Lift rates are a key to what it costs to ski a resort. In the mid-1990s a single adult weekend one-day lift ticket - the most expensive ticket at any area - ranged from $45 to $50 at the destination playgrounds. The national-average single adult weekend ticket at the gems was estimated at $28. Whooooeee.

There’s an impression among some skiers that the gems are populated only by novices, families, and the girls’ and boys’ ski clubs from the local high school.

In reality, there’s no way to classify the skiers who find their pleasure skiing the gems. They run the gamut: mogul-bashing pros; powder hounds; singles with a roving eye; easy-skiing seniors; families; kids; snowboarders; veterans of snowy mountain scenery; and newcomers to the glory of the sport, as well as the girls’ and boys’ ski clubs from the local high school.

There’s as much variation among the gems as there is among those who ski them. Grand Targhee, high on the slopes of the soaring Tetons, has only three chairlifts on one of its two mountains. The other mountain is serviced by snowcat. But with the highest rate of natural snow of any ski area in the nation, it is a glorious place to ski powder, real, deep powder, or learn to.

Bretton Woods is three-quarters of a continent east, on the forested slopes of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Eighty percent of its 30 trails are green or blue. But within a casual drive of the slopes are charming villages and quaint inns dating back to the birth of the nation, and nearby is the magnificent Mount Washington Hotel, site of the historic Bretton Woods international financial conference in 1944.

Kelly Ladyga, communications director for 10 of the lesser resorts of Colorado that have banded together as “Gems of the Rockies,” says: “While they may be smaller in size compared to other Colorado resorts, they are large in value, variety, and vertical!” Every year, “the demand for alternative skiing choices grows. In the 1994-95 season the Colorado gems hosted more than 1.2 million skier visits, growing more rapidly than any other segment of the ski area market.” Novices are an important chunk of that market.

The gems have ski schools for kids and adults, nurseries, and daycare centers. They also have rental and repair shops on the premises. And even if they have only one cafeteria in a base lodge, you’ll enjoy the taste of your hamburger and french fries more since you’ll be paying about two-thirds the price that the same mouthful would cost at a destination jewel.

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