about skiingThe snow was deep, the trails smoothly groomed, and the sun brilliant in a cloudless blue sky. It was an ideal winter day to be carving linked turns.

The mountain should have been crowded, the lift lines filled with impatient skiers. But the runs were packed with powder, not with skiers, and even the most impatient couldn’t growl at a two-minute wait to board a swinging chair.

Where were the crowds?

They were having their fun and thrills skiing the great destination resorts. Those enjoying winter instead on these uncrowded trails were skiers who knew there also is pleasure in skiing any of the outstanding, low-key, alternative Gems of North America.

There are two major trade-offs for those who head for the gems rather than the crown jewels. The first can be summed up in one welcome word:

Prices!

At the gems, everything from lift-ticket to ski school rates ranges from 10 to 50 percent below the rates at their destination neighbors.

The second is the pleasure of skiing in the relaxed atmosphere of a small resort that offers what you want in skiing, whether it be a family - oriented or a powder-country playground.

Most are close to cities. A few are hidden in distant mountains. While the average gem is small in terms of acreage and number of trails, a few are
dramatically large. Usually they have perhaps three to six chairlifts - one or two which may have been upgraded to high-speed quads - and probably a couple surface lifts still dragging skiers uphill.

One gem may brag as loudly as a skier winning his or her first NASTAR gold if its lifts can tote as many as 3,000 skiers an hour to the summit. Another may be able to haul 8,000.

By comparison, destination areas have networks of lifts, including high-speed quads, often one or more gondolas, and cable cars with an hourly uphill capacity of 15,000 to more than 40,000 skiers. And they have crowds to match.

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