PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- The Hathorn family used to head for the hills after work every Friday for a full weekend of skiing.
Those days are long gone, replaced basketball practice, soccer practice and games for Scarborough High School junior Heather Hathorn.
The 16-year-old's frenetic schedule demonstrates one of the biggest concerns for the nation's ski resorts: Many families that have the money to ski simply don't have the time, or they choose to do other things.
On the bright side, snowboarding is growing in popularity at the same time that children of baby boomers are reaching their teens. The convergence may be the industry's first opportunity for growth in more than a decade.
Attracting ''echo boomers'' while they are teen-agers may be the difference between growth and continuing flat ticket sales, said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association in Colorado.
''If we let this opportunity slip by, it's not going to happen again anytime soon,'' Berry said. ''I think we recognize that.''
The last big boom for the $10 billion ski industry was when baby boomers themselves hit the slopes in the 1970s. While the years that followed have been flat, the ski industry noticed an important change in demographics about six years ago: the number of younger skiers had begun to grow.
The industry sees this echo boom as a pool of 72 million potential skiers. But hooking them will not be easy.
For one thing, they have a wide range of entertainment options -- from youth hockey to basketball to indoor tennis to surfing the Internet. People consistently cite the time crunch, more than expense, as the main reason they do not ski, Berry said.
Surveys also show families are more stressed out than ever when it comes to vacation options, which include sunny beaches, theme parks and cruises, said Jim Spring, president of Leisure Trend Groups in Colorado.
The biggest obstacle of all may be cable TV and the Internet, which have made teen-agers increasingly sedentary.
''The optimists say we're on the brink of something absolutely terrific, this echo-boom generation,'' said David Rowan, founder and editor of Ski Area Management Magazine.
''But are they as likely to become skiers and snowboarders as their parents were? The answer is no,'' he said.
American Skiing Co., one of the nation's biggest ski area operators, always has been aggressive about going after new skiers. The industry already offers free ski passes to fifth-graders in Maine, New York, Utah, Colorado and California and to fourth-graders in New Hampshire.
Randy Dunican, who owns Mount Abram ski area in Locke Mills, said it is critical to lure teens to stop the graying of the sport.
''When you look at the mean average age of the skiers, they're getting older every day,'' Dunican said. ''And there are a lot more older ones than young ones.''
Surveys by Spring's Leisure Trend Groups suggest the number of people taking up skiing is overtaking the number leaving the sport, at least for the last two years.
That's heartening for the country's 509 ski resorts.
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