Gems also have snowmaking for those bleak times when there’s only a smidgen of natural snow on the ground. They groom their runs, though perhaps not as frequently or vigorously as the big boys do.

The areas close to major population centers almost always have night skiing, a tremendous plus for the ski-hungry who can’t zip away for an evening on the snow until the office closes at 5 o’clock.

The major disadvantage of gems for many skiers is size. Within a couple days, an aggressive skier may well have zipped down every slope. The challenge certainly is different at a destination giant, where it could take a week or more for an aggressive, nonstop expert to sample all the runs.

Sparkling apres-ski facilities, an array of restaurants and busy on-site shopping centers, are not the specialty of the alternatives. A gem may have only a couple cheerful bars nearby to brighten the snowy countryside at night.

Housing is always limited close to the resort. Those tucked into out - of-the-way mountains usually have a hotel or two at the base; otherwise, look for motels, B&Bs, or a ski chalet or two in the neighborhood. Almost all have a housing bureau; or you can call the nearest chamber of commerce to locate facilities.

The off-slope activities found at, or near, many of the gems are the same as those found around the crown jewels: cross-country skiing, snow - mobiling, snowshoeing, hayrides, saunas, heated pools, health spas, and sightseeing trips to local points of interest.

For those on a tight budget, or with only enough time for a quickie weekend holiday close to home, or who enjoy skiing in a relaxed atmosphere more than in the excitement of a crowd, the alternative gem may be precisely where you’ll find what you want.

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