How ski resorts are fighting the continuing Great Recreation Depression

Speaking from Loveland Ski Area, the first in the state to open for the 2009-2010 season, Jennifer Rudolph is enthusiasm made flesh, which makes perfect sense given that she's the communication director for Colorado Ski Country USA, whose mission is to urge anyone and everyone to head for the hills in these parts. Still, she admits to some uncertainty about how many schussers from other locales will travel to Colorado amid the second year in the ongoing fiscal downturn. "People are still planning destination vacations about three months out, giving them plenty of time," she says. "But because they're booking close in, it's hard to tell where the needle will fall."

No wonder so many resorts are trying to lure reluctant out-of-staters with aggressively priced packages.

Rudolph cites two prime examples. First up is "The Grandest Christmas," offered by Crested Butte Mountain Resort -- four nights accommodations at the area's Grand Lodge and three days of skiing for a family of four for under $1,000. "They wrapped in everything they could, from lodging to lift tickets to rentals," she says

As for Purgatory, near Durango, it's tempting tight-budgeted skiers with time off during the Christmas holidays with a promotion called "Buy 3, Get the 4th Free." As Rudolph explains, "Whether it's lift tickets or hotel rooms or days of rental equipment, if you buy three, you get the fourth free."

Expect more deals like this, especially if the season starts soft despite cooperative weather of the sort that seems to be on the way this weekend. "Resorts want to keep skiing attainable in this economy," Rudolph says -- and that won't be easy.