HUNTINGTON LAKE, Calif. -- Skiers cut through a fresh dusting of snow, their skis hissing softly against the powder as they crisscross down the slopes, then grind to a halt at the icy base of the Sierra Summit resort where Richard Shimizu is taking a break.
Although the ski resort is in Fresno County, where almost half the population is made up of minorities, most people crunching past Shimizu in their ski boots are white. It's a scene repeated in ski resorts across the country, where only three out of 20 skiers or snowboarders are minorities, according to marketing researchers.
"You see some Asian people sometimes, but few blacks and few Hispanics," said Shimizu, who is Japanese-American. "It's changing, but still there's a big difference. We used to never think about things like ethnicity. Now people pay more attention."
After years of stagnation in the 1990s, when the number of days skiers and snowboarders spent on the slopes stayed the same even as the population grew, some resorts are trying to attract ethnic groups.
As the nation's demographic profile changes, the industry's future lies in part in its ability to reach kids whose parents don't ski - and who may have never seen snow before, said Bill Jensen, incoming chairman of the National Ski Areas Association, which represents 332 alpine resorts.
"These groups are the fastest-growing population segments in the country," Jensen said of minorities. "With the aging of the baby boom generation, this is what our customers will look like in 20, 30 years."
Resorts are advertising in Chinese newspapers, translating informational brochures into Spanish and introducing children from rural schools or urban centers to a sport they may only have seen on TV.
Change has been slow on the slopes, but it's happening. In 1999-2000, minorities made up 10 percent of skiers or snowboarders, but figures for this year indicate the number has grown to about 15 percent, according to surveys by the Leisure Trends Group, a Colorado market research firm.
Sierra Summit has put out information in Spanish and has some Spanish-speaking ski instructors. By working with schools in the San Joaquin Valley, the resort is also bringing in a steady stream of kids who grew up just out of reach of the snowcapped peaks.
For $20 per day, students can get rental equipment, a ski lesson, lunch and a lift ticket - a package officials at the resorts hope will give them a taste for snow.
It worked for Dietrich Goodwin, a Fresno senior who went snowboarding.
"Yeah, I'll come back," he said. "The speed you catch coming down the mountain - it's kind of like skateboarding, the turning, everything, but you can go so much faster. It's cool."
HOTELS: Five diamonds from AAA
Ten hotels have been added to the list of lodgings and eateries receiving AAA's highest rating, five diamonds. The additions will be listed in the automobile association's 2007 TourBook guides and on AAA.com. The lodgings earning five-diamond awards for the first time were: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Ojai, Calif.; Falling Rock at Nemacolin Woods, Farmington, Pa.; Four Seasons Hotel Miami; The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina; The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation, Greensboro, Ga.; Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole - Teton Village in Wyoming; Skylofts at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and Wynn Las Vegas; and in Mexico, Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort, Nuevo Vallarta, and Occidental Royal Hideaway Resort & Spa, Playa del Carmen.
EUROPE: French want smoke-free rooms
Gone are the days of joking that the two seating sections in French public spaces are "smoking" and "chain smoking." A recent survey of more than 12,000 hotel guests in Europe found that nearly 72 percent of French hotel guests prefer a smoke-free environment, even beyond their room, suggesting that the French may embrace their planned 2008 public smoking ban. This year's J.D. Power & Associates European Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study also revealed that 69 percent of hotel guests across Europe prefer a nonsmoking environment, not far off from the 79 percent of hotel guests in North America wanting smoke-free hotels.
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
The top 10 resorts
The top North American resorts, from the readers of SKI Magazine:
1. Vail, Colo. 2. Deer Valley, Utah 3. Snowmass, Colo. 4. Whistler/Blackcomb, British Columbia 5. Park City, Utah 6. Breckenridge, Colo. 7. Aspen, Colo. 8. Beaver Creek, Colo. 9. Steamboat, Colo. 10. Sun Valley, Idaho
GEAR & GADGETS
Long flights, cramped car rides, or hours on your feet are the stuff of sore backs. This new inflatable knee pillow takes the pressure off the lower back, hips and knees while you are lying down. Because it is contoured in the middle, the pillow stays in place when you move in your sleep. It can be inflated to a choice of firmness, providing custom comfort levels. Made of flocked vinyl, the pillow comes with a vinyl pouch and stashes easily in tiny spaces. It can also be used as a neck pillow or for back support in a car or airplane seat. Inflatable Knee Pillow is $11.95 at mcnaughtoninc.com; 800-423-5487.
Stewardess (Chronicle Books; $14.95 hardcover)
There was a time when flight attendants were smartly coiffed fashion plates admired for their poise, intelligence and sex appeal. They were called stewardesses then, women all. And it may sound foolish now, but there was a time when these jobs were highly coveted, at least until the girls - it was still OK to call women "girls" back then - found a husband. Through vintage photographs and advertisements, Stewardess: Come Fly With Me! resurrects the excitement and glamour of flight from the days when flying was something extraordinary and people actually looked forward to it.