2003 Number 29 Resort in North America: Solitude, Utah

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When one of his charges performs beyond his abilities, a football coach says the kid "plays big." Solitude, tucked in at the end of beautiful Big Cottonwood Canyon, plays big for its 1,200 acres. Seven lifts, including a high-speed quad, serve its surprisingly satisfying 2,047 vertical feet. One reader strokes Solitude as nothing less than "the best little ski area in the U.S." You don't have to tell that to Salt Lake loyalists. About 30 minutes from downtown, Solitude draws day-trippers looking to avoid the Olympic-size masses at Utah's big-name resorts. Destination skiers are starting to head up the canyon, too. This means Solitude's liftlines have increased from one family to three. "Not crowded, even on weekends," a reader says, validating the ski area's name. Solitude gets the Utah-legislated 500 inches of annual snowfall, but uncut shots last days here instead of hours. In this age of groomed fairway skiing and $25 on-mountain sushi lunches, one reader gives Solitude the ultimate compliment: "Good skiing at a fair price." Experts hit the chutes and glades off the Powderhorn chair (try Black Forest, Prince of Wales) then push on to the inbounds but off-piste-tasting Honeycomb Canyon. Intermediates bask in the comfy lines of Sunshine Bowl. Solitude is a resort that you can get your arms around. In the end, how many of the 7,000 acres at Whistler do you really need? "Small, but I skied in knee-deep powder, so it was a great day," a contented reader says. -G.D.

WHAT'S NEW A quad in Honeycomb Canyon, which will save skiers the long traverse back to civilization.

A GOOD DEAL Breakfast is included with each room at the Argenta Lodge (formerly Inn at Solitude), 800-748-4754.

MEDALS GOLD Snow, Terrain, Challenge, Value, Weather, Access; SILVER Grooming, Scenery.

HIGH/LOW RANK Snow (4), Value (5), Weather (5); Après (49), Dining (50), Terrain Parks (50).

DON'T MISS Buy a dual $59 "Solbright" ticket and zigzag between Solitude and neighboring Brighton.

READER REMARKS (+) "No liftlines, awesome snow." "Small, friendly and a nice family attitude." "Chest-shot powder runs!" (-) "Short on services." "Slow lifts." "Nightlife? None available."

Great Lodging Deals here.