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NYS entices skiers, riders with special deals, world-class venues thruout state

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Who knew that New York State has the most ski areas of any state in the nation (50) - so many that there is no one in the state who doesn't live within two hours drive of a ski area? Or that New Yorkers account for the third most skier visits (after California and Colorado)?

New York State boasts stellar ski areas like Whiteface/Lake Placid (which hosted two Olympics and has the highest vertical East of the Rockies), Gore (the most skiable acres in the state) and Belleayre (a superb family mountain naturally set out to accommodate learn-to-ski and beginners), now all state-owned and managed by the ORDA (Olympic Regional Development Agency). We also have Windham (reminiscent of Vermont's Okemo, in my mind), Hunter (NY's Mount Snow).

And what about Thunder Ridge? Just an hour away from Manhattan, reachable by Metro North (they even send a free shuttle to pick you up at the station and bring you back), which has night skiing until 9 pm? This 100-acre ski area has been hosting generations of skiers.

Equally important, as any northeast ski enthusiast knows, New York's ski areas are meticulously maintained. They pride themselves on using the latest technology to provide the finest facilities and winter experiences. This year, New York ski resorts have invested millions of dollars in everything from new high speed lifts and improved snow-making to children's programming and new glades.

This winter, Ski Areas of New York (SANY) is rolling out three great deals to encourage travelers- not just New Yorkers, but skiers from around the country and the world - to discover New York’s ski areas. (Note: the deals must be booked in advance at the new site, iskiny.com):

Discover New York Skiing $12 Lift Tickets. On December 19, 2013 and January 9, 2014, 10,000 skiers per day will be able to take advantage of $12 lift tickets through the Discover New York Skiing promotion at 26 participating ski areas across the state. Organized by Ski Areas of New York (SANY), the promotion is an expansion of last year's popular 10-10-10 one-day deal. Tickets must be reserved and paid in advance and are the perfect start to a long weekend getaway. For details, visit www.iskiny.com/ski-deals/discover-ny-skiing.

Kids Ski Free. SANY is offering free lift tickets and learn to ski packages for 3rd and 4th grade skiers and snowboarders throughout the 2013-2014 winter ski season at 25 ski areas across the state. Passes in the form of a Passport must be obtained in advance, and there's a $22 processing fee for the season. For details, visit www.iskiny.com/ski-deals/free-kids-program.

Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month discounts. January is National Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month and New York ski areas are joining in with a great deal. This year, 28 NYS Ski Areas are offering learn to ski and snowboard packages which include lifts, lessons and rentals for $35 (some blackout dates apply and shipping and handling charges will apply at time of purchase). To obtain a Learn to Ski $35 voucher, go to www.iskiny.com. You must pay in advance and take your voucher to the ski area that you selected for your Learn to Ski and Snowboard experience.

More deals, special events and updated snow reports. A new mobile-friendly website, www.iskiny.com, offers the latest information on snow conditions, ski area events, updates, maps, adaptive programs, and other information about skiing in New York. The site, operated by SANY, is a one-stop shopping center that also has a section with bookable deals such as third-day-free, ski/stay weekends and other lodging specials.

New York's ski areas are continuing to invest and make improvements. Here's what else is happening on New York's slopes:

Whiteface/Lake Placid

Whiteface/Lake Placid in the Adirondacks is an extraordinary destination with so much happening - this is so much more than a "ski" area - it has unique attractions, largely because of being an Olympic training facility - here you can take a bobsled ride on the Olympic track, skate on the outdoor Olympic oval (unbelievable experience!), try your hand at biathlon (cross-country and shooting), go on the Olympic Nordic course, visit the Olympic Museum. In the vicinity is Ausable Chasm, ice climbing, and nature preserves. You don't just get to downhill, or skate or sled or x-country where Olympians have been, but you may well bump into one - Lake Placid is a major training area for Olympians and has sent athletes to every Olympics in the modern era - including Sochi.

