People's Bank of Bridgeport, Conn., is hitting the slopes this fall with a new cobranding partner, the U.S. Ski Team.

The thrift is marketing the U.S. Ski Team Visa card to fans who not only participate in the sport but also want to contribute to the cause.

People's, the 25th-largest issuer of bank credit cards, markets several affinity programs, including a Visa card tied in with the National Rifle Association.

The ski deal is the highest-profile that People's has signed since it began working with cobranding partners one year ago. Its first ventures were with the discount clothing retailers T.J. Maxx and Marshall's, offering rebates of up to 5% on purchases made with the People's Visa cards.

People's is promoting the ski card as a "lifestyle product," comparing it with other leisure-oriented specialty cards. Examples include First USA Bank cards aimed at jazz fans and motorcycle enthusiasts.

"Skiing connotes a very active lifestyle," said Jack Curry, vice president of marketing for People's Bank and himself an avid participant.

Consumers can choose from two card designs, one showing a downhill racer, the other a freestyle skier.

Skiing, Mr. Curry said, is a natural fit for card issuers who want to attract consumers with high balances. "It is not an inexpensive sport, and people who ski are spenders," he said.

Cardholders can earn points toward ski team-related merchandise, and People's is donating a portion of its sales volume to the U.S. Ski Team.

Jeffrey Baxter, principal of S.J. Baxter & Associates, Forest Hill, Md., said it would have been cheaper for People's Bank simply to issue a generic card targeted to skiers. Therefore, the thrift must have viewed its partner as adding brand value.

"They have to share revenue with the U.S. Ski Team," Mr. Baxter said. Nothing would stop another issuer from coming forward with a broader type of skiing rewards card that might attract a wider audience, he said.

The no-fee product is debuting with an interest rate of 5.9% for six months. It then climbs to a fixed 15.9%.

New cardholders are awarded 1,000 bonus points. After that, five points are awarded for every $1 of card purchases at selected merchants, including Ski Barn, Aspen Ski Tours, and Avis Rent-A-Car.

Cardholders also receive a point for every $1 charged on other Visa purchases.

After 2,500 points are amassed, they can be redeemed for items like U.S. Ski Team T-shirts or autographed posters. By stockpiling 250,000 points, a cardholder can earn a seven-day ski vacation for two with private transportation.

Those who apply for the card before Dec. 10 will automatically be entered to win one of two expenses-paid trips to the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, where Visa is a corporate sponsor and the U.S. Ski Team will be going for gold.

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