2002 Number 7 Resort In North America: Snowmass, Colo.

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From the beginning in 1967, Snowmass has set the bar for American resorts in several categories: "fall-out-of-bed skiing" (as one reader describes the ski-in/ski-out lodging), meticulous grooming, great family programs and "Let-me-die-here-please!" levels of service. Snowmass still earns Top-10 ratings in all respects. "The total package; the ultimate destination resort," raves one fan. The Snowmass experience starts with its people: "Friendly staff-they practically adopted us!" The legendary ski school, ever-present mountain ambassadors and free cookies, coffee and mountain tours all draw big applause. Oh yeah, and the skiing is huge. At more than 3,000 acres and 4,400 vertical feet, "the breadth and range of terrain is striking." The Snowmass universe includes the famously benign learning slopes on Fanny and Assay hills, a massive network of coddling blue trails that has always been the foundation of Snowmass' reputation ("a great mountain to let them run") and a passel of under-appreciated double-blacks, as well. Dis Snowmass as the Big Easy at your own risk; some local may lead you into the hardcore realms of Hanging Valley and The Cirque and either ruin your day or make your year. And it looks like Snowmass' fairy godmother has finally granted its biggest wish: Plans call for Intrawest to team up with Aspen Skiing Co. to build a true Snowmass base village, which means readers, a few years out, should no longer be able to complain, "great skiing, but you have to drive to Aspen for any fun."

WHAT'S NEW Tube Town: tubing, sliding (open noon to 8 p.m.) and mayhem ($12); slopes will be groomed daily during lunch hour for late arrivals.

A GOOD DEAL Conducted by Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, "Winter Wild Things" is a free eco program for kids in the ski school.

MEDALS GOLD Grooming, Terrain, Challenge, Lifts, Service, Weather, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Family Programs; SILVER Snow, Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities, Scenery.

HIGH/LOW RANK Family Programs (4), Grooming (6), On-Mountain Food (6); Challenge (36), Access (50), Value (54).

DON'T MISS A snowcat dinner trip to the Lynn Britt Cabin. Enjoy moonlit snow, countless stars and a Western gourmet meal; 970-923-0575.

READER REMARKS (+) "My favorite U.S. resort." "I have never had a bad ski day at Snowmass."
(-) "Kind of sleepy at night, but Aspen is nearby." "Antiquated lifts are a shock." "The whole resort needs a face lift."