The ambience, the scenery, the shops, the housing, all are auxiliary to the bottom line - the skiing, and everything a resort does to make skiing itself the magnet that pulls us to it.

Letís talk snow talk.

No ski resorts in the United States, Canada, or Europe can boast lighter, fluffier snow than that which sprinkles down from the clouds over the high-elevation resorts of the West. However, except for off-trail skiing, or the first couple days after a storm, Iíve found virtually no difference between skiing a groomed slope at 8,000 feet in the West and one at 2,000 feet in the East. This is because after being pounded by skiers during the day, and smoothed out at night by the ponderous grooming machines that roar up and down the slopes of every major resort, the powder disappears. All the groomed trails are covered by packed snow, otherwise called packed powder. Period.

What can make a difference is the climate.

High-altitude resorts, with low humidity, tend to have a fairly stable winter climate: very cold at night but reaching into the 20s during the day. This climate preserves the smooth, skiable surfaces. And as a bonus, itís beautiful to sit outdoors after lunch to enhance your tan.

When itís cold in the East - and stays cold - the packed powder stays packed. However, eastern resorts bounce more frequently between the 30s during the day and the shivering teens and below at night. And because of their higher humidity, in eastern resorts subject to this temperature pattern the delicious texture of packed powder may become topped with an extrahard surface. Hey, I keep my edges sharp in Vermont.

To compensate for unreliable winter snows, the eastern resorts began to line their trails with snow guns in the 1970s. Today, almost every New England ski area boasts that 90 to 100 percent of its trails are covered by snowmaking.

All is not always perfect skiing in the West. To compensate for those winters when their slopes also are covered with more mud and crud than snow, western resorts quietly began installing snowmaking on their trails in the 1980s. Today they make it eminently clear that they, too, still offer skiing when nature forgets to roll in the winter clouds. Thank you, snowmakers.

Though modem snowmaking equipment produces a lighter and more powdery snow than the early guns did, there are still differences in texture between natural and man-made snow, east or west.

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