Alta's unassailable charms are snow (abundant and as dry as the perfect martini), terrain (wide-open flanks punctuated with butt-clenching steeps) and value ($40 a day), categories it is accustomed to dominating in the annual rankings. Equally unassailable are its notorious shortcomings: minimal amenities, an arcane lift system, limited lodging and nightlife that ends just as night begins. To Alta's faithful-and they are legion-it's all good. "Alta is old-school skiing at its finest," crows a typical loyalist. "They even added a quad that never runs at high speed-pure Alta." The new quad that services the Sugarloaf side may only rarely run at full tilt, but it is still a welcome concession to modernity. Among Alta's un-rateable charms is its retro aura, what one reader calls its "twilight-zone skiing experience." But in at least one aspect, Alta is cutting edge: Its alliance with neighbor Snowbird creates a two-areas-on-one-pass experience, with terrain that rivals anything on the continent. As an insightful reader observes, "The skiing is the star here." And he does mean "skiing." Alta partisans are effusive in support of the boarding ban, but many families are not amused. The sense is that the ban will not fall soon. Of those at peace with Alta's terms, many praise the ski school, a handy resource to have in a powder paradise. -J.H.
WHAT'S NEW Grizzly Gulch catskiing. The cat can accommodate 11. The rate is $200 for five runs down 1,500 vertical feet.
A GOOD DEAL Morning half-day lift tickets are only $32 and good until 1 p.m. Alta's first 12-and-under children's season pass is also $32.
MEDALS GOLD Snow, Value, Challenge, Terrain, Weather, Access, Scenery; SILVER On-Mountain Food.
HIGH/LOW RANK Snow (1), Value (1), Challenge (2); Lifts (54), Family Programs (56), Terrain Parks (56).
DON'T MISS Skiing the backside of Germania. Access is easy via Yellow Trail, arduous up Eddie's High, but more than worth the hike no matter how you climb to this seemingly permanent powder stash.
READER REMARKS (+) "Never fails to amaze, thrill and overwhelm." "For those sick of snowboarders, this is a sanctuary." (-) "After the mountain, there isn't much there." "Confusing to newcomers."
Great Lodging Deals here.