Crunch time for ski resorts over the next few weeks is much easier this year, thanks to the unprecedented back-to-back severe winter storms that have pounded the East Coast. In industry lingo it's called the "Backyard Syndrome," which means that if people see snow around their homes, they are overtaken by a desire to ski or snowboard. Operators say that people typically avoid the slopes when they don't see snow.Millions of people throughout the Mid-Atlantic region have seen more than their fair share of the wintry wonderland, which has given them the urge to play outside as snow records fall like snowflakes. "It's a psychological phenomenon," says Ed Stahl, executive director of the Stowe Area Association, a local chamber of commerce around the Vermont ski resort, adding that the improving economy also has helped business as well. "Last year, the consumer was flat-out scared of the economy. It has moved to `very concerned.'"

Resorts are relying on package deals to attract visitors. For instance, vacationers can stay at the lodge near Stowe starting at $215 per night, including lift tickets during the Feb. 19 weekend. Packages in Bennington, Vermont sell for less than $100 a night during the week, including some meals.

For people to avail themselves of these deals, they have to be able to leave their homes, which is not possible in many parts of the country. Record snowfall has pounded the I-95 corridor since the weekend. The weather continues to be miserable.

As the Weather Channel noted, "the combination of wind and snow (both falling and blowing) will lead to blizzard or near-blizzard conditions along a corridor from Washington, D.C. to New York City to Southern New England. Blizzard warnings have been issued for portions of this area."

The President's Day holiday and upcoming school vacations mean big business for winter recreation resorts. Some vacation areas in Vermont already have waiting lists for lodging, says Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, a trade group. Resorts in the state did a strong business over the Christmas holiday season and the Martin Luther King birthday holiday in January.

"President's weekend bookings are solid," he says, adding that he is hopeful that this season's visitor total will "come out ahead" of the 4.1 million the previous season.

Officials from the ski industry got to see the weather situation in the Northeast for themselves. The National Ski Areas Association, a trade association, held a trade show and conference this week in Mt. Snow, Vermont. Attendees were in an "upbeat" mood, according to spokesman Troy Hawks.

"There is cautious optimism that we are going to finish the season strong," he says, adding that this season may be among the top the industry has seen.

First, though, the ski industry executives will have to be able to find their way from Vermont. Many flights have been canceled and roads are treacherous because of what some have dubbed snowmageddon. On the bright side, this means more time to hit the slopes.

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