What do you do when you almost have it all? Loon Mountain, with its velvety smooth grooming, popular family programs and ideal location (two hours from Boston yet at a high enough elevation to get real snow) has asked itself just that. The answer this year is finesse. Loon will crank it up a notch on service, upgrading its mountain restaurants, opening a killer halfpipe in front of the popular Governor's Lodge and premiering the new K2ubes (steerable snowtubes for après fun). Readers love what Loon does well, praising "great snowmaking and grooming" enough times that it sounds like a campaign. But they also see the need for improvement. First, there are the crowds. "Too many weekend warriors," says one reader. Hard to avoid, considering the straight-shot drive from Boston. Loon hopes to help skiers find more room on the mountain via a new ski school program that features three-hour lessons both on and off the snow. The idea is simple: Skiers not only learn how to ski, but also where to ski, therefore educating newbies and regulars alike on how to spread out across the entire mountain. Not a bad notion, considering those who lament Loon's lack of challenge may have never found Walking Boss Trail or Flume, classic New England slopes that will force you to sweat. Finding those and topping them off with a gourmet meal at the improved Summit Café may just be the icing on this well-groomed cake. -Moira McCarthy
WHAT'S NEW A new halfpipe at West Mountain with direct viewing from the Governor's Lodge.
A GOOD DEAL A free season pass after three days of ski lessons.
MEDALS GOLD Access; SILVER Grooming, Challenge, Lifts, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Après, Off-Hill Activities, Family Programs, Terrain Parks.
HIGH/LOW RANK Access (11), Grooming (18), Family Programs (21); Terrain (48), Value (50), Scenery (50).
DON'T MISS Deck lunch at Camp 3; then relax in an Adirondack chair.
READER REMARKS (+) "Close to Boston and a great variety of terrain." "Nice place to bring your family."
(-) "Lift system is slow and dated." "Not enough terrain variety for an entire week."