It's hard to believe that Vail's glam little sister is celebrating her 20th season. Since it opened, Beaver Creek has cemented its status as a "posh and pampering" resort. Where else can you ride an escalator to the slopes while sipping your Starbucks latte? Beyond its reputation for "service, service, service," however, the Beav has also earned the respect of skiing purists. The bumps on Grouse Mountain, the deep downy stashes in Royal Elk glades and the precipitous curves on Birds of Prey have established this area as a world-class act-and a great place to beat the crowds. "Let them have Vail," scoffs one reader. Whatever your mood, Beaver Creek can satisfy it-ramble to Arrowhead via Bachelor's Gulch, dial in cruise control on Centennial's corduroy paradise or forget your job in the trees of Stickline. Day visitors get miffed by the "difficult parking situation" that forces them to ride shuttle buses. But the trade-off is an uncongested village "like nothing found in this country." Families love the kids ski school, ice skating and torchlight parades, and everyone wins with the shows at the Vilar Center. Mountain food tends to be pricey, but for $5 you get a breakfast burrito at Rendezvous that will hold you until happy hour at the Coyote. If romance is the object and money is not, a night at Trapper's Cabin or dinner at Splendido is as good as it gets. That is, if you can pry yourself from the outside bonfire at the Hyatt. As one family puts it: "We thought it was great when it first opened, but it keeps getting better."
WHAT'S NEW Increased snowmaking; four additional snowcats for a 30 percent increase in groomed terrain; upgraded on-mountain restaurants.
A GOOD DEAL Buy-One, Get-One: Buy one night's lodging and a lift ticket and receive the second night and lift ticket for free. Valid through Dec. 21. May purchase up to five night's lodging. Call (800) 404-3535.
MEDALS GOLD Grooming, Terrain, Service, Weather, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining; SILVER Snow, Lifts, Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities, Family Programs, Scenery.
HIGH/LOW RANK Service (2), On-Mountain Food (4), Lodging (5); Terrain (40), Challenge (43), Value (77).
DON'T MISS Snowshoeing or nordic skiing at McCoy Park. The view will take your breath away before you take your first step.
READER REMARKS (+) "Truly classy. Thou shall not want of anything." (-) "Can't afford to eat unless I brown bag." "Long bus ride up from the parking lot."