After years of playing Spock to Aspen's Capt. Kirk, Snowmass has earned its own starship command. Consistently logging more skier days than its three sister resorts combined (Ajax, Buttermilk, Highlands), Snowmass rightfully takes its place among North America's elite mountains. The resort's reputation was first built on the Big Burn, where skiers are magically transformed into budding Killys as they watch their own shadows for style points. "Makes you feel like a world-class skier," one reader applauds. But Snowmass' Big Lie is that it's only a cruiser's paradise. The Hanging Valley area-backcountry skiing inbounds-boasts enough cornices, glades, cliffs, bumps and jumps to make an X-Games producer swallow his cell phone. A 12,510-foot summit provides one of the most underrated vertical rises in U.S. skiing, and with 3,010 acres "it's impossible to get bored." A critique of "the best of the best" is only slightly inflated. A summit gondola is the resort's Holy Grail, and the park-and-slog access doesn't impress anyone. The solution? Upward of 90 percent of Snowmass' lodging is step-onto-the-slopes easy, which helps earn the resort its No. 2 family ranking. Snowmass wrongly bears the reputation of having a nightlife south of an autopsy. Loud music and stiff drinks work just fine at the Cirque Café. Fine dining is limited, if also under-appreciated (try Krabloonik and La Provence). But then again, if you were Sharon Stone's neighbor, you'd drop in for a visit: "Head to Aspen to eat and party," one reader sagely advises. Snowmass, however, receives the happiest four words in a resort executive's vocabulary: "I love coming here."
WHAT'S NEW A kids' arena and surface lift off Lower Scooper, additional snowmaking, renovated Snowmass Club, a souped up Elk Camp quad, direct "yellow phone" to mountain manager's office.
A GOOD DEAL $39 lift tickets. Must be purchased by Dec. 1.
MEDALS GOLD Snow, Grooming, Terrain, Challenge, Lifts, Service, Weather, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Family Programs, Scenery; SILVER Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities.
HIGH/LOW RANK Family Programs (2), Weather (3), Grooming (5); Challenge (34), Access (42), Value (60).
DON'T MISS Live reindeer on Rudolph's run.
READER REMARKS (+)"Possibly the best cruising mountain in the world." "My new favorite resort-awesome size and terrain." (-) "Need to update lift system NOW." "What to do after skiing?"