Big Sky, Mont.: Rank 25 West, 1998

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If you want to look local here, don a helmet and a sick grin, and head for the high-wire act known as Lone Peak (11,166 feet) via America's most rapturous cable car. "The terrain off the new tram is epic. Go for a ride even if you don't want to ski it," advises one reader. You used to climb for an hour or more to earn one gut-wrenching run on the 45-degree Big Couloir. Now, some people ski it 12 times a day. Big Sky is oversized in every way: the skiing (4,180 vertical feet on 3,500 acres), the views (spanning Montana, Wyoming and Idaho), and the wildlife (enough deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep and coyotes to keep the Discovery Channel satisfied). What aren't big are the liftlines and the attitudes. "No crowds, laid-back atmosphere, killer skiing" is how one reader sums it up. Drawbacks: remoteness (an hour from Bozeman's smallish airport) and the dearth of on-slope dining (zero). "Hard to get to, lame nightlife," says a reader. Patience will be soon rewarded: An amenities transplant will come with the gigantic new Summit Hotel at the base of the lifts, now slated for completion in the summer of 2000.

What's New To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the opening of a major terrain park with a halfpipe, surface lift and music.
A Good Deal Great Ski Weeks (Dec. 12-24, March 27-April 11) 7 nights, 6 days, including lift tickets, lodging and a special events pass, $855 per person. Call (800)-548-4486.
Medals Gold Terrain, Challenge, Lifts, Scenery; Silver Snow, Value, Service, Lodging.
High/Low Rank Scenery (8); Access (66).
Don't Miss A Moose Drool Ale at the Half-Moon Saloon (10 miles from the village) with views of a wintering elk herd.
Reader Remarks "Close to Yellowstone, friendly, beautiful scenery. No liftlines." "Needs further development of mountain village and amenities. No nightlife."