2001 Number 18 Resort in North America: Big Sky, Mont.

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Big Sky's spirit-cleansing wildness draws universal raves as one of the most scenic and least crowded resorts in America. "Beautiful setting, awesome views, no liftlines," is the reaction of many readers. Of course, the remoteness (an hour's drive from Bozeman's airport) that creates these idyllic conditions cuts both ways. One reader, summing up the dilemma, lauds the "proximity to Yellowstone Park (20 minutes)," while lamenting the "proximity to nothing else!" But nearly everyone agrees Big Sky is well worth the trip. The resort is a bastion of old-fashioned Western charm surrounded by soaring mountains and 3,600 acres of slopes, from sickly steep Lone Peak to the family fare of Andesite Mountain. The compelling 4,380 vertical feet includes networks of go-everywhere greens (Mr. K and Pacifier) Daytona-style cruisers (Elk Park Ridge and Silverknife) and serious boarding topped off by a terrain park on Crazy Horse. Big Sky's big news this year is nearly completed The Summit, a 10-story, $45-million hotel located in the Mountain Village. This sorely needed infusion of upscale lodging comes in an imposing neo-Western, chateau-styled building that dominates the still-maturing village it's destined to anchor. The Summit includes the Carabiner bar and the Peaks restaurant. Both have outdoor seating and ski-up access, addressing chronic complaints about on-mountain dining and the resort's notoriously limp nightlife. With an embarrassment of natural riches and a steady diet of capital upgrades recently, it's not hard to see why one Big Sky fan says: "The best all-around ski area I've ever seen."

WHAT'S NEW The Summit base development; The Cascade Lift, the area's 18th, adds a gentle green access run to area homes and lodging.

A GOOD DEAL Great Ski Week packages (includes lodging, lifts and breakfasts) run Dec. 10-24, Jan. 2-12 and March 24-April 1. Cost starts at $278. Call (800) 548-4486.

MEDALS GOLD Snow, Terrain, Challenge, Lifts, Scenery; SILVER Grooming, Value, Service, Weather, Lodging.

HIGH/LOW RANK Terrain (9), Lifts (9), Scenery (9); Après-Ski (57), Accessibility (61), Family Programs (65).

DON'T MISS The Grizzly Discovery Center, a tricked-up zoo with grizzlies and wolves, in nearby West Yellowstone (45-minute drive).

READER REMARKS (+) "Great snow and terrain, world-class skiing." (-) "Gondola belongs in a museum." "It can get mighty cold."