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With the Winter Olympics to begin in two weeks in Torino (Turin), Italy, that funny yet familiar "shushing" sound emanating from snow-covered mountain sides and hills - and heard nearly continuously this time of year in many cold-weather locales, from the Poconos to New England - can mean only one thing: Skis are slicing through snow and ice as the season is here again.
So, with skis and snowboards waxed and ready to "shush" away the day and, at many places, the well-lit night as well, there are dozens of nearby-to-northerly ski resorts where avid to amateur skiers may take to the snowy slopes to slide, slip and glide through the white stuff.
But before hitting the trails, what do the Poconos offer for the 2005-06 ski season?
According to Robert Uguccioni, executive director of the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau in Stroudsburg, Pa., its " 'Ski the Pocono Mountains' brochure lists descriptions of seven major ski areas in the region," he says of Alpine Mountain, Big Boulder, Blue Mountain, Camelback, Jack Frost, Shawnee and Ski Big Bear.
He also cites the value of www.Poconoski. com, "the region's premier ski, ride and stay Web site," with offers to win related ski packages.
At the 23 slopes at Shawnee Mountain Ski Area (570-421-7231; www.shawneemt.com), Shawnee on-Delaware, guests will discover "that the site is very family-friendly, that its Ski Wee program for young skiers is ranked nationally, and that overall service and hospitality are a top priority," says Barbara Fredericks, co-owner of the resort.
In addition to downhill skiing, Shawnee offers snowboarding and many other winter sports, such as ice-skating.
Meanwhile, at Big Boulder (570-722-0100), Lake Harmony, Pa., known for its spacious beginner slopes, skiers will find 15 slopes, and at Jack Frost (570-443-8425), in Blakeslee, 30 slopes. The two resorts share a Web site (www.jfbb.com).
Camelback (570-629-1861; www.skicamelback.com), in nearby Tannersville, offers 33 slopes and trails while Ski Big Bear (570-685-1400; wwwski-bigbear.com), in Lackawaxon, has 18 trails.
In New England, the skiing has been very good so far this season, says Beth Steucek, executive vice president of the more than 300-member New England Inns and Resorts Association, located in North Hampton, N.H.
"Skiing is a growing industry and family sport that continues to gain popularity, so with 139 members of the NEIRA offering cross-country skiing and 115 NEIRA members offering downhill skiing - either on site or within 10 miles of both groups' respective properties - I'm very optimistic about the 2005-06 ski season in New England," says Steucek.
At the 105-room Green Mountain Inn in Stowe, Vt. (1-800-253-7302), David Gameroff, who, along with his brother Simon, owns the 120-acre, year-round resort, says that "we always try to accommodate requests by our guests," and that for Jewish guests, special touches offered include matzah during Passover and the use of the inn's kitchen refrigerators for those who may bring their own food in connection with the observance of dietary laws.
Then there's the synagogue, "the town's first-ever, which was built in 2004 on ground donated by our family. The synagogue is used by the more than 200 Jewish families who live in Stowe, and is open to guests, as is the Jewish community center," says David Gameroff.
Besides skiing, the Green Mountain Inn offers snowboarding, snowmobiling and ski rentals.
Also in Stowe is the 140-room Topnotch Resort & Spa (1-800-451-8686), where the resort's managing director Dan Oberlander comments that this year, for the first time, the resort will offer a kosher-style Passover seder on April 12 and April 13.
Also, special arrangements can be made for Shabbat dinners anytime during the year, he adds.
The Jewish-owned resort - for the past 33 years by the Cummings family - offers a full range of outdoor winter activities that include skiing and dog-sledding.
While lift tickets for skiing on nearby Mount Mansfield are sold separately, there are packages, such as the "Heart's Desire" plan on Valentine's Day, which includes a sleigh ride, a full breakfast daily, and either a casual or elegant dinner nightly.
Among the very best ski resorts in New England and the country: Vermont's Killington Ski Resort in Killington and Sugarbush in Warren.
Killington (www.killington.com; 1-800-734-9435), the largest ski resort in the eastern United States, offers 200 trails that stretch over seven mountains. Sugarbush (www.sugarbush.com; 1-800-53-SUGAR) showcases more than 4,000 acres of snow-covered trails, where annual snowfall often exceeds 350 inches.