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by Marvin McDaniel

Skiing is the most popular active vacation, and every year more and more first-timers are heading for the slopes. Here are some tips for beginners and seasoned skiers that will help make your vacation go smoothly.

Altitude. Because many ski mountains rise to 14,000 feet and most of the ski resorts, on average, are more than 8,000 feet high, air is thinner and less oxygen is available. Skiers are sometimes susceptible to a temporary condition called high-altitude illness.

The root cause of high-altitude illness is a lack of oxygen. The symptoms include a headache, a touch of nausea, and an unusual feeling of tiredness or shortness of breath.

One of the most important things visitors to the high country should know about high-altitude illness is that it's almost totally preventable and can be significantly minimized by following these simple guidelines from the Colorado Altitude Research Institute: Exercise in moderation the first few days; drink more water than usual; reduce alcohol intake (alcohol has a greater effect at high altitude); eat food high in carbohydrates (grains, pasta, fruit and vegetables) and avoid salty foods.

Altitude illness is usually a minor problem and preventable most visitors generally feel more comfortable within 48 hours however, it can be a serious problem if the symptoms are ignored.

Clothing. Staying warm and comfortable on the slopes is easy. The best clothing is water-resistant, layered clothing that can be removed or added with weather changes. If your clothes are not water-resistant, a water repellent spray can be applied in a few minutes. Remember, weather can change day-to-day or even hour-to-hour, so be prepared with the proper clothes for any type of weather condition.

Ultraviolet rays. Ultraviolet rays are more powerful at the resort's higher elevations. A good pair of goggles or sunglasses that not only cut glare, but filter the ultraviolet rays is strongly recommended. Also, regardless of your skin color or complexion, everyone needs to wear a protective sunscreen, even on overcast days, since ultraviolet rays can penetrate cloud cover.

Conditioning. Don't try to ski yourself into shape. Start your ski vacation early by taking a few weeks to condition at home before hitting the slopes. Once you arrive, begin by warming up with stretching exercises, and then ski the first day or so on trails that are just below your ability level. By pre-conditioning, warming up and pacing yourself, chances of injury are reduced.

When it comes to excellent skiing conditions, Colorado's Winter Park Resort leads the pack. With more snow annually than any other major resort, skiers can count on plenty of snow blanketing the slopes.

Many first-time visitors are surprised to discover Winter Park's vast terrain. The four interconnected mountains and high alpine peaks are spread out over 134 trails on 2,886 acres of Colorado land. The slopes are also connected by a network of 20 chair lifts, promising a smooth, quick ride for all who embark.

When it comes to ski trails, Winter Park's variety of terrain caters to every ability. The 25-acre Discovery Park is the ideal spot to learn and practice the basics of skiing. The bunny hills have launched many a first-time skier to the big-league slopes.

Once skiers are ready to move on to the next level, Winter Park Mountain and the Vasquez Ridge offer miles and miles of wide-open and challenging trails for the intermediate skier to enjoy some laid-back cruising.

For advanced and expert skiers seeking the ultimate challenge, Winter Park Resort's notorious Mary Jane Mountain is what they are looking for. It provides advanced skiers amazingly long, thigh-burning bump runs, vertical chutes and steep glades. Winter Park is nestled at the base of the Continental Divide at the east end of the Fraser Valley.

With the surrounding mountain expanses and breathtaking scenery, visitors often get the feeling that they are far away from the hassles of city life.

Even though Winter Park has grown to become one of the largest ski areas in the country, it has maintained its reputation as Colorado's favorite ski resort. The big draw is the area's down-home comfort. Visitors come back year after year.

Traveling with children reminder. A trip overseas can be an enriching experience for kids, but be sure that your youngster stays safe from the sometime peculiar regulations that govern travel with children to other countries.

First, children who are U.S. citizens will need their own passports. Second, if a child is traveling with only one parent or grandparents, documentation in the form of a letter or other legal material that states the child is being escorted by these guardians with the consent of the parents must be provided. Regulations often apply to children traveling with only one partner.

(Marvin McDaniel, CTC, is president of Carlson Wagonlit Travel/Carlson Travel Network.)

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