2002 Number 21 Resort In North America: Big Mountain, Mont.

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After years of enjoying one of America's great cult ski areas ("The best long cruisers and glade skiing in the Rockies," says one reader), the folks in Whitefish, Mont., are about to join the big time. North of $300 million will be spent during the next decade to build a state-of-the-art base village, with slopeside homes, condos and lodges, along with dining, shopping and conference space. This should go a long way toward allaying the perennial gripes of "Not much else to do but ski," and also allow loyal skiers to own a piece of a community they've been visiting for years. What keeps them coming back is "good value," "an awesome mountain with no liftlines," and "the friendliest people in ski country," to quote a few readers. The skiing provides "full-terrain variations, from watery-eyed speeders to 50-foot cliffs," a happy reader comments. Slopes face all points of the compass and ramble across 3,000 acres of gorgeous mountainsides, highlighted by super-sized scenery (views from Glacier National Park to Canada and Idaho) and sparkling snowghosts (powder-shellacked trees). Most learner slopes are adjacent to the base and crowned by the endless cruisers of Interstate and Home Again. Big Mountain puts the "ooh" in its blue runs with screamers like Toni Matt and The Big Ravine, and on long off-piste-feeling jaunts like Gray Wolf and Hell Fire. Haskill Slide and Picture Chutes headline the named double-blacks, but there are anonymous steep treats deep in the trees all over the mountain.

WHAT'S NEW Groundbreaking for the new village; the overhauled Kalispell International Airport is a gem; snowcat skiing has graduated to full days, $60-$90 per person; 800-858-5439, www.bigmtn.com.

A GOOD DEAL Frequent Skier Cards cost $75 through Nov. 21, and get you daily tickets for $38 and one free day of skiing.

MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge, Value, Scenery; SILVER Snow, Grooming, Lifts, Service, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Family Programs.

HIGH/LOW RANK On-Mountain Food (15), Service (16), Lodging (17); Off-Hill Activities (48), Access (51), Weather (67).

DON'T MISS The charm of Whitefish (10 minutes away), one of the West's great ski towns. It's full of farmers, ranchers and other real folk.

READER REMARKS (+) "Great for skiers of differing ability levels who want to ski together." "I enjoyed the people and the unpretentiousness of the resort."
(-) "Fog is very dense and very common." "Village is dead at night."