Alta, Utah: Rank 8 West, 1997

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Alta is one of the last great shrines to serious skiing in America. It's routinely acknowledged as having the best snow on earth (rated No. 1 in the country), and blessed with challenging runs worthy of such natural bounty. Alta's aura of being an insider's secret¿and its $28 lift ticket¿allow some skiers (no boarders, please) to forgive the resort's aging lifts. Combine Utah's fascinating liquor laws with a canyon notorious for closing when it snows and you create a nightlife with the heartbeat of a corpse. "You go to Alta simply to ski heaven," says one reader. Alta is laid-back to the point of catatonia¿but Salt Lake City and environs are only a half-hour distant, with Utah Jazz basketball games, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, micro-breweries and lodging and dining galore. To top it off, the commute from Salt Lake's airport makes a trip back to skiing's roots miraculously accessible. "Still old-fashioned and local," a reader cheers.

What's New Spiffy new chairs on the Germania lift (built in 1954 and upgraded to a triple in 1991).
A Good Deal The renovated Alta Rustler has double rooms, breakfast and dinner included, for $115 per person opening to Dec. 19, Jan. 4-30, March 29 to closing; (888) 532-ALTA.
Medals Gold Snow Quality, Terrain, Challenge, Value, Weather; Silver Grooming, Accessibility.
High/Low Rank Snow Quality and Value (1); Lifts (74).
Don't Miss If you're up to it, ski the legendary High Rustler. Ask a local how to get there.
Reader Remarks "The center of the universe. If there is a better place to ski, I haven't found it." "No nightlife. Go to bed at 8 pm."