Drive or fly? The answer probably depends on where one wants to ski or ride.
Driving offers wide choice in many parts of the country, where large population centers are within a few hours of the mountains. Residents of New England, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, for examples, have a wide choice of top resorts within driving distance.
Driving is easier to do on short notice, when the snow is good and the mood strikes.
Skiers and riders who want to hop regions, say Easterners who want to visit the Rockies, should probably forget the car and catch a plane, unless time is no issue and you enjoy driving across the wintry plains.
As one observer of travel trends noted last season, the price of an airline ticket is just where the cost of flying starts. Add in baggage fees, seat preference fees, food fees, movie fees, headset fees, airport taxes, parking, and pretty soon you're talking about "real money." (Apologies to the late Sen. Everett Dirksen.)
Travel professionals noted a shift to short-distance travel and short-lead time bookings over by the mid-2000s. People were hitting the slopes, but often the slopes were closer to home than in previous winters. Skiers and riders were unwilling to give up their skiing and riding time, but were choosing to spend that time at resorts within driving distance.
Destinations are working to make the longer trek worthwhile.
Drive-to resorts have been huge winners during the recession-driven seasons of 2008-09 and 2009-10 in terms of attracting skiers and riders in a weak economy. They are a major reason skier and rider visits have remained strong overall when many other sectors of travel and leisure have tanked.
Choosing to drive comes with caveats.
Winter driving often is no picnic. The same weather conditions that drive the sport, that is cold and snow, also make roads slippery and dangerous. Destinations tend to be in the mountains, reached by roads of variable quality.
Check the weather before setting out for road closings and traffic advisories.
Western states require chains in certain conditions on certain roads, usually over mountains.
Drivers in every snow state should have basic gear on or in their vehicles for winter driving.
Drivers should make sure their cars have snow tires or all-weather tires.
A winter gear box should include blankets, flashlights, extra antifreeze, jumper cables, and flares or reflectors.
Run through a checklist before you set out: oil, coolant, tire pressure, full tank of gasoline.
Drive carefully on winter roads, at slower speed, with more anticipation.