Whiteface is a major mountain, with a 3470 ft vertical - the greatest in the East - that can rival the Rockies. and the highest skiable terrain is at 4,650 ft. It offers 87 trails - the longest, Wilmington, is 2.1 miles, for a total of 22 miles of skiing and riding. This season, the Olympic mountain will debut a new (and as yet un-named) glade on Lookout Mountain. The 1,500 foot long expert glade will be cut half-way down Hoyt’s High and will also connect the Summit Chair lift.

The Olympic sports complex, five miles away from Whiteface Mountain at Mt. Van Hoevenberg offers an incredible array of unique experiences:

Combined Track: You can try your hand at bobsled/luge/skeleton on the combined track. The sliding season usually runs from November through March, depending on competition schedules and weather conditions. Athletes from the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and the U.S. Luge Association, as well as, local developmental teams call the combination track home. During competitions, some athletes exceed speeds of over 80 miles per hour and pull approximately 5gs while racing down the track.

More amazing, is that the combination track is also open to the public for Bobsled and Skeleton Experiences in winter. You go down with a professional driver and brakeman and get a real sense of the track and a better understanding of what “sliders” experience (they even announce the "race" and give you your time). Thrilling enough, even if you are going at a fraction of the speed of real competition.

In summer, you can take bobsled rides down the 1980 Bobsled Track. Professional drivers and brakemen take passengers down the course, shortened to a half-mile, but you go through the famous Zig-Zag turn for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, reaching speeds of up to 55 miles per hour.

Cross Country and Biathlon Center: The cross country center is comprised of a trail system of over 50-kilometers (31-miles), and is linked to the Jackrabbit cross country skiing network that winds its way through sections of the beautiful Adirondack Park. The course that was originally constructed for the 1980 Winter Games still exists, a grueling 25-kilometer loop. The altitude for this loop ranges from 1,860 feet to 2,460 feet with the longest single climb being 230 vertical feet. The total vertical climb for just one loop is 1,850 feet.

The cross country center has trails for skiers of all abilities, from the Porter Mountain Loop (14.5 km/9 miles) for the expert skiers, to trails like the Bobcat Trail that meander through the woods and open fields. Every year, the cross country center is home to one of the Nation’s best races that is open to the public. The Lake Placid Loppet just celebrated its 28th year in February and continues to grow bigger each year.

Biathlon competition is also popular at the Olympic Sports Complex. The biathlon range uses target systems that were used for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. World Cup competitions, as well as, NorAm Cup competitions have been held here throughout the past few years.

Throughout the year, the shooting range is open to the public. “Be a Biathlete” provides training in a safe environment and is a fun and exciting program that combines cross country skiing and marksmanship. Real .22-caliber rifles are used and instruction is given to those who want to try their target shooting skills.

During the summer and fall, the cross country ski trail system turns into a venue for cross country mountain bikers.

Snowshoeing has also become extremely popular in the Adirondacks and approximately nine miles of snowshoe trails have been created to accommodate those who snowshoe.

Recommended: the Ultimate Winter Passport where you buy a three-day lift ticket and have inclusive features including: admission to the Olympic Sports Complex; Ice Skating on the Olympic Speed Skating Oval; admission to the Olympic Jumping Complex and elevator ride to the top of the 120m ski jumping tower; admission to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum; and 20% discount off the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience.

In addition, you get discounts for $2 off "Be a Biathlete", 20% off the Lake Placid Skeleton Experience, 20% off of photo novelties at Miracle Moments concessions, a free pin at the ORDA Store on Main St. with a $25 purchase, $1 off a guided tour of the Olympic Center at the Virtual Reality Simulator. (Ultimate Passport is only be available with full priced peak season, non-holiday lift tickets).

There are no accommodations at Whiteface, but the Town of Lake Placid is sheer delight with lovely hotels, inns and bnb's to choose from, lovely restaurants and shops (outlet shopping, too) and a cutesy cinema, even a toboggan run onto the lake.

We enjoyed our stay last season at Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort (2559 Main Street, Lake Placid, NY 12946, 800-582-5540, 518-523-3353, info@golden-arrow.com, www.golden-arrow.com.)

Visit www.whiteface.com to plan a trip, arrange lodging, and book ski and stay deals.

