January is learn to ski and snowboard month and many ski areas in the Northeast are, literally, giving away very low cost (sometimes free!) beginner lift, lesson rental packages to try to encourage more people to try skiing and snowboarding for the first time. There’s even a "Bring A Friend" challenge (bringafriend.org) where you can sign up and possibly win some amazing prizes just for getting your friends to try skiing or riding for the first time.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a "one stop shop" which lists all of the areas participating in learn to ski month. The website (skiandsnowboardmonth.org) lets you register and points you toward local ski hills, but doesn’t do much to help you find a program. You have to go digging. n Ski NH (www.skinh.com) is aggressively promoting the concept and has a web page (skinh.com/ski-central/learn-to-ski-and-snowboard/NHfreeweek.aspx) with all the details on which resorts are participating and what is being offered.

n Ski Vermont (skivermont.com) also has a complete listing of $29 package deals at (skivermont.com/events-and-deals/program-learn) with most of the state’s resorts participating.

n Ski NY (iskiny.com) has a page of learn To Ski program participants at iskiny.com/ski-deals/learn-ski-snowboard).

n Ski Maine (skimaine.com) also has a list of participating area at skimaine.com/learn) though they don’t tell you what the deals are.

In Massachusetts and Connecticut, your best bet is to simply look on the website of the nearest ski area. In Massachusetts, the going price seems to be $75-79 for a beginner package.

In any case, getting someone (even yourself) out on skis or a snowboard for the first time is about the best gift you can give. Try it!

Perfect Pats

I always recommend that you start your ski season close to home. You don’t need a big, expensive, far-away mountain to get your legs in shape for a long winter.

My local mountain is Pats Peak (1-888-728-7732; patspeak.com) in Henniker, N.H. I’ve been there twice now and conditions before the recent rain storm were absolutely fabulous. They had lots of snow stockpiled from the cold nights in mid-December, the groomers ready to go, and I fully expect them to recover quickly from the recent bout of nasty, wet weather.

They’ve got a whole new Cascade Basin area open with a triple chairlift and some of the nicest beginner and intermediate terrain around. And the front-side trails are just as steep as they were last year. If you haven’t skied Pats, check out their POP (Pay One Price) Saturday nights, where you get lifts, lesson tip and rental gear, plus snowtubing and entertainment from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. for $49, one of the best bargains in New England skiing and riding. Details here: (patspeak.com/lift_rate.htm)

Ice storm fallout

The pre-Christmas ice storm hit some areas pretty hard, didn’t touch others. Mont Sutton (montsutton.com) just over the border in Quebec apparently took the worst hit, losing power for a couple of days. Good news, though, they were back up and running on Christmas Eve with snow in the forecast. You can’t keep a good ski area down for long.