2003 Number 26 Resort in North America: Big Sky, Mont.

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From the perch of the posh slopeside suites at The Summit to the wild heights of 11,166-foot Lone Peak, Big Sky goes big all the way. Its 4,350 vertical feet features some of the rowdiest terrain on the continent. "The runs off Lone Peak Tram are some of the best I have ever skied," says one reader. Local guns enjoy nonstopping the fierce Dictator Chutes and racking up laps on the spooky 42-degree Big Couloir. There's challenging terrain tucked all over, including new black-diamond glades on Bear Lair and Wounded Knee, but that's not all the resort is about. "Awesome mountain with something for everyone," proclaims one of many happy visitors. "Comfortable as a big easy chair." Big Sky's array of family runs is highlighted by Hangman's, Big Horn, Calamity Jane and about a hundred others. The Lone Moose Triple Chair is the latest best-kept secret, where powder lasts for days. And the most amazing part is "liftlines are virtually nonexistent." This in spite of the fact that much-needed upgrades to the Mountain Village have finally started, with the new Summit lodge, The Peaks restaurant, a Holiday Inn Express and the elegant Moonlight Lodge. But you still need a car to reach all the off-slope options (the nearby Rainbow Ranch Grill, for instance). Otherwise, Big Sky may feel like it's just "for folks who only want to ski, eat and sleep." -J.C.

WHAT'S NEW A chairlift to the Cascade Highlands homesites; expert terrain off Challenger; improved glades on Andesite Mountain.

A GOOD DEAL Three-night, two-day ski packages at The Huntley Lodge start at $221 per person, Dec. 13-25, Jan. 3-17, March 29-April 6 (800-548-4486;www.bigskyresort.com).

MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge, Lifts, Scenery; SILVER Snow, Grooming, Value, Service, Weather, Lodging, Dining.

HIGH/LOW RANK Challenge (12), Scenery (12), Terrain (14); On-Mountain Food (42), Après (46), Access (52).

DON'T MISS Slopeside lunch or dinner (or both) at the Moonlight Lodge, with its big-screen views, creative cuisine and massive fireplace.

READER REMARKS (+) "Beautiful mountains, great snow and grooming. "Ski school for kids is fantastic!" "Never crowded. It's a rush to ski off the L.P. Tram." (-) "Limited food service and restrooms on mountain." "Base area is spread out and disorganized." "Long hike to the lifts."

Great Lodging Deals here.