2003 Number 13 Resort in North America: Mammoth Mtn., Calif.

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Mammoth Mountain is so big, yet so well serviced by its lift system, that the resort has actually decreased its number of lifts (from 32 to 27). And still Mammoth's transport strategy works so well that readers rate it No. 1 in North America for Lifts. In the past six years, Mammoth has poured $145 million into upgrades, including six high-speed quads, two six-packs and a gondola. The 3,500-acre resort serviced by this festival of lifts is world-class, its terrain variety stupendous. "I should be ashamed of myself if I ski the same run more than twice in one day," confesses one visitor. The resort also has worked hard at becoming No. 1 in Terrain Parks, attracting California kids in droves. Better yet, the mountain sits high in a snow belt that allows Mammoth to open early and stay open into late spring or early summer. So why isn't Mammoth among America's top five resorts? As one reader sums it up, "The mountain is excellent, the town is not." Help is on the way. In early 2003, the first phase of the much-anticipated Village at Mammoth will open; the gondola that connects this new nexus to the Canyon Lodge at the base will be operating by late December. That leaves only one obstacle to preeminence: accessibility. "The mountain has it all...except location," says a regular. -Jackson Hogen


WHAT'S NEW Phase One of the new Village at Mammoth, including a new gondola; a face-lift to the Mammoth Mountain Inn; a 22-foot-high launch pad added to the award-winning halfpipe.

A GOOD DEAL Stay & Ski/Ride Free package starts at $68 per person per night based on double-occupancy with a two-night minimum.

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

HIGH/LOW RANK Lifts (1), Terrain Parks (1), Terrain (4); Après (29), Dining (32), Access (50).

DON'T MISS A deck lunch at the Mill Café, at the base of Stump Alley and Gold Rush lifts. Grab an Adirondack chair and sip a margarita.

READER REMARKS (+) "Great lift system for distributing people over the mountain." "A resort true to its name." "Friendly, helpful staff." (-) "The town needs to live up to the mountain." "Remote. Slow nightlife."