Just when you think one of America's great adventure mountains can't get any better, it does. Last season the dust finally settled on the new Highlands Village, with its needed dining and retail upgrades (check out Willow Creek Bistro and Durrance Sports). And the tenacious Highlands management pushed back the boundaries again on the resort's awesome Highland Bowl, to a new slot called "Full Curl." "The Highland Bowl was a rush that I'll never forget," enthuses one of many pilgrims who gets it. The word is spreading. Highlands' skier visits were up last year, yet it still remains one of the best-kept secrets in skiing. Why? "Superb terrain with no crowds," suggests one reader. "An at-home feel with fabulous expert options," says another. And more than one praise the "standout scenery and snow conditions." It's a supercharged package that's not just for the zoom-zoom crowd, though that misperception has left Highlands' big blue groomers, such as Thunder Bowl and Grand Prix, as some of the most vacant real estate in the valley. Yeah, baby, there are "no beginners here," it's "relatively small" and "somewhat difficult to get to." As one reader says, that's the "right attitude for a ski area-ski it or go home." But being "the clear choice of Aspen locals" (including many Aspen Mountain instructors who make a Highland Bowl lap on mornings they don't have lessons) should tell you a lot. -J.C.
WHAT'S NEW The whole bowl: Thanks to an enlightened ownership, the rest of Highland Bowl will open, adding 10 miles of trails.
A GOOD DEAL Highlands/Buttermilk packages start at $203 per person, including three nights' lodging and a two-day lift ticket.
MEDALS GOLD Snow, Terrain, Challenge, Lifts, Weather, Dining, Off-Hill Activities, Scenery; SILVER Grooming, Service, Access, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Après, Family Programs.
HIGH/LOW RANK Weather (6), Challenge (8), Scenery (8); Value (32), Family Programs (38), Terrain Parks (39).
DON'T MISS Western Night, every Thursday at the T-Lazy Seven Ranch. Steak dinner, sleigh ride, dancing (970-544-5008).
READER REMARKS (+) "Nice layout. No crowds." "Exciting terrain. Love theescalator." (-) "It's Aspen: mucho $." "Needs more lodging."