Time to hit the slopes at expanding resorts; US ski team regroups

You can do it! You can enjoy winter! Don't put it off another year. When the crocuses finally appear next spring, let them find us having a good time. The basic uniform for such a survival test is warm clothes (from the outside in: parka, warm boots and cap, wool sweater, jersey, woolen pants and sox, and a pair of long johns). You don't need to look stylish, but a willingness to venture beyond the range of the wood stove helps. What gear you don't have you can rent.

Last season, some 50.6 million skier visits were recorded at US ski areas - only 100,000 less than the record 1981 season. This year, ski resorts have been building like there's no tomorrow. Over $140 million in new lifts (91), expanded ski terrain (3,010 new acres), and snowmaking (1,221 new acres) - all this now sprawls above 670,000 square feet of new base complexes.

Those new base lodges, rental shops, restaurants, nurseries, indoor sports centers, and conference rooms - twice last year's expansion - are telling us something. The ski industry is convinced the modern skier/vacationer wants ''the good life'' with all the amenities and will spend big bucks to get it. Much of US ski resort development is being financed by sale of expensive new luxury slopeside condominiums and condo-hotels. The estimated market value of 4,500 new units this year is $460 million, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

So has skiing, historically perceived as an elitist sport, particularly in the US, finally succeeded in excluding all but those who can afford $20-plus lift tickets and $200,000 condominiums?

Not by a long shot. It hasn't excluded those who want to ski cross-country, who will shop for good money-saving package plans, who don't have to stay in plush slopeside accommodations, who can have fun at a popularly priced mid-size area. It is possible to ski at a reasonable cost. But you have to work at it. We'll try to help in that department this season, pointing out attractive ''special deals'' whenever we can.

How to shop for new skis

The season began early in the West (Oct. 19 at Keystone, Colo., Oct. 27 at Boreal, Calif.), ''late'' in the East (Nov. 3 at Killington, Vt.). But now ski areas everywhere are getting the season rolling, often with a ''demo day.'' That's when ski company vans pull into parking lots and let skiers try out the latest gear free of charge.

Skiers about to plow hundreds of dollars into new equipment may find a demo day a good way to insure a sensible purchase. But you need a small notebook and a system. Above all, never test more than one thing at a time; never try new skis and new boots together.

First, pay close attention to how the demo skis are tuned. Sharp edges, edges dulled at tip and tail, concave or convex bottoms, a good hot wax job - the way a ski is tuned can drastically affect the way it performs. Write down how it's tuned.

Pay careful heed to snow conditions, and as they vary, note specifically how the ski performs on hard and soft snow, ice, groomed cruising runs, choppy mogul runs. Write down the differences.

A good final test is to take a pair of pleasing skis onto terrain that normally would be a bit challenging for you. Also ski it in all kinds of turns - short and quick; long, arcing giant slalom-type turns. Again, write down how it performs in each situation. If you're a recreational racer, try it on a NASTAR or self-timing course. When you're done, you should have a good idea of one or two models that are right for you.

Life after Sarajevo

Three gold and two silver medals in the Olympics, Jeff Hastings's best-in-60 -years fourth in the 90-meter jump, Tamara McKinney's title in the World Cup slalom - it was the most successful US Ski Team in history. An Olympic year is always followed by major changes, but this time the changeover is massive. Athletes, coaches, and staff directors have moved on to other pursuits.

Gone are Phil and Steve Mahre and Christin Cooper on the Alpine side, plus Nordic Combined ace Kerry Lynch, several cross-country racers, and Hastings, who surprised many with his sudden retirement this fall. Also moving on are several winning coaches, executive director Inez Aimee, who put the team on the big-budget, media-oriented map, and Alpine director Bill Marolt, who brought and kept together the winning combination of talented coaches and racers for five years.

But Marolt, who has become athletic director at the University of Colorado, also provoked serious bitterness and probably a new ''racers' rights'' movement at the end of his reign. He chose not to fill all the Alpine racer slots the US Olympic team was entitled to at Sarajevo. The decision was widely criticized and after the Olympics was seen as possibly violating the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 . That law protects athletes' rights to compete and have their views heard at the policy-making level.

Now most of the ski team has organized to present their grievances and demands, which include more say in decision making. Nordic team members reportedly want more money; many team members want greater latitude to go to college and race, and more scholarship money available for that purpose.

One racer who was not part of the racers' organizing meeting at Park City, Utah, was Olympic downhill champion Bill Johnson. Johnson's success combined with his cocky disregard for international ski racing's established pecking order has made him something of a superstar celebrity. He reportedly demanded unprecedented contracts from the ski team, indicating that without them he might be skiing elsewhere, such as Sweden or Luxembourg. But the ski team decided such a precedent would be intolerable, and this year anyway, Johnson is back in the fold, one of the most individualistic members of a team competing in a very individualistic sport.

To add to the team's woes, fund raising has not come through as expected in the post-Olympic year and the $5 million budget has had to be cut by several hundred thousand dollars. Nevertheless, most of the new coaches have come up through the ranks and have the respect of the team. There's a talented nucleus of veteran racers around which to build, particularly on the women's Alpine team headed by McKinney and Olympic giant slalom gold medalist Debbie Armstrong. Thus the long-run potential continues to look very good.

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