2002 Number 4 Resort In North America: Aspen Mountain, Colo.

The New Aspen 0901 A

Whether Aspen Skiing Co. wants to call it Aspen Mountain or Ajax (it did both last year), most locals just refer to it as "The Mountain," with a discernible measure of respect. As well they should. "Small but intense" is how one reader describes it. Says another: "Probably the best 714 acres of skiing in the U.S." And with the big NASCAR-style cruising staples of Ruthie's and Spar, the powder preserve of Bell Mountain and stellar steeps like Hyrup's and Super 8 Gully, they could be right. Since Aspen Mountain bowed to market pressure and opened to snowboarding last spring, the reviews have been mixed. While boarders hail the move (as do many skiers), others are less enthused: "Adding boarding was a gross blunder," opines one reader. But the consensus on the Aspen experience is more fair-minded: "Great skiing and boarding in a town that is truly world-class." With more going on than in most communities 100 times its size, Aspen entertains, no matter what you're looking for. "Great town, even if you don't ski," says one reader. "Really enjoyed the boutiques," agrees another. If possible, the unsurpassed dining (try Takah Sushi, Renaissance and Pinons) and nightlife (Club Chelsea, Shooters, Mezzaluna), may exceed their lofty reputations. But none of it comes easy or cheap. "Hard to get in and out of town," says one reader. And many lambaste the "cost...of everything!" Ultimately, though, "super service and great atmosphere" still make this town North America's reigning ski diva.

WHAT'S NEW Snowboarders on the mountain, all season long; Aspen hosts the Winter X Games in January, just before the Salt Lake Olympics.

A GOOD DEAL The Virtual Hostel, at www.aspensnowmass.com, can locate last-minute lodging deals as low as $40 per night in Aspen.

MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge, Service, Weather, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities, Scenery; SILVER Snow, Grooming, Lifts.

HIGH/LOW RANK Dining (1), Après-Ski (1), Off-Hill Activities (2),Access (45), Family Programs (53), Value (73).

DON'T MISS Big art in a small town at the Aspen Art Museum, with shows from de Kooning to Warhol on display. Admission: $3.

READER REMARKS (+) "Like a post card come to life-a beautiful resort." "The classic ski mountain in the classic ski town."
(-) "It's cheaper to fly to Europe and ski there for a week." "Even the waiters are snobs."