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6 best resorts for non-skiers

Everyone who loves skiing or snowboarding has wondered what to do with a friend, spouse or lover who just isn’t into winter sports. Leave him home? Park her by the fire at the lodge? Exchange your lift tickets for a trip to Aruba?
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Everyone who loves skiing or snowboarding has wondered what to do with a friend, spouse or lover who just isn’t into winter sports. Leave him home? Park her by the fire at the lodge? Exchange your lift tickets for a trip to Aruba?

In the past, this dilemma could cause some serious interpersonal difficulties. And small wonder: Winter mountain resorts once catered only to skiers. Guests who didn’t ski might be found in the lodge making small talk with the staff, or baby-sitting other people’s toddlers, or spending days in the hotel room, catching up on their reading. They were lost souls, kind of lonely and definitely not part of the party.

Not any more.

Ski and snowboard resorts have evolved. No longer are they just ski runs with a skating rink or a lap pool thrown in for the faint of heart. Now they are multifaceted winter destinations for all comers.

Snowshoeing has been introduced at almost every resort in the country, making it easy for non-skiers to enjoy the splendor of the winter landscape without going downhill. For those who prefer a stroll down Main Street, there are endless shopping opportunities, and some towns have created arts centers that offer theater productions and art galleries.

The big resorts offer an astonishing range of things to do, including cooking schools, wine-tasting classes, luxury spas, fly-fishing (yes, even in winter), opera, ice climbing, nature preserves, some fascinating museums, hot-air ballooning, dog sledding and local tourist attractions. And the romantic horse-drawn sleigh ride is a mainstay at virtually every resort, offering a cozy cuddle after a day spent apart.

I’ve selected six of the best winter sports destinations for skiers and non-skiers alike. In some cases, the towns are better known for their off-slope activities than for their on-the-snow pursuits. Every town provides plenty to do to keep every member of your group busy and happy. Each is also a regional gourmet capital with nationally recognized chefs, a wide range of restaurants, and award-winning wine cellars.

Lake Placid, New York, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, opens its bobsled and luge runs to the public for an unforgettable, exhilarating experience. The Olympic ski-jump towers have great views, including a look down at the heart-stopping drop faced by world-class ski jumpers; elevators take you to the top. In the rustic and unspoiled town, you can take a few loops on the speed skating oval, slide on a toboggan across the frozen lake, explore shops or luxuriate at a state-of-the art spa at the Mirror Lake Inn.

Aspen, Colorado, offers performances at the Wheeler Opera House, which has been restored to its 1889 silver-boom splendor. Some of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities come here for the unique shopping. World-famous chefs have retired here to create excellent gourmet restaurants and to preside over top-notch cooking schools. Aspen also has sleigh rides, snowmobiling, dog sledding, a two-story water slide, climbing walls, winter fly-fishing, more than 30 art galleries, and some of the best spas in the country.

Jackson, Wyoming, manages to combine nature, the Wild West and modern luxury. A dramatic sleigh ride through thousands of elk in the National Elk Refuge is a unique adventure. You can also head out in a 4x4 with high-power binoculars in search of mountain goats, deer, antelope, eagles, wolves, tigers and bears (I’m kidding about the tigers, but you really can spot the others). Yellowstone Park is next door with regular tours to see Old Faithful and some of the park’s 10,000 hot springs. The old town, with its cowboy bars and rustic stores, is a picture-postcard step back in time, while the swank spas at the base of the slopes provide the ultimate pampering experience.

Heavenly, South Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada, is a one-of-a-kind winter destination with a resort that straddles two states. The lakeside town claims a half-dozen casinos with gambling, all-night dancing, gourmet restaurants and headline performers every evening. In the mountains, visitors find hot-air ballooning, snowmobiling and dog sledding-to say nothing of the spectacular view of Lake Tahoe. Shopping ranges from upscale boutiques and art galleries to an extensive collection of factory outlets.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, has so much off-slope activity that most people don’t realize it has trails that drop down from more than 12,000 feet. Its art and history museums are some of the best in the country, eight Indian pueblos welcome visitors on the outskirts of town, and the town is a center for spa treatments. More than 250 art galleries sell everything from Native American jewelry to Georgia O’Keefe originals. Santa Fe is also the home of southwestern cuisine, which blends native ingredients with Spanish and Indian cooking cultures to create very distinctive meals.

Park City, Utah, Trails from three resorts (Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons) drop into this restored mining town. Utah is known for its deep, feather-light powder snow, but there is far more to enjoy than skiing and snowboarding. Hurtle down the 2002 Olympic bobsled track. Go hot-air ballooning, skating, winter fly-fishing or tubing. Dine at one of more than a hundred restaurants, or luxuriate at a spa. Park City is home to the Sundance Film Festival and hosts a weekend film series; it is a center of Utah’s art community. Salt Lake City, with its historic buildings and famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is only 45 minutes away.

At a good ski resort, there are no irreconcilable differences. So pack up your non-skiing friend and head out to the snow, confident that the destination will be a sure hit all around.

Charles Leocha is nationally-recognized expert on saving money and the publisher of Tripso. He is also the Boston-based author of "SkiSnowboard America & Canada." or . Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting .

Charles Leocha is the author of “” (World Leisure, $21.95).