Some of Aspen Highlands' biggest assets come literally out of the sky. The famously cooperative Western Slope weather produces an endless supply of bluebird days while conveniently piling up powder by night. Other Highlands' pluses are also gifts of nature: the showy scenery of the Elk mountain range and the perfect contours of the mountain as reflected in skiing masterpieces such as Highland Bowl. "Steeplechase area is unbelievable-great snow and challenging," enthuses one reader. Other components of the resort's 16th ranking are mostly man-made: the superbly efficient lift system, the new Aspen Highlands Village emerging at the base and the noticeable dearth of people. A reader sums it up with "great terrain, great scenery, small crowds." Highlands has been underutilized for years, much to the delight of tight-lipped locals and crafty visitors (last year saw only 127,389 skier days, less than neighboring Buttermilk). With the new lifts and terrain expansion of recent years, why do people stay away? "Still under construction, a little disheveled right now," observes one of many readers. The payoff is that there will be restaurants and bars at the base for the first time in years. In the meantime, the endlessly sybaritic amenities of Aspen are only five minutes away, with outstanding dining and almost as many bars as realtors. And Aspen or Snowmass is where you'll have to go for lodging, too, because the village still doesn't include anything you can rent. As one reader notes, "the lack of additional amenities will continue to make this a locals' mountain." Huzzah to that.
WHAT'S NEW The Ritz-Carlton Club fractional ownership residences and penthouses, plus a slopeside restaurant and bar.
A GOOD DEAL The ski school's "Beginner Magic" program: three days of lifts, lessons and equipment for $219.
MEDALS GOLD Snow, Terrain, Challenge, Weather, Scenery; SILVER Grooming, Lifts, Service, Dining, Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities.
HIGH/LOW RANK Weather (2), Snow (5), Terrain (8); Lodging (50), Value (52), Family Programs (70).
DON'T MISS More than 65 kilometers of free cross-country skiing trails, reaching from Aspen to Snowmass and meticulously groomed for both traditional and skating techniques.
READER REMARKS (+) "The whole area is fantastic. It has everything." (-) "If you aren't upper intermediate or above, it will kick your ass."