Take Offs: No Skills Required

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Want to escape resort crowds but not quite ready to test your ski skills-or endurance-in the mighty backcountry? A less intimidating alternative is snowshoeing. It's the ideal way to get intimate with winter nature and increase fitness. And it's now available at most resorts. Beaver Creek, Colo. (970-476-5601; www.beavercreek.now.com), was one of the first resorts to set up a dedicated snowshoeing park on its mountain. McCoy Park, accessed by the Strawberry Park Express lift, has more than 15 miles of trails situated at 9,840 feet. Its terrain offers something for all levels of users, and those who want a true uphill slog have access to many of the resort's ski trails. At Sunday River, Maine, the Sunday River Inn (207-824-2410; www.sundayriverinn.com) runs an on-mountain snowshoeing program. It has almost five miles of marked and maintained trails that vary from flat to gently sloping. Wander solo or take a guided tour. On clear nights, an astronomer guides snowshoers while pointing out constellations. Every Sunday morning, a horticulturalist leads while teaching about indigenous plants and trees. At Mt. Bachelor, Ore. (541-382-2442, ext. 2210), there are more than 20 miles of groomed, maintained and patrolled trails. Climb to the summit of one of the Three Sisters, or wander gentle terrain. Northstar-at-Tahoe, Calif. (530-562-2475; www.skinorthstar.com), also has more than 20 miles of maintained trails and offers guided Full-Moon Tours, during which you hike out to a train caboose and make s'mores by a bonfire. Snowshoe rentals typically run $10-$15 for a half-day, $15-$20 for a full-day; the average cost for guided tours is $20. Bring your ski poles and dress in layers-you're guaranteed to work up a sweat. -NATALIE KURYLKO

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One in four people who are buried by an avalanche will die; 65 percent of those deaths result from suffocation; 25 percent from collisions; 10 percent from hypothermia and shock. Source: Willywaw's Avalanche Booklet