Sunburst, Wis.

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The friendly, relaxed atmosphere at Sunburst Ski Area is apparent before you ever hit the lifts. People are happy to be here. The lift operators are friendly, and the girl at the ticket window was genuinely thrilled when I told her that I had made the 80-mile drive from Madison and equally interested in my having a good day on the snow. At Sunburst, you'll feel like you know everyone-even if you don't know anyone.

While Sunburst's 214-foot vertical drop won't challenge most, it's perfectly suited to beginners, drawing many first-timers from the Milwaukee and Chicago areas. The learn-to-ski program and various other discounts and special package deals are all designed to entice newbies to the sport. The ski school is staffed by 150 instructors, including Sunburst's 82-year-old former owner, Herb Smith, who still teaches snowboarding. Stronger skiers will spend most of their time on Four Forty, Bull Run and Holy Moly or in the terrain park and halfpipe.

Good conditions are virtually guaranteed from mid-November through mid-March, thanks to 100 percent snowmaking. "We spend a lot of time on our snow," says Jim Engel, who owns Sunburst with wife, Kimberly. Sunburst is also 100 percent open for night-skiing. Single-day weekend and holiday lift tickets are good from the time lifts open until the lights go out at 10 p.m. (Lifts don't open until 4 p.m. on weekdays.)

Sunburst offers views of the northern Kettle Moraine State Forest, and snowshoe rentals are available for those who want to check out the National Ice Age Trail, which skirts the area's backside. Lodging and shopping options are few, but the lodge is accommodating, with a two-level cafeteria and a bar that overlooks the slopes.

Between the cafeteria and bar, a wide selection of food and drink is available, but those who know better get a brat and eat outside. Sunburst's Brat Fry runs every Saturday and Sunday on the sundeck and gives skiers an authentic taste of Wisconsin.

If you tire of the slopes, and sitting on the deck isn't exciting enough, make your way over to the tubing park. Tubes have been clocked at north of 50 mph. Speed hounds take note: The pink and purple tubes are the fastest. sunburst, kewaskum, wis.

vital stats 10 runs, seven lifts (including rope-tows), 214 vertical feet

Tickets Adults: $16-$27, depending on the day; children 10 and under: $15-$17. Rates for younger children and seniors are also available.

a good deal Two-for-one Monday nights.

Information 262-626-8404; www.skisunburst.com