Squaw Valley, California: Rank 9 West, 1997

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Sure Squaw gets crowded on holiday weekends, but that's because it ranks in the Top 10 in both Terrain and Lifts and may be, as one reader crows, "the best mountain in the United States." From the lower mountain, hop on Red Dog and KT 22 for "steeps galore and tons of powder when you hit it right." Squaw's challenging steeps have never been disputed, but last year, for the first time, the area also received high marks for grooming. Combine that with wide-open sunny runs on the upper mountain, the peerless recreation center at High Camp and the climbing wall in the lower tram building, and it adds up to "lots of terrain for all levels and plenty of activities besides skiing." Nightlife, however, is not a strong point. "Nothing to do after 6 pm," a reader complains. You have todrive 5 miles to Tahoe City¿often in heavy traffic¿for that. Or you can astutely opt to spend the evening skiing until 9 pm, skating at High Camp or waiting out the traffic by soaking up the après-ski scene at the Plaza Bar in the base lodge.

What's New A gondola-style "Pulse" lift between High Camp and Gold Coast; Family Fun Park for snow tubing.
A Good Deal Free night skiing included with day tickets, afternoon tickets and season passes; $5 lift tickets for kids.
Medals Gold Terrain, Challenge, Lifts; Silver Grooming, On-Mountain Food, Off-Hill Activities, Service, Weather.
High/Low Rank Challenge (3); Value (41).
Don't Miss The Palisades chutes in a big snow year (when they're nicely filled in). Be sure your friends are watching.
Reader Remarks "Steeps galore, tons of powder." "High winds often shut down the best runs."