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Cyber Planning


Booking a ski trip online is getting more common -- and easier.

The web has evolved into a useful tool for ski travelers. In the best cases, you can plan and book a complete ski vacation online. Advantages to web booking are that you can research whenever you want (Insomnia? Book a trip to Mammoth!) and play with endless combinations of dates and lodging properties without infuriating your travel agent.

Things aren't perfect yet. Some sites, for example, appear to offer online booking but, in the end, you still have to make a phone call to seal the deal. The good news is that as e-commerce continues to be refined, the process will only get easier. Here's an overview of what you can expect to find on websites.

SKI AREA SITES
At this point, it's primarily the biggies, and small resorts that are part of a larger empire, that offer online booking. All Vail-owned resorts, as well as American Skiing Company resorts, Booth Creek resorts, and some others, such as Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Big Sky, and Snowbird, have partnered with WorldRes, an online-booking distributor, to handle web reservations. Each of these ski areas' websites links to the WorldRes interface, through which you can book packages that include lodging, lifts, rental equipment, and ground transportation. The setup also allows you to search for lodging based on specific dates and desired amenities. (If you have your heart set on a particular property and can't get it online, try contacting the property itself; there may be rooms available that haven't yet made their way into the central database.)

Many established resort websites also allow you to purchase all elements of a ski vacation online independently of a package. Through aspensnowmass.com, for example, you can purchase lift tickets, rentals, and lessons for any of the four Aspen areas. You can buy lift tickets for four days or more online at vail.com and even save $20 per ticket by doing so. The Vail site also links you to rentskisnow.com for online equipment rentals.

Intrawest.net, a portal to the company's individual resorts such as Whistler/Blackcomb, Tremblant, and Copper, has just started offering its own online booking system for lodging, lift tickets, rental gear, and lessons. You'll still be on your own, however, to find airfare and any ground transportation, and, at least to start, the lodging offered is only that owned by Intrawest. (You can get online access to other properties at Intrawest resorts via WorldRes on sites such as travelocity.com, placestostay.com, or the Yahoo portal.)

SKI TOUR OPERATORS
Many tour operators that specialize in ski-trip packages are not yet providing online booking. What they do offer are fairly detailed profiles for you to fill out online; an agent will then call or e-mail you within a day or two with a package quote. For consolidated comparison shopping, skicentral.com and snowpak.com both serve as clearinghouses for ski packages, though online booking remains the purveyance of each tour operator.

Among the sites that do offer the ability to reserve and pay online, Moguls Ski and Snowboard Tours (skimoguls.com) is one of the most comprehensive. In addition to a database of resort information, the site offers standard and customized packages, many of which you can book on the web, and an interactive resort finder.

Adventures on Skis (advonskis.com), which packages trips to Europe, Canada, and South America, advertises online booking capability, but it was not up and running as of press time. Mountain Vacations (mountainvacations.com) lets you book online packages including air, lodging, car rental, and lift tickets to resorts in Colorado, Utah, and Tahoe, as well as Jackson, Whistler/Blackcomb, and Banff.

OTHER SKI AND TRAVEL SITES
Here again, the web can be useful up to a point, but many sites still rely on the phone for actual booking. For example, byebyenow.com, a total-vacation site with a ski section, has an assortment of well-priced package trips to Western ski areas that include airfare, lodging, and lifts, along with the ability to chat live with an agent, but to book you'll have to call an 800 number.

Bluecompass.com, which debuted last season as coloradoskiing.com, has expanded its focus to other regions (the relaunch was still in the works at press time). It features an online booking system for a slew of properties in New England, Lake Tahoe, Colorado, Utah, and Whistler/Blackcomb. You can search by availability, property type, or desired amenities. In partnership with Frontier airlines, Bluecompass also offers discount ski packages from 20 cities: airfare, four nights' lodging, three days' lifts, and shuttle for $595-$795.

A few regional tourism sites in ski country allow you to book online, too. Aspen Central Reservations (aspen4u.com), the Vail Valley Tourism and Convention Bureau (visitvailvalley.com), the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association (www.tahoefun.org), and Jackson Hole Central Reservations (jackson holeresort.com) are all connected to the WorldRes booking engine. And an Idaho site (inidaho.com) connects you to a limited number of properties that individually offer online booking.

We'll finish with a bit of self-promotion. Our sister site, skinet.com (link to it through skiingmag.com) will offer online booking this winter through a subsite called myskitrip.com. You'll be able to secure complete packages to your favorite, or soon-to-be favorite, resort.

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