For years, the Highlands has played second fiddle to big sister-resort Boyne Mountain, but no more. Garnering a gold and seven silver medals in the national survey¿by far the most of any Midwest resort¿the Highlands stepped up and took the top spot among heartland ski resorts in this year's rankings. The classic Midwest ridge, left bent and folded by the last retreating glacier some 11,000 years ago, offers a visual distinctiveness with varied slopes and contours that are rare for this region. "Good variety of runs," says one reader. "Great terrain," adds another. With 40-plus trails, two halfpipes and 10 lifts, including a high-speed quad, three base lodges and three hotels, you really need a trail map to get around. It's so spread out that the Highlands comes off feeling tamer than it needs to be, which prompts some readers to complain that it "isn't very challenging." But search out runs such as Olympic, The Darkside, Tournament Pass, North and South Challenger and you'll find plenty of heart-pumping steep. Solid blue cruisers such as Kath Run, South Fork, Heather and Amy's Run help build its reputation for the "best all-around skiing in Michigan," as one reader writes. Readers gave it a gold medal for its "family values" programs. "My kids love this place," says one, and "great family ski area," echoes another. But don't let that deter the party animals. The Highlands also earns high marks for its Off-Hill Activities. "The Zoo Bar rocks," readers say. "No better après-ski anywhere except maybe legendary Killington," says another, giving it the ultimate compliment. ¿Mike Terrell
The Alpine Village at Boyne Highlands, a ski-in/ski-out condominium residence fashioned in classic European style, is under construction around the base of North Peak.
A GOOD DEAL
An early season weekend package, which includes an overnight and next-day lift ticket, starts at $85. Each additional occupant 13-and-over is $40, kids 9-to-12 cost $25, and kids 8-and-under ski and sleep free (two-night minimum stay). Call (800) 462-6963.
Family; SILVER Snow, Grooming, Lifts, Service, Lodging, Dining, Off-Hill Activities.
HIGH/LOW RANK Lodging (1), Off-hill Activities (1), Family Programs (1); Challenge (11), Access (18), Value (19).
DON'T MISS The small resort community of nearby Petoskey¿perched on Lake Michigan's shoreline, with beautiful old 19th century buildings, fine Victorian homes, galleries, boutiques and restaurants.
READER REMARKS (+) "Excellent lift layout and great terrain." (-) "Limited vertical; can be crowded."