2002 Number 23 Resort In North America: Big Sky, Mont.

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Maybe the sky seems so big in Montana because there's so much spectacular land beneath it. Take Big Sky Resort. With 3,600 acres and 85 miles of runs, it sprawls in the truest sense of the word, ranging across burly, snow-clad mountains populated with fewer skiers than critters (moose, elk, mountain sheep and deer abound). "Wonderful, uncrowded, expansive runs," cheers one reader. "No liftlines!!! Don't tell anyone," pleads another. From the quiet flats at the bottom of Lone Moose Meadows to the haunting heights of Lone Peak, you'll find "cruisers to cliffs, everything a family needs." No-stress beginner boulevards are generously spread around Flatiron Mountain and off the Explorer and Gondola lifts. Long-haul blue trails roam everywhere, whether as family fare on Crazy Horse or as high-octane rumbles like Lobo and Ambush. "Terrain is a solid 'wow,'" summarizes one reader. And it's capped by big-league tough stuff, ranging from the sinful (Tohelluride) to the divine (Vertical Reality-a rapturous 50-plus degrees). The only problem can be getting around. "You get old on the lifts," complains one reader, echoing many. On the up side, "New lodging options are improving the resort," a reader applauds. Off-slope activities like dog-sledding, snowshoeing and Yellowstone Park sightseeing will leave no doubt that you're in North Country. Nonetheless, many readers continue to lament Big Sky's anemic amenities: "Forget the nightlife 'cause there isn't any!"

WHAT'S NEW A $400-million expansion over the next decade that could bring the resort to 5,000 acres and add six high-speed lifts, a European spa, and a wide variety of shops and restaurants to the mountain village.

A GOOD DEAL "Super Saver Weeks," Nov. 21-Dec. 15, start at $139 per person for two days' lifts and lodging; children 10-and-under are free.

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

HIGH/LOW RANK Terrain (11), Challenge (11), Scenery (11); On-Mountain Food (51), Après-Ski (56), Access (62).

DON'T MISS A dinner sleigh ride at the Lone Mountain Ranch, 10 minutes away, for stories, entertainment and prime rib; 406-995-2783.

READER REMARKS (+) "Excellent skiing with superb scenery, fantastic snow and terrain." "Like buying a lift ticket to a private mountain."
(-) "No charm or ambience." "Base area is disorganized and services limited."