Gore Mountain

I hadn't realized that Gore Mountain, also in the Adirondacks but an hour south of White Face, is the largest ski area in NYS - 438 skiable acres, the most in the state, and 103 trails. This year, skiers will enjoy three new glades, a new conveyor in ski school area for total of 15 lifts including a high-speed gondola. Gore is a big area - actually four different mountains - with a 2537-ft vertical. Gore is known as the "intermediates ballroom" because it has fabulous, long cruisers. Green trail skiers are not shortchanged - the gondola takes you to a green trail that is 2.2 miles long and nice and wide - a great mountain to grow with. It's owned by New York State and managed by ORDA (the Olympic Regional Development Authority), and consistently rated among the top resorts for value. The snow is great - whereas Whiteface has a reputation for ice because of its situation, Gore faces in three directions, is more sheltered, and less prone to ice conditions, and has top-notch snowmaking, plus its two bowls naturally collect and hold the snow. With 15 lifts, even on a busy weekend, it's not crowded.

North Creek is the charming village, a true ski destination named one of top 100 destinations in Adirondacks. There is a lift directly from North Creek, as well as free regional shuttle bus that takes you around from North Creek to the main base, and you can get away with not using a car at all.

You can also reach North Creek by train from Saratoga to North Creek (scenic in summer; in winter, it takes skiers on day trips). Gore is just about 4 hour drive from NYC. (GoreMountain, Route 28, North Creek, NY, 21 miles off of I-87, 518-251-2411, www.goremountain.com).

For a grand, historic, luxury experience, stay at The Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing on Lake George (the resort runs a shuttle bus to Gore Mountain, about 45 minutes drive away). A glacier ice bar will premier this winter at The Sagamore when 18,000 pounds of ice will be transformed into an outdoor bar and lounge. The spectacular waterfront location of the Sagamore is guaranteed to provide a winter wonderland experience. the Sagamore is a member of Historic Hotels of America, and harkens back to the Gilded Age (866.385.6221, www.thesagamore.com).

Belleayre Mountain Resort

Belleayre Mountain Resort, Shandaken, fills out the triumvirate of New York State-owned/ORDA operated ski areas. Closest to the city, in the Catskills, it is a favorite for families learning how to ski, with a natural separation of the mountain - a whole learning area, plus the bottom half of the mountain for green-trail skiers, and the upper area for intermediates and black-diamond skiers, plus Roaring Brook, an in-between green/blue trail that more confident beginners can take from the top. It's a decent style for enough variety - 55 trails and 171 skiable acres accessed by 8 lifts, and a 1404-ft vertical.

This season, there is a new magic carpet in the learning area, and a whole new stock of Rossignol rental equipment. Belleayre is known for good snow, especially with significant improvements in snowmaking. There's also a marvelous cross-country area (actually it's free, but only natural snow). There are quaint inns, motels and BnB's in the area (Margaretville, Fleischmann's - don't expect nightlife). Belleayre, which is in Shandaken, is just 2 1/2 hours drive from NYC ($60A weekend, $48/midweek), www.belleayre.com, 845-254-5600.

You can get a pass that combines all three ORDA mountains, Whiteface, Gore (which are only an hour apart) and Belleayre.

Belleayre is also linked with two immensely popular Catskills ski resorts, Hunter Mountain and Windham, each very different in their personality and atmosphere.

Hunter Mountain

Hunter Mountain is the bustling, hip mountain resort with oodles of stuff to do (major zipline, snowtubing and in the past few years, has opened a full service hotel right on the slopes. The longest trail, Belt Parkway (many of its trails are named for NYC highways) is two miles long. Hunter claims to be the first resort in the world to have snowmaking on 100% of its terrain, and still prides itself in snowmaking, in fact Hunter opens this season with a $1 million investment in snowmaking improvements and already has a 4-foot base. “We make enough snow each winter to cover a four lane highway from here to Central Park with eight feet, four inches of powder,” Gerry Tschinkel, VP of Sales & Marketing, boasted.

