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Spring Into Action

Martin Yokosawa had two goals when he signed up for the Spring Fling ski camp offered by All Mountain Experience at Colorado's Breckenridge Resort: fine-tune his technique and provide his family with a great ski vacation. So, in turn, he explored the mountain each morning with his instructors, and then joined his wife and daughter in the afternoon to cruise groomers and soak up rays on the sun deck.

"I prefer spring skiing," says the Chicago investment manager. "It's not freezing. The snow is better. It's less crowded. And you get better prices. It's my favorite season."

Spring is no longer the last gasp of the ski season, marked by slopes abandoned by all but a few appreciative locals. An explosion of adult ski camps, music festivals, on-snow celebrations and goofy competitions—not to mention deep price discounts previously only offered during the early season—make spring the new fall. Only better: The weather is warmer and the snow far superior.

"Spring is just a happy time to be outside," says Jill Evans, coordinator of Sierra-at-Tahoe's women's spring camp, Celebrate Spring. Also, ski-school directors and clinic organizers have learned that customers are in top form by spring, and primed to improve their slope skills.

Whistler-based Momentum Ski Camps, known for its youth freeride clinics, began offering a spring moguls clinic for adults due to demand from parents. Participants ski soft bumps all day, then gather to review videos and sip cocktails in the evening. "It's a laid-back experience," says founder John Smart.

With recreational options expanding in the spring, resorts need to work harder than ever to get skiers into their cars and onto the slopes. "Spring skiing is about Hawaiian shirts and suntans," says Vail executive Bill Jensen. Vail is among the growing number of resorts that hold multiday spring festivals to lure skiers to the snow for one last hurrah. Spring Back to Vail includes food and wine tastings, a film festival and lodging packages typically half off peak prices. Free outdoor concerts are the big draw. "Music has become an integral part of the spring-festival scene," Jensen says.

And all this effort seems to be working. Vail town officials estimate that the resort's loaded spring schedule generates more than $6 million in valley revenues.

The modern spring ski festival—a combination of high-energy competitions, art, food and music—began with Whistler's Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival in 1996. Initially small, the 10-day event now attracts 250,000 visitors thanks to 50 concerts, fashion shows, rail jams, photography shows and beer that flows like spring snowmelt. It's billed as the world's biggest on-snow party—and has spawned numerous copycats, including Sunsation at Copper Mountain, Colo., and Spring Massive at Breckenridge. East Coast resorts host their own spring flings, with events such as Sugarloaf's Reggae Festival and Killington's Sunshine Daydream.

Wacky competitions such as "dummy downhill" races are another new spring tradition. As spectators cheer, participants launch rickety homemade floats mounted on skis down banked racecourses and over huge jumps. The floats at Nevada's Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe often border on the randy—such as the flaming hot tub filled with blowup dolls that one team built last season. "It's a fun family event," says Mt. Rose spokesman Mike Pierce, "but sometimes momms have to cover their children's eyes."

Pond-skimming contests—in which costumed participants try to ski across water—are another spring staple, from California's Squaw Valley to New Hampshire's Mount Sunapee. Alpine Meadows in California hosts the Mad Cow Downhill, in which 100 skiers race from the Lake Tahoe resort's summit to the base lodge to grab next year's season pass dangling from a string. "The sundeck is packed with cheering spectators," says spokeswoman Rachael Woods.

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For bargain hunters, spring is the new high season. Lodging, lift-ticket and ski-shop prices plunge. "Spring is similar to the pre-Christmas period in that you'll see all kinds of package deals to get people to the slopes," Vail's Jensen says.

Those deals are available sooner this year because Easter (when the bargain season begins) comes two weeks earlier in 2008 (March 23 versus April 8 in 2007). "A lot of properties will go down to their low-season rate around March 30," says Kelly Wallace of ski.com, one of the largest sellers of ski vacations.

Colorado's Arapahoe Basin is among the few areas where spring is busier than winter. Thanks to its high elevation and late close (often in June), A-Basin gets as many visitors in April as it does during high season. Robert Stone, an A-Basin skier and a parent, considers spring the best time to ski—with or without all the festivals. "After you have kids, you realize how nice spring is," the Colorado resident says. "There's not as much dressing up, so you don't have to bring everything but the kitchen sink to the hill."

FEBRUARY/MARCH 2008

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