2002 Number 17 Resort In North America: Aspen Highlands, Colo.

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For anyone unclear on Aspen Highland's best attributes, let a reader enumerate them: "Terrain, terrain, terrain." Some terrain you ski from lifts, some you hike to, some you view. The wild and ragged Elk Range, which enfolds Highlands, is adjudged simply as the "best scenery in the USA," by one reader. Aggressive visuals are appropriate for the designated "adventure-skiing" resort. Last season, the mountain crew put up flagpoles at the base and the Loge lift summit, and ran up a red banner reading "Epic" during righteous powder days. With the help of the country's toughest ski patrol, management also opened Highland Bowl. "Hiking up to the Highland Bowl is what real ski adventures are all about," says one reader, speaking for many. The Bowl is so popular it's actually taking pressure off other steep-and-sweet areas such as Steeplechase and Temerity. Of course, the adventure-orientation has its flip side. "Not enough easier slopes," is an often-heard complaint. This "too-tough" reputation helps explain the luxuriously light traffic on the buffed blues, including Grand Prix, Golden Horn and Thunderbowl. "Aspen's best-kept secret. Untouched, a great local hangout," observes one reader. And now that the new Alps-meets-the-National-Parks-styled Highlands Village has been completed-solving the area's amenities crisis with a ski shop, a deli, two restaurants and the great après Commonwealth Pub-Highlands is just about perfect.

WHAT'S NEW Completion of the Highlands Village, including the Thunder Bowl Deli, with meals to go; Aspen Valley Ski Club junior freestylers will do weekly exhibition jumps at Cloud Nine.

A GOOD DEAL New this season, lift-and-lodging packages are discounted up to 75 percent, with tickets good at Highlands and Buttermilk only; starting at $65 per person; 800-262-7736; www.aspensnowmass.com.

MEDALS GOLD Snow, Terrain, Challenge, Weather, Scenery; SILVER Grooming, Lifts, Service, On-Mountain Food, Dining, Après-Ski

HIGH/LOW RANK Scenery (9), Challenge (10), Terrain (13); Value (42), Lodging (49), Family Programs (52).

DON'T MISS Lunches at Cloud Nine, featuring stand-back views of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells, and food that holds up to the views.

READER REMARKS (+) "They treat you like family." "The best ski mountain, period."
(-) "Needs more slopeside accommodations." "The lift tickets are expensive, but that doesn't keep us from going."