Hunter offers 58 trails and 240 skiable acres accessed by 8 lifts, and a 1600-ft vertical. It is naturally divided by its peaks - there is a separate peak for beginners; the main mountain has trails for beginner, intermediate and expert, and Hunter West has expert terrain accessed by a high-speed lift. There are on-mountain accommodations - the Pinnacle Condos (top floor of the base lodge); the hotel is all-suite, plus there are local lodges in Tannersville, which is a fun village with lots of restaurants and shops. Hunter Mountain boasts the "tallest, highest, longest" zipline in North America - six zips.

Hunter Mountain opens this season with major upgrades and expansions to its Snowtubing Park. New grooming technology and the addition of a brand new carpet lift more than double the park’s capacity, making it the largest in New York State. It now boasts up to 24 chutes; each 1,000 feet long. Hunter Mountain’s world class snowmaking technology keeps the park covered all winter long. A new mini tubing park and a fleet of family tubes mean that children less than 42 inches tall can get in on the fun too! The mini park is located just outside the tubing lodge with shorter, more gradual chutes perfect for toddlers. Family tubes are available for adults over 18 years old that would like to share a tube with their child between 33”- 42” tall.

Hunter's top of the line e-commerce system, free mobile app, and live high-definition webcam give guests a better experience, even before they arrive. Hunter is a four-season resort. It's only 2 1/2 hours drive from the city. www.HunterMtn.com.

Windham Mountain Resort

A personal favorite resort of ours is Windham Mountain Resort which has a cozy feel that stems from the fact it was originally a private club. Known for its stellar views and challenging terrain, the addition of a new trail and glades to the West Peak allows skiers and riders to inject variety into their routes down the mountain.

This year, there are substantial improvements, including opening nine more acres of skiable terrain - two new trails, glades and two conveyor lifts bring the Resort’s total offerings to 52 trails on 278 skiable acres accessed by 12 lifts - including two high-speed detachable quads - over the mountain’s 3100 vertical feet. Windham even offers night skiing on 9 trails, from 4-8 pm, on Friday and Saturday nights and select holiday periods. Known for its stellar views and challenging terrain, the addition of a new trail and glades to the West Peak allows skiers and riders to inject variety into their routes down the mountain.

Windham Mountain Resort has invested $7 million in capital improvements for the 2013-14 season. Projects include an expanded beginner area, a new entry and modernized parking lot, a new trail on the Resort’s west peak along with glade skiing, $1.5 million investment in snowmaking infrastructure, construction of a new expanded compressor and maintenance building and improvements at Windham Country Club - its golf course which doubles as a cross-country ski area.

After two years of development, the Resort is opening the brand new Whisper Run beginner area - two acres of beginner terrain with two conveyor lifts in front of the base lodge. The area is specifically suited for first-timers and beginners with a very slight incline that allows skiers and riders to control their speed while learning the basics. Snowmaking covers the entire beginner area to ensure its availability throughout the winter season. The new beginner area doubles the amount of beginner terrain previously offered by the Resort.

Windfall is a new intermediate trail that connects Wide Connection to Upper Wipeout. The new trail offers a less intimidating route between double black diamond trails, reserved for the most experienced and adventurous Windham Mountain skiers and riders.

Both Windfall and portions of Upper Wipeout have been outfitted with snowmaking to ensure the trails’ accessibility throughout the winter. And the four acres between Windfall and Upper Wipeout have created Whataride Glades: a new challenging route for tree-skiing enthusiasts.

Windham also offers 5 terrain parks of varied difficulty. All are open to skiers and snowboarders.

First Tracks is scheduled every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday morning. Before the lifts open to the public, guests get one full hour of ultra-exclusive snow moments. Space is limited and reservations are required. To reserve a spot call the Demo Center at 518-734-4300 ext. 1515.

Windham also has an Adventure Park offering snow tubing on a 650’ slope with 8 lanes, 2 tow ropes and base lodge; plus dual 500-foot long, 40-foot high ziplines; ice skating; a Kids Snowmobile Park; and Sliders Cafe (weekends and holidays, check time).

Guests and visitors can also enjoy an introductory level of cross country skiing and snowshoe trails at Windham Country Club, located on South Street, Windham. The scenic golf course is an ideal setting for exploring the winter wonderland on a few kilometers of marked and groomed trails set in the beautiful Catskill Mountains.

