2001 Number 12 Resort in North America: Big Mountain, Mont.

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The view from the 7,000-foot summit of Big Mountain is a 360-degree, full-sensory experience. A scattering of icy lakes glints to the south. Great swaths of dark forests march due west toward Idaho. And you can see, feel and smell the swell of high, cold mountains in every direction. Canada is only an hour's drive northwest, and the deep vastness of Glacier National Park is a similar distance to the northeast. "Fabulous scenery," one reader says, then adds "when you can actually see it." There is really only one consistent complaint about the resort, and skiers spell it "F-O-G," often followed by several exclamation points. One hardcore begrudgingly admits it's "not the sunniest place I've been to." Another reader is blunter, calling it "nasty, cloudy and gray." But the flip side is heaps of snow. Locals declare a drought if Big Mountain doesn't get eight inches a night (it averages 330 inches per year). This makes for endless powder in the trees of the North Side, great groomers like Inspiration and Russ' Street and enough coverage to open the saucy steeps of East Rim and Hell-Roaring Basin. Big Mountain's underused 3,000 acres of bounty is considered both "a best-kept secret" and an "excellent value" (lodging rates average less than $100/night for two, in high season, slopeside). Nearby Whitefish (15 minutes) is a charming and genuine frontier town that one reader compliments for its "quaint Western feel, like Aspen 30 years ago." Its many lodges, restaurants and bars keep prices competitive and fill in the village's gaps in amenities and nightlife.

WHAT'S NEW The Thrill Sled off Chair 3, near the halfpipe. It's a modified luge run, $9/ride or three for $24.

A GOOD DEAL The $44 lift ticket keeps you skiing until 9 pm. Better still: The Village Lift is always free, as are tickets for beginners and kids 6 and under.

MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge, Value, Scenery; SILVER Snow, Lifts, Service, Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining.

HIGH/LOW RANK Value (7), Service (13), Scenery (17); Family Programs (43), Accessibility (51), Weather (65).

DON'T MISS The free daily mountain tours. They meet at the lower terminal of the Glacier Chaser Chair every morning at 10 am.

READER REMARKS (+) "Great value. A big mountain with few people, almost like backcountry skiing." "Very laid-back and fun." (-) "Not easily accessible." "No nightlife on mountain. A little behind on all services."