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SKIING IS BELIEVING; GO - ZONE There's nothing quite like a slope with a great view.

Byline: BYJANE MERRICK

ATjust over five feet high and a walnut-wrinkled face putting him well into his 80s, my American ski instructor was nothing like the amorous young Italians I remembered from my schoolgirl trips to the Continent.

But then this instructor, in a bright red padded jumpsuit that could be spotted in the fiercest snowstorm, was a former Olympic downhill champion -something which immediately put a near novice skier like me at ease.

After making him promise we would not be hurtling down the American east's only triple black diamond run, further up the mountain, I was soon carving my way through some of Vermont's most beautiful scenery like a natural.

If like me you are more of a beginner than an Olympic downhill champion, skiing in Vermont is perfect. The slopes are gentler than in the Rockies, and there are advantages over the Alps as lessons are in English.

But there is plenty for the adrenaline addict too. As well as that terrifying triple black diamond - the Black Hole at Freefall Woods - there are countless race courses, terrain parks and half pipes to get your skis into.

Probably the best all-round ski resort is Smugglers' Notch in the state's northern Green Mountains - named after the smugglers who used the area's secret caves to store alcohol enroute from Canada to the US during the prohibition era.

There are more than 1,000 acres of skiing and the resort has recently spent 2.2 million dollars upgrading its snowmaking capability for those rare days when the snow isn't quite the texture of icing sugar.

The resort's Snow Sport 'University' has 300 instructors - including the veteran gold medallist - who teach skiing, snowboarding and cross country skiing to all abilities. Group numbers are kept low and the instructors are top notch, so even if you're a beginner within a couple of days you are perfecting turns and trying out harder runs.

Further south are Mount Snow and Stratton Mountain, where you drive through traditional New England villages of white steeple churches, manicured village greens and dove grey clapboard houses to reach the resorts.

Mount Snow, with 769 acres of skiing, earlier this year hosted the 2001 ESPN Winter X Games - billed as the second largest winter sporting event in the world and a mecca for alternative winter sports enthusiasts.

Competitors took part in everything from snowboarding to snowmobile racing during the day and spent the night partying. The resort hopes to host the games again this winter.

Unlike Smugglers' Notch, where the easier trails are confined to the lower slopes, the less competitive can ski from the top of Mount Snow to the base on green runs.

Stratton Mountain, also in southern Vermont, is the highest peak in Vermont and is this year celebrating 40 years as a ski resort.

It is also said to be the best in the state for snowboarding - the Stratton Snowboard School claims to be the only resort in the United States with a staff fully certified by the American Association of Snowboard Instructors.

There is also a sport centre in the base camp consisting of two indoor tennis courts, squash courts, aerobics room, indoor swimming pool and massage therapy.

Vermont has plenty to offer nonskiers - or simply those whose legs need a break.

The state was the adopted home of one of America's most celebrated poets, Robert Frost, while the village of Dorset, in Southern Vermont, is home to John Irving, author of The Cider House Rules and Hotel New Hampshire. A few miles drive away is Manchester, a designer outlet village where you can happily spend several hours exploring Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, Versace, Ralph Lauren and Burberry.

Vermont may be famous for its cranberries and maple syrup, but it is also the birthplace of the delicious Ben and Jerry's ice cream. There is a Ben and Jerry's factory at Waterbury, which offers guided tours and, most importantly, free samples.

For the more grown-up palate the New England Culinary Institute, whose graduates are now chefs at the world's top restaurants, has a number of training restaurants in Vermont, including a fine dining restaurant at the Inn at Essex, a colonial-style 120 roomed hotel near Burlington.

Trainee chefs pay more than 20,000 dollars to be trained at the institute, and if you try the lobster bisque at the Inn At Essex, you can tell.

But for some people, the only form of apres ski is a relaxing drink after a hard day on the slopes - and thankfully you don't have to go hunting in the mountain caves to find one.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 30, 2001
Words:764
Previous Article:Late breaks; GO - ZONE.
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