Mar 16, 2018 / TRAVEL, SKIING

Summer is the new winter in mountain towns

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Ask long-time residents how they ended up living in a mountain town - or in just about any ski destination - and this is what you’ll hear: “I came here to enjoy the winters, but ended up staying for the summers.”

The smart ones always do.

If you have ever ridden a ski lift and chatted up the local next to you, then you’ve heard the winter versus summer cliché. But it does hold up to scrutiny. Especially when you consider that the “winter season” in most resort towns is about four months long - maybe five months tops during an epic snow year. That leaves a lot of the calendar open when you’re not sliding down the slopes.

Ski towns take on a whole new vibe in the warm months. The sun is shining. The wild flowers are blooming. And people are dispersed all over the place, thinning crowds to a minimum. Most significantly, the days are warmer and a lot longer.

Ski towns and ski resorts have noticed, and are actively expanding their operations, rebooting themselves into full four-season destinations. Not surprisingly, resorts are pouring a lot of money and creativity into warm-weather activities. The list is constantly growing: ziplines, lift-served mountain biking, scenic gondola rides, world-class golf courses, mountain coasters, climbing walls, heli-hiking, water parks, naturalist tours, alpine slides, al fresco dining, white-water rafting, fireworks, expanded hiking trails, ropes courses, new mountaintop restaurants, for a start.

And there are festivals dedicated to just about any interest, passion or obsession. Food and wine. Jazz. Film. Reggae. Craft beer. Farm-to-table dining. Yoga. Whitewater rafting. Adventure sports. Symphony orchestras. The hottest chili. And even a festival dedicated only to mushrooms.

Skiers and riders are a competitive bunch. That doesn’t’ change during the warm months. There are events and competitions to see how you measure up. Race up the mountain. Race down the mountain. Peddle. Paddle. Kayak. Fish. Or slog through a muddy obstacle course to see what you’re really made of. Or just slow down to smell the wild roses as you hike across a mountainside.

Resorts are well aware that there are about 15 million active skiers and riders in North America. That leaves a huge new market to bring to the mountains when the snow melts. Triggering this new focus on warm-weather focus in the United States was landmark legislation in 2011 that allowed year-round activities at ski resorts. The bill was so popular that the vote was 394 to 0 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Vail Resorts worked hard to win approval for the legislation, and soon spent upwards of $25 million on its new four-season Epic Discovery program, with the specific goal of enticing people to return after the lifts close. It was the start of a trend for all ski resorts in North America, and beyond.

Summer, and any of the non-winter months for that matter, used to be the best-kept secret in mountain towns. No longer. Visitors come for the winters, and now return for the summers. Just ask the locals.

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