo., for example, offers a snowmobile track for children, multiple snowtubing runs and snowbiking, which, for the uninitiated, is a surprisingly easy sport that involves navigating the slopes on a bicycle outfitted with skis instead of wheels.

Shopping at Vail runs the gamut from toy stores and jewelry shops to specialty food outlets.

As to dining, there are so many restaurants, cafes and bars that there is no need to settle for the standard chili or pizza in the base lodge.

Telluride Ski Resort, also in Colorado, offers guests an on-mountain experience as well as a ski town boasting restored buildings dating from the Wild West era, high-end shopping and dozens of gourmet restaurants.

The mountain is linked to the town via a gondola that makes the trip in less than 15 minutes, which means that some guests can spend the day in town while others hit the slopes without any transportation hassles.

Other activities include guided snowmobile tours of the mountain, including a stop in a spooky ghost town, as well as an optional lunch at the woodsy Alta Lakes Observatory. Winter fly-fishing on the nearby Uncompahgre and San Miguel rivers is another option, complete with instruction and rental equipment, as are rides in sailplane gliders that leave from Telluride Airport.

One of the most popular dining options in Telluride is the Sleigh Ride Dinner, whereby passengers are tucked into a sleigh pulled by a snowcat and transported to a ranch for dinner around the fire.

In Jackson Hole, Wyo., visitors can try snow kiteboarding, which involves using a kite to propel you across the snow, although for this activity, participants need to have a certain level of expertise on skis or snowboards. Jackson Hole also offers sleigh rides; dogsledding and snowshoeing; wildlife tours; and snowmobiling; as well as lunch or accommodations in a rustic yurt, a circular tent.

Apres-ski spa

As with many upscale ski areas, spa is big here, with options ranging from the Spa at Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, the Avanyu Spa at Snake River Lodge or the Bear & Doe Massage Works, a rustic outdoor center that offers a paraffin dip and sweat lodge sauna.

On the East Coast, Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont has unveiled its Spruce Peak expansion. While the emphasis is on the ski terrain, its upscale residences, gondola and quad lifts, the new Solstice restaurant and the spa at the new Stowe Mountain Lodge will give visitors plenty to do off-slope.

The mountain also benefits from the proximity to the village of Stowe, which boasts one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries and restaurants.

All these distractions notwithstanding, it is hard to beat the thrill of a great day on the slopes, and thanks to short, shaped skis and improved instructional techniques, even the most reluctant visitors might be tempted to give the sport a try. But it's nice to know that they can have a great vacation even if they don't.

Visit www.vail.com, www.tellurideskiresort.com, www.jacksonhole.com or www.stowe.com.

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