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Just in Time: Five Winter Vacation Bargains

The slowing economy doesn't mean you have to be holed up at home. With the global travel industry discounting like mad to heat up business in this winter of our discontent, there are great bargains to be had, domestically and overseas, in the sun and in the snow.

Here are five great winter vacations that won't break the budget.

Whistler/Vancouver, Canada: The Canadian dollar has retreated from parity with the greenback to 82 U.S. cents, making British Columbia's winter wonderland a bargain once again. Vancouver glistens with brand-new hotels such as the stylish boutique Loden and the luxury high-rise Shangri-la. The latter offers a sumptuous, Asian-inspired CHI Spa. Only 75 miles away, Whistler sits amid the sites of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. Those facilities are being test-driven now during World Cup winter sports competition. Whistler sporting events continue into March, and tickets are available at great rates. An all-day pass for the four-man bobsled competition on Feb. 7 goes for just US$4. If you'd rather be out there yourself on fresh powder with skis or snowboard, this Canadian mountain redoubt features 200 marked runs, 13 alpine bowls, three glaciers and five terrain parks, serviced by 38 lifts.

Belo Horizonte/Ouro Preto, Brazil: It's summertime south of the equator, remember. Besides, most of Brazil is in the tropics, where it's always warm. Brazil is very affordable, especially in engaging, below-the-radar spots such as Belo Horizonte, this big country's third-biggest city, and Ouro Preto, a fixed-in-amber Portuguese colonial town. Both are in mountainous southeast Brazil in the state of Minas Gerais. American Airlines started flying to Belo Horizonte in November from Miami, and the airline is offering deals. Round-trip travel between Miami and Belo Horizonte in early February starts at $373 with economy super-savers and goes to $3,766 for American's newly upgraded business class. Minas Gerais ("general mines,'' after the state's historical industry) has unearthed a true travel gem in Ouro Preto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 90 minutes by car from Belo Horizonte. Set on verdant green hills speckled with red-roofed houses, centuries-old Baroque churches and South America's oldest working opera house, Ouro Preto sparkles. Few hotels break $100 a night, and the food (barbecued beef, pork, rice, heady cocktails) is reasonably priced and good.

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