2003 Number 4 Resort in the East: Stratton, Vt.

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Stratton made the biggest leap of any resort this year-moving up from No. 17 to No. 4-by catering to a well-heeled clientele who prefer gliding down corduroy to launching off bumps. Since becoming part of the Intrawest family in 1994, Stratton has invested millions into updating and renovating the faux-Bavarian resort to meet the demands of the metro-New York families who frequent it. That's paid off. Stratton skiers are a happy lot who proclaim the resort "great in everything." Readers pour on the praise: "great mountain, great town, excellent dining"; "outstanding lifts"; "good grooming in all weather"; and even "nice bathrooms!" Most rave about Stratton's snowmaking and grooming, and laud the family-friendly attitude and multitude of terrain parks. Though experts sneer that the "black-diamond slopes are really blues," regulars view the cruising runs as a plus. What readers don't like is the cost and the sharing. On weekends, Stratton packs 'em in-"mob scene," rants one-but four six-packs and a 12-passenger gondola do a good job. It takes less than 10 minutes to climb the 2,003-foot vertical from base to summit, and once on snow, regulars know that Kidderbrook and Snow Bowl have the lightest traffic. Another plus is nearby Manchester, a Hollywood-perfect New England village with dozens of outlets and specialty stores, from Orvis to Cole Hahn. -Hilary M. Nangle



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WHAT'S NEW The Verdé restaurant in the village; Junior Off-Road Driving School with mini Land Rovers; the private Stratton Mountain Club.

A GOOD DEAL Buy a three-day midweek lift ticket for $139 per person and get two nights' free lodging at the slopeside Liftline Lodge.

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

HIGH/LOW RANK Terrain Parks (2), Lifts (8), Grooming (9); Terrain (46), Challenge (49), Value (51).

DON'T MISS The Moonlight Snowshoe Tour from the Nordic Center, with a stop at the Pearl Buck Stone House for refreshments.

READER REMARKS (+) "A great glider's mountain." "Upscale. Quality snowmaking and a commitment to making it when needed."
(-) "Very pricey." "Too crowded on weekends and holidays for families."