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Assuming skiers rush the slopes again. . .

Are you really coming back, all you skiing dropouts? And will last season's surprising flock of first-timers remain ''skiers'' as the latest marketing surveys might indicate (statistics, it should be added, of which an apprehensive ski industry is highly skeptical)?

Well, let's assume last season's cold, snowy winter finally lured people out to play, and now they are anticipating a repeat performance with something less than dread. Let's assume that uncounted masses are wondering whether this winter they should try cross-country skiing. Or maybe they're debating whether they could afford a few days - even one day - of fun in the snow.

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We'll try to find practical answers to such questions this season, along with some tips from the experts. Should you buy new skis, and if so, how do you pick them? How to choose a ski resort that will actually leave you solvent? How to get in shape for skiing, particularly for those whose off-season exercise is limited to lifting forks and spoons? How to dress for the cold so that it makes sense, whether you're a cross-country skier or a toddler? Ways to cut costs so that a ski getaway is not impossible.

And, of course, we'll try to pass along a few of the better ideas on how to turn 'em, not that we're much closer to that elusive goal than we've ever been. It's just that we listen harder than we used to, providing, of course, the experts keep the jargon to a minimum.

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