2003 Number 25 Resort in North America: Crested Butte, Colo.

Almost a Cover: Crested Butte

Crested Butte is not your average resort; it's a real mountain community with locals as loyal as they come. It's a bear to get to, but locals say that keeps the pretenders out. Though one reader quibbles, "not enough snow this season," you can't blame that on the resort. In the big picture, Mother Nature has been generous.

The Butte is nestled in the Elk Mountain Range and offers stunning mountain vistas from every direction. The Alps-like terrain is some of the steepest in Colorado. Crested Butte regularly attracts daring skiers with its sheer face, tight chutes and huckable cliffs and helped put the word "extreme" into skiing's vocabulary. "Superior terrain," says one reader, "an expert's mountain."

But families find their niche here, too. "Great ski school and instructors," a reader says. Following other pro-safety resorts, kids under 12 must now wear helmets for ski school. Though one reader laments that Crested Butte is "isolated, with high travel time and costs," another views it as "a nice, quaint, out-of-the-way place to ski." New daily nonstop Continental Airlines service from Houston and daily United flights from Denver make the mountain much easier to access. With an increase in flights and new resort management, complemented by the always-great restaurants, bars and lodging in "America's last ski town," there may be no better time to visit. -Krista Crabtree


WHAT'S NEW Upgraded grooming fleet; daily nonstop Continental jet service from Houston and daily United flights from Denver.

A GOOD DEAL Kids (up to age 16) pay their age for a lift ticket and tots 4 and younger ski free all season, with no blackout dates.

MEDALS GOLD Challenge, Value, Dining, Scenery; SILVER Snow, Terrain, Service, Weather, Après.

HIGH/LOW RANK Challenge (11), Value (15), Scenery (17); Family Programs (45), On-Mountain Food (48), Access (49).

DON'T MISS Ride in an open sleigh to the Paradise Warming House for a four-course meal and spectacular view of the Elk Mountain Range at 10,000 feet (970-349-2211).

READER REMARKS (+) "Cute town, interesting history, colorful locals." "A great experts' mountain." (-) "Too much high-end development-condo city." "It was either too easy or too extreme skiing."

Great Lodging Deals here.