It doesn't have its own on-mountain lodging, but Windham owns the Winwood Inn and Condominiums, located a mile from the base lodge on Main Street (complimentary shuttle to the mountain), which has a fitness center, movie theater, game room and restaurant. The village of Windham has some lovely places to stay, including the Thompson House where we stayed this summer which happens to abut the golf course that Windham now owns (The Thompson House, 19 Route 296 Windham NY 12496, 518-734-4510, thethompsonhouse@gmail.com, www.thompsonhouse.com).

Contact Windham reservations specialists at 800-754-9463, email central_reservations@windhammountain.com, www.windhammountain.com.

(A Catskill Winter Sampler ticket provides access to Hunter, Windham, Bellayre and Platteskills areas.)

Greek Peak

Greek Peak, in the Finger Lakes area near Ithaca (about 30 minutes from Binghamton, so popular with college ski clubs and teams) has become a destination resort with Hope Lake Lodge, an all-suites resort hotel which opened 2009 (a shuttle to the base is provided),which has a spa, 41,000 sq ft . indoor water park and adventure center with a Mountain Coaster and 4 tandem zip lines operating year round and a 10- lane winter snow tubing center (once you arrive, you basically stay at the resort; you can even arrange for groceries to be stocked in the refrigerator). Any lift takes you to all levels of terrain. It offers ski and stay packages and a stay 2 get third night free deal. Because of its location near SUNY Binghamton, Cornell and Ithaca, it's popular with ski clubs and teams. It's 3 1/2 hours drive.

The largest ski resort in Central NY, Greek Peak offers 33 trails (the longest is 1.5 miles), six aerial lifts, two surface lifts, beginners’ slope, and terrain parks. Its new ownership has made significant additions for the 2013-14 season: a new quad chairlift (the only quad Lift in CNY), new $1.2 million restaurant “Trax” in the main lodge, new PB 600 groomer with Zauug attachment, new rental equipment. The resort is building the only double black diamond glades run, Labyrinth, in Central New York.

Greek Peak Resort is set within 7,000 acres of State-protected land that is accessible for cross country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and horseback riding. The four-season resort is located in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes Region, just minutes from I-81, and 3 1/2 hour drive from NYC (www.hopelakelodge.com).

Thunder Ridge

The biggest surprise to me is an area just an hour away from Manhattan, reached by Metro North train that is actually been around for decades: Thunder Ridge (it used to be called Big Birch). It makes a superb day trip (and even into the night, with night skiing, Mon-Sat. until 9 pm), and a great family learning area before tackling the bigger destination ski resorts. This is a 100-acre area with, 32 trails (the longest is one mile, and five lifts (three old-fashioned double chairs) - lots of beginner trails but also some challenging trails with a 600-ft vertical, and snowmaking on 95%.

The area, family owned and operated, offers free shuttle from/to the Patterson train station just a mile away (midweek, you just phone when you are coming into the station and they will be there to pick you up). Metro North offers a combination roundtrip train ticket and lift ticket for $57, which also gives you a $5 discount on rental equipment. Come on Saturday and ski until 8:30 pm (when the last shuttle will bring you back to the station). Thunder Ridge is on the border with Connecticut (near Danbury) and near a marvelous rail-trail. (845-878-4100 or visit www.thunderridgeski.com; to purchase Ride the Ski Train tickets, call 212-532-4900; outside NYC, 800-METRO-INFO, or visit www.mta.info/mnr and check out the Deals and Getaways section.)

For more information on skiing and snowboarding in New York, visit iskiny.com, facebook.com/skiandrideny and for other fun winter ideas and information in New York State, visit www.iloveny.com/winter.

See also:

Lake Placid, NYS's winter resort, where you ski and bobsled like an Olympian (Photos)

Lake Placid remains New York's quintessential winter destination (Photos)

Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort proves perfect hub for enjoying Lake Placid, NY (Photos)

Karen Rubin, National Eclectic Travel Examiner
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© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. 'Like' us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.

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