Holiday Valley is neither the biggest resort in New York (that would be Whiteface) nor the best known (Hunter Mountain). It is, however, the most popular (drawing more than 500,000 skiers during last season's banner winter) and has some of the best facilities and management in the East. With 750 feet of vertical you might yawn past this outpost in the state's far west, but "while it lacks vertical and challenge," says one reader, "the hill's layout is interesting and varied." Indeed, The Little Resort That Could makes up for its short stature with expansive breadth, stretching almost three miles from portal to portal. Its thoughtfully placed lifts and distinctive faces-yes, there are steeps (above the Yodeler Lodge) and glades (a fabulous stand of Norwegian spruce planted in the Thirties by the Civilian Conservation Corps near the Tannenbaum lift)-give it a variety lacking in most places of similar size. "It does all it can with what it has," says one reader. The resort's extensive snowmaking ensures a fine surface for a ski day that stretches a thigh-burning 14 hours on weekends, until 10:30 p.m. Its day lodges-architectural stand-outs graced with river stone and exposed timbers-are still welcoming of brown-baggers. And the 235 inches of lake-effect snow that squalled off Erie and Ontario last winter equaled the dump totals of even some famous Colorado resorts. But what makes a visit to Holiday Valley truly rewarding is the historic, bustling town of Ellicottville, just three miles from the mountain. Site of New York's first ropetow back in 1936, "the village is one of the best ski towns in North America," says a reader. Great restaurants like the Silver Fox and Tip's Up, boisterous bars like the Gin Mill and Foster's Pub, unique boutiques like Earth Arts and Kazoo II, first-rate ski shops like Mud, Sweat & Gears and a complete lack of chain stores make Ellicottville a great walking town.
WHAT'S NEW A fixed-grip quad to serve Yodeler steeps; 25 percent boost in snowmaking capacity; charming Edelweiss Inn completely rebuilt after fire destroyed main building.
A Good Deal Ski for free on Christmas Eve-a great family tradition.
MEDALS GOLD Après-Ski; SILVER Grooming, Lifts, Service, Lodging, Dining, Off-Hill Activities, Family Programs.
HIGH/LOW RANK Après-Ski (9), Dining (20), Grooming (28); Weather (63), Terrain (63), Challenge (66), Scenery (72).
DON'T MISS Mardi Gras weekend in March. Raucous parade headlines a great party.
READER REMARKS (+) "A best-kept secret." "Constantly improving. These people are serious about their little mountain."
(-) "Long liftlines." "So congested that snow often gets beat up and icy."