2003 Number 1 Resort in North America: Vail, Colo.

Vail 1002 Pic A

It's nice being King. Vail returns to the throne this year because it continues to raise the bar on the Great American Ski Vacation. Whether it's kid-heaven Adventure Ridge, feel-good Blue Sky Basin or the impending $500 million redevelopment of its base areas, Vail consistently spends money like a Dallas divorcée to keep 'em coming back. And unlike its cloudy Canadian rival a couple of spots below, this Colorado giant gives readers what they want: security. "Vail's a 'no-miss' ski vacation," a reader applauds. "It's the most consistently good mountain that I have ever skied." And with 33 lifts, a 3,450-foot vertical drop, 193 trails and 5,289 skiable acres, Vail Mountain-America's biggest-crushes the competition on snow. "Either the mountain is too big or the ski day is too short," an exhausted reader concludes.

The primary complaints: cost and crowds. "Money is no object to us, but I object to being robbed," says a slightly obnoxious reader. And there's no denying "the long liftlines" on many weekends and all holidays. (Tip: Eat lunch at off-peak hours and ski with a local.) On the other hand, good shows draw crowds. And Vail is nothing if not a good show. Just walk down Bridge Street. Après drinks on the Los Amigos deck, dinner at Campo di Fiori and dancing at Club Chelsea should be enough to get anyone off the condo couch. Readers decry the "painfully commercial" village that's "more like Disneyland than a ski area." Sure, the resort has lost some charm in the 40 years since founder Pete Seibert erected a "free picnic area and parking" sign with an arrow at the access road intersection. But there's a reason Vail's so popular: world-class variety, both on and off the mountain. With all of its grandeur, King Vail elicits obsessive loyalty from its subjects. "Broke my leg in the Back Bowls," a reader writes. "It was worth the view." -Greg Ditrinco

WHAT'S NEW $45 million renovation of Vail Marriott; increased lift capacity in Blue Sky Basin and Back Bowls; expanded heated deck at Two Elks; increased grooming acreage and frequency; increased snowmaking capacity.

A GOOD DEAL Buy the $329 Perfect 10 lift-ticket coupon book, good for 10 days all season, except Dec. 24-Jan. 4.

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

HIGH/LOW RANK Après (3), Off-Hill Activities (3), Terrain Parks (3); Weather (13), Scenery (27), Value (49).

DON'T MISS Vail's 40th anniversary extravaganza, Dec. 11-15.

READER REMARKS (+) "Great groomers. Great bowls. Great variety-the best anywhere." "Super nightlife, full of energy. Lots to do." (-) "It's expensive for a family vacation." "Liftlines are getting long."

Great Lodging Deals here.