Let's be blunt: Serious skiers
looking for sustained challenge are going to head farther north for bigger vertical. But in addition to their beauty, the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts have slopes just steep enough to please weekend warriors.
And you can't beat the commute: a couple of hours from either New York City or Boston. Nor is this a cultural backwater: As a summertime arts mecca of nearly two centuries' standing, its abundant Colonial charm comes with a veneer of contemporary sophistication.
Jiminy Peak, with a base area that includes slopeside lodging, comes closest to a destination resort. Pretty Ski Butternut resembles a Scandinavian country club and makes an ideal family destination. Both Catamount and Bousquet are decidedly down-home in their amenities, but both have a good excuse: venerability. Catamount is entering its 65th year, and the late Clarence Bousquet, who built the country's second ropetow on his farm back in 1935, was recently inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame.
For a leap into unalloyed luxury, there's no beating
in Lenox, an airy blond-brick palazzo built for an American-born contessa in 1893. A recent multimillion-dollar makeover by New York architects Tsao & McKown erased every last trace of Victorian fustiness. Instead, what you get is ultra-soothing minimalism on a grand scale-a celebration of light and texture, from raw silk duvets to vintage British bathtubs. Haute-continental service always accommodates, never intrudes. 800-321-0610; wheatleigh.com; $545-$1,550
By contrast, quarters at the Old Inn on the Green and Gedney Farm in rural New Marlborough represent a paean to a timeless American vernacular. There are currently five buildings in the ever-growing complex, but the original two-a miraculously well-preserved 1760 stagecoach inn and a grand Norman-style cattle barn kitted out with sixteen guest-rooms boasting granite fireplaces and/or hand-tiled whirlpool tubs-remain the most charming. 800-286-3139; oldinn.com; $205-$365
In truth, the rooms at Cranwell are nothing special; cushy, yes, but generic. The big draw at this 380-acre resort-centered on the 1894 Cranwell Mansion-is the new state-of-the-art spa. At 35,000 square feet, it's bigger than neighboring Canyon Ranch's, though its rates are slightly less dear. And six miles of cross-country trails meander around a dormant golf course. 800-272-6935; cranwell.com; $165-$415
The 230-year-old Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge could coast on its Norman Rockwell quaintness alone. Throw in cheery Country Curtains accoutrements (the hands-on Fitzpatrick family owns the inn, the on-site flagship décor shop and several other thriving enterprises throughout the region) and you have a cozy, cosseting hideaway. 800-678-8946; redlioninn.com; $85-$395
BEST DINING It's not enough that the Old Inn (see above) has the most romantic retro setting imaginable-authentic fireplaced parlors where candlelight gently illuminates faux-primitive country murals. Two years ago the inn snagged Wheatleigh's long-time chef, Peter Platt, whose signature dishes-such as a killer cauliflower soup with cider reduction-are rarefied but robust; they deftly straddle the line between exquisite and comfort. Opt for the eight-course tasting menu-a bargain at $70. As for the $25 prix fixe supper served Wednesdays and Thursdays, it's an outright steal.
Under the aegis of young chef J. Bryce Whittlesey, whose training included a stint with Michel Rostang in Paris, the fare at Wheatleigh's formal dining room has grown a shade too esoteric for some tastes. And pricey. (The chocolate-themed tasting menu is a dare-you $115.) A more reasonable and jollier option (with entrees in the $20-something range) is the Mediterranean-influenced supper served in the Library.
Chef-owner Dan Smith explores much the same tterritory, at similar prices, at John Andrews (413-528-3469; jarestaurant.com) in South Egremont, a stylishly updated farmhouse only a mile from Catamount. Celebrating local foodstuffs (e.g., the ricotta enfolded into tender gnocchi), he creates the kind of meals that make you glad to be alive.
Also in that bracket, Bistro Zinc (413-637-8800) in Lenox is a favorite for its bon vivant vibe. Off-season, you'll have the run of the long zinc bar, access to the lipstick-red banquettes and leisure to enjoy the French-plus offerings, which even embrace a bit of fusion (seared tuna with baby bok choy). The Zinc people, who also run city-slick Pearl's in Great Barrington (413-528-7767), recently opened Betty's Pizza Shack in Lenox (413-637-8171), a lively little inland homage to the surfer lifestyle.
BEST NIGHTLIFE Great Barrington's Club Helsinki is a hotspot for live blues, rock, jazz, folk, gospel and just about any other genre you can think of (413-528-3394; clubhelsinkiweb.com). Quieter, but equally inviting, the Lion's Den at the Red Lion offers no-cover entertainment seven nights a week (413-298-1654; lionsdenpub.com). Farther afield, MASS MoCA, a cutting-edge contemporary arts complex in North Adams, imports a wide range of alternative acts, offering some kind of concert or event every weekend (413-664-4481; massmoca.org).
Uncommon elegance In Lenox, Mass., Wheatleigh chooses modern sleekness over Victorian frills.