Set high on the bluffs above the Mississippi River, Chestnut Mountain Resort overlooks three states (Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin). The vista is breathtaking, particularly at sunset. But what really propels Chestnut into the Top 10 this year is its overall resort experience. "This is the best place to ski within a reasonable drive (about three hours) from Chicago," says one reader. Below the Tudor-style village, skiers can play on 17 trails that slice through the timberline down a mountain that boasts a 475-foot-vertical drop and runs as long as a half-mile. Black diamonds such as Warpath and The Face are knee-knockers for the experts, while smooth cruising along Apache and Blackhawk generate big smiles among intermediates. There's also Old Man, a slow skiing area, where beginners and families can take leisurely treks from top to bottom. And with panoramas of the Mississippi as a backdrop, the ride back to the top on one of the five chairlifts makes going up Chestnut Mountain almost as memorable as skiing down. While the frontside of Chestnut is laid out along the lines of a traditional ski area, the seven-acre backside, called the Farside, is a terrain park junkie's dream (or nightmare). This year the Farside will feature two full-size halfpipes, quarterpipes, table-tops, rollers, log-slides, kickers and box-jumps to challenge both skiers and snowboarders. Good skiing is the theme at Chestnut Mountain, but readers also rave about the lodging, dining and service. The Village Center, developed in 1997, is the hub for guest services and children's programs. The 120-room lodge features an indoor pool, sauna and whirlpool. The Alpine Room and Steinhaus dining rooms have wonderful menus (with spectacular views), and the Three Gables Lounge features live entertainment every weekend. "This is a great place to stay, and they run terrific specials," notes a reader. "A nice area that is continually trying to improve," adds another. ¿Marie Adezio and Jim Neff
WHAT'S NEW A remodeled Farside Terrain Park;12 snowmakers and a Bombardier snowgroomer.
A GOOD DEAL From opening day through Dec. 15, all lift tickets are $5 (lodging guests ski free)).
HIGH/LOW RANK Dining (1), Lodging (2), Service (2); Grooming (17), Snow (18), Access (22).
DON'T MISS A trip to nearby Galena, where buildings date back to the early 1800s and historic sites include the home of President Ulysses S. Grant.
READER REMARKS (+) "High lift capacity when all are running." (-) "The triple lift that serves beginners generally opens too late."