This spunky northern Minnesota resort-about an hour north of Duluth-has been missing from the Midwest Top 10 list for a few seasons, but rocketed back up the rankings to fifth place this year. The addition of the new Lodge at Giants Ridge has helped reestablish the resort's reputation. The knotty pine interior, the huge log poles that support the high-beamed ceiling and the wall of windows looking out at the slopes sets the tone for this new ski-in/ski-out facility. Many of the 93 luxury suites feature whirlpools and fireplaces. The Giant is also a first-class ski facility. "Best in Minnesota," claims one reader. "Better than Lutsen," asserts another. The top of the ski hill looks out over the Wynne and Sabin lakes near the base of the ski hill and an endless forest. The 34 trails that soar off the 550-foot rocky crest are some of the most exhilarating cruisers in the Great Lakes Region: varied in pitch, a headwall here, a small bowl there, and off among the aspen and birch, other gentle, sequestered runs. The north face of the ridge offers some short, steep chutes, the downside being a long, gentle run-out back to the lift. Readers also give the resort high marks for both Value and Grooming, rating it tops in both categories among heartland ski resorts. Crowds haven't discovered Giants Ridge yet, even though the resort posted its best season ever in 2000-01, but consider that a reason to visit-along with the superb skiing. Be forewarned: Dress warmly. Iron Range residents take pride in the region's reputation for being "America's Icebox."
WHAT'S NEW The Mountain Dew Free Ride Series that starts in December allows boarders and skiers to participate in a different event each month of the season.
A GOOD DEAL Giants Ridge offers a "Groomers Guarantee": If you don't like the conditions, simply tell the ticket office by 10:30 a.m. and receive a free day pass. Call 800-688-7669 or visit www.giantsridge.com.
HIGH/LOW MIDWest RANK Grooming (1), Value (1), Snow (2); Access (13), Weather (14), On-Mountain Food (14).
DON'T MISS The one-stoplight town of Biwabik still reflects the ethnic diversity of the immigrant miners who settled here around the turn of the century, and it's home to one of the best bar scenes among upper Great Lake ski areas-many feature live blues bands on the weekends.
READER REMARKS (+) "Nice homey feel; best french fries in the U.S." (-) "Cold weather and wind; remote location."