If your skiing friends suggest going on a safari this winter, they're probably not offering you a chance to spot leopards and elephants from the back of a Land Rover. They're talking about a ski safari, an increasingly popular way to sample the runs at two or more resorts in one trip.
Like its African counterpart, a ski safari is designed to provide travel, adventure, and diversity. You may even see some wildlife, in this case the stray deer, elk, or bear that crosses your path. "Skiers like fresh experiences," says David Tanner, president of Rocky Mountain Vacations, a ski tour operator in Glenwood Springs, Colo. "Each major mountain has a unique personality."
The ski safari has long been a tradition in Europe, where many resorts are interconnected and skiers can schuss from village to village across a mountain range that spans borders. In the U.S., ski tour operators have adapted the concept for resorts that are spaced farther apart.
Rocky Mountain Vacations created an itinerary for Justin Curran, now a 25-year-old medical student at Michigan State University, that took him and some friends to 13 resorts in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Curran's 2003 monthlong safari was longer than most, but the goals were the same: to sample a variety of ski conditions, nightlife, and scenery.
Curran learned that Jackson Hole, Wyo., has the "steepest, craziest lines, 2,500 acres of backcountry, and the coolest town in the West. The bars have as many cowboys as skiers." In Steamboat Springs, Colo., he enjoyed skiing through aspen groves and the feathery "champagne snow." At Vail, he tackled the back bowls, and outside Salt Lake City he tried the "steep, gnarly slopes of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon."
Like Curran's, most safaris in the U.S. are customized itineraries. "These skiers have been skiing a long time and want something different," says Craig Cook, owner of Travel Organizers/American Express in Englewood, Colo. He says many safari seekers prefer less well-known resorts. One of his favorite trips covers Snowbasin and Powder Mountain resorts, 45 minutes from Salt Lake City. He books skiers into lodging in Ogden, Utah, a rustic town nearby. The package runs $600 to $1,000 per person.
Some areas are pushing their own version of the ski safari. Although the resorts aren't interconnected, they're close enough that you can settle into one hotel and take day trips. Vail Resorts sells the "Perfect 10" lift pass at $419 for adults and $299 for kids under 12. It's good for 10 days at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Vail, Colo.; and Heavenly Mountain in Lake Tahoe, Calif. So if you can't decide between the back bowls or the groomed trails, the sleepy town, or the lively village, you can have it all.
By Susan B. Garland