In the winter, Colorado is king of the mountain

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DENVER -- When it comes to skier visits, the Rocky Mountain region continues to dominate the market, particularly Colorado, according to industry reports.

In fact, Colorado drew about 20% of total skier visits nationwide -- 11.2 million in all -- during the 2003-04 season, according to Colorado Ski Country, a trade organization representing the states 24 ski and snowboard resorts.

Our average length of stay overall, regardless of destination, is about five nights, said a spokeswoman for the Mark Travel Corp., which includes Mountain Vacations.

Winter Park, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Crested Butte are all doing well for us this year, with most bookings coming in for December and January so far, she said.

The following is a sampling of other news, improvements and packages in Colorado this season:

" Winter, air-inclusive ski packages abound this season. Kids ages 2 to 12 can fly, stay and ski free at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone this winter with United Airlines Kids Fly Free ski vacation package, for example.   Each child must be accompanied by a paying adult from a participating city to Vail/Eagle Airport. The program is valid Jan. 3 to Feb. 17. Call (800) 404-3535.

US Airways Vacations Ski is offering 15,000 bonus miles for stays of seven nights or longer in Vail; 10,000 for stays of five or six nights. The special also includes a car rental upgrade and a $50 Vacation Saver discount at participating resorts. 

Versions of the package also are available at 100 resorts in Colorado; Reno/Lake Tahoe, Nev.; and Salt Lake City. The specials are valid Jan. 8 to Feb. 17, Feb. 26 to March 12 and April 2 to April 17, with bookings completed by Dec. 15.

Rates start at $986 for five nights and include roundtrip air on US Airways, accommodations, roundtrip airport-hotel transfers, hotel taxes and service charges and 24-hour customer-care service. Call (800) 455-0123.

A sample vacation to Steamboat is priced from $738, including roundtrip air on United Airlines, three nights accommodations at the Best Western Ptarmigan Inn, a two-day lift ticket and hotel taxes.

The package is valid from St. Louis; Austin and San Antonio, Texas; and Chicago, on daily departures from Jan. 5 to Feb 2. Call (800) 775-7995 or book on VAX VacationAccess.

" Seven Colorado destinations were named among the top 11 North American ski resorts, according to Ski magazines annual Top 60 Resort Guide.  Vail was awarded the top spot for the third year running and the 13th time in 17 years.  In all, Colorado won more spots in the Top 20 than any other region in North America, with Utah running second at three resorts.

Telluride, Colo., was ranked among the top 20 North American ski resorts by Ski magazine.The top 20 resorts in North America are, in ranked order: Vail, Colo.; Deer Valley, Utah; Snowmass, Colo.; Beaver Creek, Colo.; Whistler/Blackcomb, British Columbia; Breckenridge, Colo.; Aspen Mountain, Colo.; Park City, Utah; Mammoth Mountain, Calif.; Steamboat, Colo.; Telluride, Colo.; Sun Valley, Idaho; Aspen Highlands, Colo.; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Keystone, Colo.; Heavenly, Calif.; Squaw Valley, Utah; Lake Louise, British Columbia; Crested Butte, Colo.; and Winter Park, Colo.

" Destination Rockies, a collection of upscale condo and resort properties at a range of North American ski resorts, unveiled three travel packages, valid at Aspen, Snowmass Village, Vail and Telluride. The packages are valid through April 10.

A Romance in the Rockies package features four daily ski lift tickets for two adults; two one-hour, in-room massages; chocolate-covered strawberries; champagne; and a stay-six-nights, get-the-seventh-night-free offer at any of the participating resorts.

Resorts include the Gant in Aspen, $962 for a one-bedroom condominium; the Stonebridge Inn in Snowmass Village, $659 for a hotel guest room; Mountain Lodge at Telluride, $798.50 for a one-bedroom condo; Vail Landmark Properties in Vail, $1,104 for a one-bedroom condo; and Vail Cascade Condominiums, $1,185 for a one-bedroom condo.

A Winter Family Escape package includes four daily ski-lift tickets for two adults and two children, four hot-air balloon passes, a welcome basket upon check-in and a stay-six-nights, get-the-seventh-night-free offer at any of the resorts.

Rates are per person and range from $733 for a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at the Mountain Lodge at Telluride to $1,153.75 for a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium at Vail Cascade Condominiums. Call (800) 434-7347 or visit www.destinationrockies.com.

" Vail Resorts is unveiling a number of packages and upgrades at its Colorado resorts. Beaver Creek, for example, has beefed up grooming capabilities by 33% for the coming season, added two high-speed quad chairlifts and created Beaver Creek Landing, an alternative entry point for the expert Talons terrain and Beaver Creek Mountain, set to open Dec. 18.

A Ski, Sleigh, Spa & Stay at Beaver Creek package, priced at $1,384 per person, includes four days skiing or snowboarding, a spa treatment and a sleigh ride plus a five-course dinner at Beanos Cabin on Beaver Creek Mountain. It also includes four nights accommodations at the Pines Lodge, a RockResort and member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Rates are valid from Jan. 4 to Feb. 9. Call (800) 404-3535 or visit www.beavercreek.com.

Vail Mountain is expanding the chairlift capacity in its back bowls by 65%, with an aim to cut the wait for lift lines to under 10 minutes. Skiers also can take advantage of a Ski Free and Stay Free package at Vail, good for a fourth free day of skiing and lodging for a paid stay of three nights. Packages are priced $394 from Jan. 3 to Feb. 9 and $251 from April 3 to 17. Visit www.vail.com.

" Aspen Skiing Co. invested $10 million in major capital improvements for the 2004/2005 season at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk. A new high-speed quad chair will offer access to West Buttermilk for children and novices, and Aspen Mountain will replace its oldest lift with a new double chair.

Also at Aspen Mountain, the St. Regis Aspen will unveil its 15,000-square-foot spa and a new wing of the St. Regis Residence Club. Also on tap are 20 new guest rooms and suites and a renovation of existing guest rooms.

Aspen Highlands, which opened its Highland Bowl in 2003, is planning continued expansions into Deep Temerity on its northeast-facing slopes. The expansion is slated to include 270 acres and should be completed for the 2005-06 season, pending approvals.

The Snowmass Base Village, a joint venture between Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest, is in its final planning stages and is expected to include restaurants, shops, a childrens center and a host of year-round activities.

The Residences at Little Nell, a fractional ownership complex at the base of Aspen Mountain, is slated to open in the winter of 2006. In addition to 24 ski in-ski out apartments, it will include shops, a restaurant and a rooftop pool and spa. Visit www.stayaspensnowmass.com.

" Renovations and expansions abound at a number of Colorado resorts, including beginner terrain slated to debut this season at Winter Park Resort. The new runs are part of a $4 million investment in learn-to-ski/snowboard and mountain projects. Other improvements include terrain park upgrades and a snowskate park at the base of the mountain.

Renovations at Purgatory Village at the base village of Durango Mountain Resort are set to begin in 2005. Highlights of the project include Purgatory Lodge, a base lodge offering skier services and residential units, as well as new accommodations, facilities and recreational amenities.

Telluride Ski Resort, known for its expert trails, is targeting intermediates with the addition of 733 acres of primarily midlevel terrain served by three quad lifts.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].

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