Vail, Colorado: Rank 1 West, 1997

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There are 30 million reasons why Vail returns as King of the Hills after being knocked off its throne by Whistler/Blackcomb for two years running. That's how many dollars were spent before last season to build a new gondola and quad, the spacious Golden Peak base lodge and the revolutionary Adventure Ridge, an on-mountain winter playground. The new lifts helped shrink lines, while features such as a tubing hill and ice rink attracted more than 1,200 people nightly to Adventure Ridge. Blessfully unchanged is a mountain that spans 10 miles across, boasts a galaxy of diverse terrain, receives bountiful snow and is home to the famous Back Bowls¿arguably a slice of ski heaven. "When I die, please let me go to the Bowls," one reader pleads. Some of our readers complain about the high cost of Vail's lodges, restaurants and bars. But it's a love-hate relationship¿they still award the town high marks for its variety of off-hill activities, including countless après-ski, dining and partying options. And it's hard to put a price on the magic of a Vail Village winter evening, when the jagged peaks of the Gore Range bask in alpenglow, white Christmas lights twinkle and horse-drawn carriages jingle by.

What's New More snowcats to increase grooming by 30 percent; a larger rink and tubing hill; a dance club at Eagle's Nest.
A Good Deal Interchangeable lift tickets with sister resorts Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.
Medals Gold Snow Quality, Grooming, Terrain, Challenge, Lifts, Service, Weather, Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities; Silver On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Family Programs.
High/Low Rank Lifts (3); Value (68).
Don't Miss Flopping onto an inner tube and plunging down the hill at Adventure Ridge ($12/hr., adults; $8/hr., kids).
Reader Remarks "Best in the universe." "It's fabulous, but also expensive. Bring your Visa card."