When the Weather Channel makes its annual stakeout of western New York to tell the country lake-effect tales of woe, skiers at the east end of Lake Erie grin in anticipation. They know one of those prodigious snow bands is likely to lash Holiday Valley, perhaps the best ski area between the Adirondacks and the Rockies. Those other regions are like Nicole Kidman: They have incredible natural attributes. Holiday Valley is the girl you notice when she comes to the prom in a designer gown. With a $2.9 million expansion this season, Holiday Valley has been dressed up with a total of more than $50 million in lifts, snow guns and lodges in the past decade. "They've done a tremendous job with a small hill," one reader remarks. The upgrades partly mask Holiday's shortcomings. Common complaints: "The weather is unpredictable," and "runs are short." Its proximity to Midwest population centers makes it accessible-and sometimes crowded. In fact, Holiday is New York's busiest resort, with 500,000-plus skier visits a year. Another draw is Ellicottville, with its charming Main Street lined with bars, restaurants and well-stocked ski shops. The mountain is gentle enough for novices, but also presents enough challenge in its 750 vertical feet to have spawned five U.S. Ski Team freestylers,including 2002 Olympic silver medalist Travis Mayer. "Best in our area," says a Cleveland reader. "Well worth the drive time." -Fletcher Doyle
WHAT'S NEW The Learning Center for Winter Sports one-stop ski school facility.
A GOOD DEAL Stay midweek after Jan. 1 in any of Holiday's condos or hotel rooms and two children (under 18) stay free.
MEDALS GOLD Access SILVER Après, Service, Grooming, Lifts, On-Mountain Food, Lodging, Dining, Family Programs, Terrain Parks.
HIGH/LOW RANK Après (11), Service (13), Access (17); Terrain (51), Challenge (52), Scenery (56).
DON'T MISS Spring Party, March 29, with moguls competition and pond-skimming.
READER REMARKS (+) "Ellicottville is like being in Vermont but closer." "Great snow, nice mountain, good skiing."(-) "Short runs, low elevation." "Long liftlines. Traffic backs up at the end of the day."