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Learn a new winter sport for free (or for very little money)

Snow-shoeing classes across the US absolutely free, plus a very inexpensive snow-boarding weekend
Image: Snow-shoeing
Snow-shoe the slopes this winterGetty Images
/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

When it comes to winter sports, skiing still reigns supreme. Last year, approximately 57.6 downhillers hit the slopes, of which 71 percent were skiiers and 29 percent snowboarders, according to the National Ski Areas Association. But the number of snowboarders is starting to climb: according to the Association, there was a 5.1 percent rate of growth for the sport during the 2002/2003 winter season. Since 1988, the number of snowboarders has quadrupled from 1.3 million to 5.6 million boarders.

It remains primarily a young person’s sport with 68 percent of boarders under the age of 25. But there have been industry attempts to expand the market to persons of all ages.

One of the most ingenious has to be the upcoming “Snowboarding weekend” in Tahoe. For one weekend only, Dec. 5 and 6, would-be boarders will be treated to snowboarding lessons, gear rental and lift tickets for just $20/day. Considering that lift ticket prices alone at these resorts can range between $48 and $59/day in season, this is one heckuva deal. Five ski resorts are involved —Alpine Meadows, Boreal, Diamond Peak, Homewood Mountain Resort, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Mt. Rose, Squaw Valley, and Sugar Bowl—and while no reservations are required, planners are suggesting that participants show up early in the day to ensure a place in class.

For more information go to or call 888/434-1262.

Doing the Old Snowshoe

While snowshoeing may not have the cachet of snowboarding, it’s a great low-impact aerobic work-out, and can be done anywhere (no sharply angled slopes required). About one million Americans identify themselves as snow-shoers, not a big number in the world of winter sports, so to try and entice more people into the sport, a coalition of do-gooder health promoters and gear manufacturers have come up with the “Winter Feels Good” campaign. They’ve created a website crammed with depressing statistics on obesity and helpful hints on clothing, gear and classes. Best of all, as in years past, the group will be sponsering free snowshoeing days across the nation.

The main focus of this celebration is education (and some uninhibited plugging by the manufacturers of snowshoes). Participants will learn the basics of snowshoeing, orienteering, winter safety, cold weather dressing and in certain locales ice sculpture, skijoring and dog sledding. Educational seminars and guided walks will be led by representatives of local community and nature centers. There will also be games for kids and adults, and in some instances, prizes. Though most of these events are completely free, you will be asked to put down a deposit by credit card or cash to demo the equipment in some situations. As long as you return the snowshoes (and they’re in one piece!), you won’t be charged a dime.

Most of the events will be held on Jan. 17 beginning at about 9 am. The locales are:

  • Hope Valley, California (Tahoe area).
  • Estes Park, Colorado (unlike the others, this event is held on Feb. 14).
  • Westin, Massachusetts
  • Roscommon, Michigan
  • High Point, New Jersey
  • Lake Placid, New York
  • White Pine Touring Center, Utah
  • Wintergreen Resort, Virginia
  • Snoqualmie Pass, Washington

All the events are free though at some spots you’ll have to pay an entrance or parking fee to a state or national park.

There are also affiliated two-hour events for folks who just want to try on snowsoes; these take place throughout January and Feburary in a number of cities in California, Maine, Colorado, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming. For full information, go to