THE MOGUL Mouse may not have entirely replaced the ski bunny at Vermont ski resorts, but he and other fuzzy children's companions are an increasingly common sight on the slopes there.
More mice than bunnies, industry observers say, is just one indication of an important shift in demographics among Vermont skiers.
According to the Vermont Ski Areas Association, in the past 10 years the average winter vacation stay in the Green Mountain State has stretched from just over two days to nearly four. In addition, the average number of people making a trip to the slopes together has grown from 1.7 to 3. These changes, explains Candy Moot, associate director for the association, have come as skiing becomes a family affair.
"This is changing skiing quite significantly," Moot says. "People are likely to stay longer, and it's meant a dramatic increase in ski school programs and nurseries."
With skiing and winter tourism a major part of the state's economy, Vermont's experience almost certainly reflects similar changes at ski resorts throughout the country.
The state offers the most skiing available in the Eastern United States, with more than 900 slopes at 17 major resorts. Vermont has nine mountains with 2,000-foot-plus vertical drops and 12 mountains with at least 1,700-foot drops, second in the nation to Colorado (with 16) and ahead of California (11) and Utah (eight).
Vermont's lift capacity is also the highest in the East -- a total of 180 lifts, including 25 "quad chairs," can carry up to 200,000 skiers per hour.
At the Village at Smugglers' Notch, for example, which is home to the Mogul Mouse (a mogul is a ski term for a bump on the slopes), the resort's management company spent $1 million in 1987 to build a state-licensed nursery and day care center.
For the 1990-91 season, Smugglers' Notch has installed a $110,000 sledding area for children. Inner tubes used at the year-round resort's summer water slide -- the longest in Vermont, incidentally -- will double as wintertime sleds, notes Christopher Kroos, Smugglers' group vice president.
Vermont ski resorts frequently combine day care programs and skiing lessons for children. Stratton Mountain Resort has doubled its day care center from 80 slots to 160. As a result of this explosion in resort-managed nurseries and day care centers, Vermont has become the first state to promulgate regulations for such "non-recurring child care."
"The ski areas want to provide quality child care, and the state wants that, too," Moot says, adding that the regulations are quite strict, requiring monitoring of all a child's activities throughout the day. Such information can be important for parents, says Moot.
While skiing is considered an expensive sport, many resorts seek to make it financially attractive for parents to bring children along. Junior lift tickets often are free when purchased with an adult pass. And at Smugglers', a "FamilyFest" program "guarantees that kids have fun," says Kroos. "We have a saying here -- we have fun for kids and freedom for parents."
Under the FamilyFest program, children from 3 to 17 can be enrolled in three separate kids' camps, which include ski lessons as well as supervision. Smugglers' promises to refund the enrollment fee for any child who comes out of camp not smiling.
What has further helped to make skiing more fun for children, Kroos adds, is improvement in equipment.
"I can remember freezing on skis when I was a kid," the Minnesota native recalls. "Skiing safety and equipment are much better today. Children can ski more easily and stay warmer."
At Sugarbush Resort in Warren, the need to cater to families has brought dramatic changes this season. According to Sally Bray, Sugarbush public relations manager, the resort "is no longer focusing on spectator events. We're putting our energy on the guests."
New at Sugarbush are such participatory programs as snow volleyball, nighttime sledding for families and treasure hunts on the mountain.
At Stowe, which is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the first descent of Mount Mansfield by Nathaniel Goodrich, a Dartmouth College librarian, a snow playground is among the recently introduced attractions for children.
According to Michael Cobb, director of sales and marketing for the Mount Mansfield Co., the decision to develop so-called "fly-and-ski" packages with USAir came as a response to a noted shrinking of free time for families where both parents are working.
In any comparison with Western U.S. skiing areas, Vermont may also differ in its new-found emphasis on families. Popular resorts such as Aspen and Deer Valley retain their images as meeting rounds for singles, says Smugglers' Christopher Kroos.
"You're not going to find Bingo Nights at Aspen or Deer Valley," he notes.
Snow bunnies venturing to Vermont can take heart, though, for they are hardly forgotten at Killington Ski Resort, the state's largest.
"We're known as a hot spot for single skiers, but we're also real popular with families because we have so much available," says Laura Wittern, director of Killington's news bureau.
Killington features such special adults-only packages as its "Champagne Ski Weeks," which begin with a champagne reception mountainside and allow diners free glasses of champagne at area restaurants.
And for the first time this year, Killington has opened all its trails to snowboarders, whose sport combines skateboarding and skiing. Until this season, Killington had limited "shredding" -- the slang term for snowboarding -- but conceded the point when it became clear how popular snowboarding is among teen-agers.
"If we think we're missing anybody," Wittern says with a laugh, "we jump right on the bandwagon."
For general information on skiing in Vermont, write the Vermont Travel Division, Department PK, 134 State St., Montpelier, Vt. 05602, telephone (802) 828-3236, or the Vermont Ski Areas Association, P.O. Box 368, Montpelier, Vt. 05602, telephone (802) 223-2439.
The Vermont Snowline, telephone (802) 229-0531, provides updated ski condition reports 24 hours a day from Nov. 1 to June 1.
A brochure highlighting Vermont fly/drive vacation packages (in conjunction with USAir) is available by contacting your local travel agent, a participating Vermont ski resort, the Vermont Ski Areas Association or the Vermont Travel Division.
For information on ski resorts mentioned in this article:
Killington Ski Resort, Killington, Vt. 05751, telephone (802) 773-1330.
Smugglers' Notch, Smugglers' Notch, Vt. 05464, telephone (802) 451-8752 or (802) 644-8851.
Stowe, Stowe, Vt. 05672, telephone (800) 253-4SKI or (802) 253-7311.
Stratton, Stratton Mountain, Vt. 05155, telephone (800) 843-6867 or (802) 297-2200.
Sugarbush, Warren, Vt., 05674, telephone (800) 53SUGAR or (802) 583-2381.