You know this has to be one special place to punch its way into the East's Top 5. With a paltry 750 vertical feet, Seven Springs-in Pennsylvania-manages to keep company with Northeast giants through commitment and creativity, bringing home golds in Service, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities and Family Programs. "The people who work at Seven Springs are nice and seem happy to be there," one reader says. Another notes: "The food is incredible, and it's a good place for families." Book dinner now at Helen's, in the founding Dupre family's homestead, for some of the best mountain dining in the East. Most skiers come from Pittsburgh, making it the only area where Steeler and Penguin team jackets are considered stylish skiwear. The resort is open until 10 p.m. on weekends to please its commuting families, with virtually all of its trails under lights. The resort's popularity led to complaints of "big crowds on weekends." Expect Seven Springs to be boisterous and never dull. The 10-story Main Lodge sprawls a half-mile. Distractions include a bowling alley, miniature golf course, two arcades and a roller-skating rink. "Lots to do; always fun," a reader cheers. "A lack of steeps and vertical" hurts, but don't sniff at the skiing. Says a reader, "There are a lot of runs, the trails are wide and the snowmaking is excellent." That's not surprising given that one of the owners, Herman Dupre, is the inventor of HKD tower snow guns, which can be found at ski areas nationwide-and renew a blanket of white atop Seven Springs every night.
WHAT'S NEW The first phase of a five-year, $230 million plan will see a high-speed six-pack and Magic Carpet lift in place this winter, along with trail recontouring and an expansion of Helen's dining room.
A GOOD DEAL Every Friday night in the Oak Dining Room, the renowned all-you-can-eat King Neptune's Seafood Buffet.
MEDALS GOLD Service, Access, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities, Family Programs; SILVER Grooming.
HIGH/LOW RANK Après-Ski (7), Family Programs (9), Access (12); Scenery (69), Challenge (70), Terrain (72).
DON'T MISS Bringing the kids to the 18-hole indoor mini-golf course.
READER REMARKS (+) "Good breadth of terrain for a mid-Atlantic resort." "Best chance of finding snow in the region."
(-) "Crowded. No Steeps." "Lacks variety and challenge in terrain."