SAN FRANCISCO -- Someday soon, the term "ski packages" may seem as outmoded and quaint as the long wooden skis that decorate so many mountain lodges.

Tour operators and ski resort operators say that those who buy ski packages are doing less and less skiing and, instead, engaging in such activities as ice skating, shopping, soaking in a hot tub or simply sitting by the fire with a good book.

If the trend continues, their products may be more accurately called mountain winter packages rather than ski packages.

Much of it has to do with the aging of the baby boomers, the generation that drove the development of the modern ski industry.

Skiing can be hard on aging joints, especially for those who are not gym rats, and wobbly-kneed baby boomers are foregoing back-to-back days of skiing.

"With the high-speed ski lifts we have today, you are up and down the mountain in no time, and after seven or eight runs, you might be done for the day," said Chip Carey, senior vice president of marketing for American Skiing Co. "Our spas do very well and so do other activities like snowmobiling, tubing and shopping."

The aging of boomers is a challenge for the ski industry, which has seen the numbers of skiers stay flat. In addition to changing demographics, there is increasing competition from golf resorts, cruise ships and gaming casinos that has eaten into the popularity of skiing.

Another factor is the "time poverty" among Americans, who have less time for traditional weeklong ski vacations.

Families with schoolchildren find sports and school activities limit their ability to travel in the winter, according to a report by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) in Lakewood, Colo. As a result, ski vacations are shorter than in the past.

The growth in snowboarding has helped fill chair lifts. Figures obtained for 2002 show 30% of the 57.6 million visits to ski areas (measured as one person visiting a ski area for all or part of a day) were snowboarders.

But snowboarders are young and more apt to drive to the nearest ski resort and drive home in the same day. If they spend the night, they might pack four to a room at the nearest roadside motel.

"They don't spend money on lodging, dining and in the mountain villages," said a spokeswoman for the NSAA.

Hence, the ski areas continue to target their core audience of skiers, with an emphasis on getting baby boomers' children to try skiing.

The association, helped by organizations such as the Ski Tour Operators Association, a trade group of 22 operators, is offering a Passport program for fourth and fifth graders in key mountain states.

When schoolchildren achieve a certain grade-point average they receive a free season's pass to a nearby ski area.

"It's the age group that's important to target because it's been shown that if you can get them hooked at that age, they will ski for life," said Hone.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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