Last season, Paul Martiniello came down with SORS- Same Old Resort Syndrome. After hitting the Rockies each winter for the last five years, the 37-year-old investment adviser from New York City had gotten bored with staying at one resort and skiing the same runs day after day. "As I've gotten older, I've realized that variety is the key for me," he says. "For everything in life-from how I walk to work to where I get my coffee to where I go skiing." So he had his travel agent put together an eight-day trip around British Columbia that included stops at Silver Star, Big White and Fernie. "It was spectacular," Martiniello says. "It's amazing what a range of skiing you can get with just a short jaunt."
Without realizing it, Martiniello had gotten in on an up-and-coming trend in ski travel: the safari. The ski safari-any itinerary that includes more than one resort-has quietly gained popularity in the U.S. and Canada over the past few years, though it's long been a staple of the European ski-travel market. "We've seen a huge increase," says Richard Savage of Toronto-based Merit Travel. "There's a certain kind of skier who wants to experience as much terrain as possible." And with nearly 500 ski resorts in the U.S. alone, there's a lot to experience.
Of course, some resorts have been promoting ski safaris for years, such as Vail Resorts, whose $349 "Perfect 10" pass is good for 10 days of skiing at its six resorts-five in Colorado, plus Heavenly in California. And Aspen Skiing Company's passes get you access to its four resorts, all within 30 minutes of one another. But the true ski safari trend embraces travel to unrelated resorts.
For now, most North American ski-tour operators still provide safari trips on a custom basis only. "It attracts a specific customer, one who's skied a lot, has 'been there, done that,' and wants to get out and see different resorts," says Jason Rogers of Moguls Mountain Travel in Boulder, Colo. "They're looking for adventure."
The best regions for safari-going offer a range of resorts in a relatively small area. Like California's Tahoe Basin. The southern side of the lake clamors with a nonstop Nevada whirl of casinos and clubs, not to mention some of the best pitches in the region, while on the northern side serious powder and breathtaking views are the draw. A slew of recent upgrades, including new base villages at Heavenly, Kirkwood and Squaw Valley add to Tahoe's appeal.
Utah is another safari paradise: Graced with phenomenal powder, the mountains around Salt Lake City are home to eight resorts within an hour's drive of one another. On the western slope of the Wasatch Range, the Cottonwood canyons resorts deliver challenging terrain and deep snow, plus Solitude's new base village is taking it from a local's hill to a destination. On the eastern slope, The Canyons, Deer Valley and Park City lean toward long runs and groomed cruisers. And The Canyons' expansion from 1,400 to 3,500 acres makes it the largest in Utah.
Another prime safari spot, of course, is British Columbia, with its famously abundant powder and a string of close-by slopes, from shredder-friendly Kicking Horse to family-oriented Fernie. In Vermont, 16 vastly different resorts stretch along the spine of the Green Mountains from Jay Peak in the north to Mount Snow in the south, supplying Easterners with myriad safari options.
From a resort's perspective, safaris are a mixed blessing. Skiers visit more mountains, but spend less time at each. That's not a problem for the big players, but small independents are loath to see their customers lured off to nearby competitors. That said, some of the savvier areas are treating the trend as an opportunity, teaming up with neighbor resorts to ensure their own piece of the pie. Utah's Big Cottonwood Canyon resorts, Solitude and Brighton, sell a $59 lift ticket that allows access to both via the Solbright run. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird and Alta's $64 tticket lets skiers cross back and forth.Nearby, Park City's Silver Passport is a four-day lift pass to Deer Valley, The Canyons and Park City when bought in conjunction with three nights' lodging. And in Vermont, Sugarbush and Mad River Glen offer a "Ski the Valley" deal with lodging and a pass good at either.
"We don't feel we're splitting up the customer base," says J.J. Toland, Sugarbush's communications manager. "We feel the valley itself is the attraction."
For those pondering a ski safari, some key advice: Be flexible. "If you're going to do a ski safari, you're looking for adventure," says Ted Curtin of New Jersey-based Rocky Mountain Tours. "Don't plan every bit of your itinerary in advance. Depending on the snow or any of the variables, pick and choose what areas you're going to ski that day."
That's exactly what Martiniello did. "I was supposed to be three days in Fernie but it dumped every day-I was up to my eyeballs. I called my travel agent and extended," he says. "From now on, this is how I plan to go all the time."