The Resort Report: Monster Resorts:

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside Magazine, November 1994

The Resort Report: Monster Resorts:

From mega to mini, ten ski areas that'll fit just right
By Meg Lukens Noonan

Every winter, it's the same dilemma: Do you head for a massive, all-encompassing resort where you'll have the luxury of never skiing the same run twice? Retreat to a small, laid-back mountain where you'll be on a first-name basis with the lifties by the end of the second day? Or hedge your bets and go with a place that fits somewhere in between? Sure, you don't want to take any chances, but we say stop agonizing: At the right ski resort, you'll find intimacy amidst a battalion of high-speed quads, variety at the wildest outpost. Here are some of our favorites from big to little, with hard-won advice on how to get the most out of each.

monster resorts

Heavenly Ski Resort

south lake tahoe, california

The Big Picture: Heavenly Valley straddles the California-Nevada line with 4,800 sun-splashed acres. The third-largest ski area in the far West, Heavenly has always been a paradise for Bay Area intermediates who can't get enough of the stunning Sierra views and the vast network of groomed, wide-wale runs. But lately it's come into its own as

an expert mountain with the opening of Mott and Killebrew Canyons, two extremely steep, tree-filled bowls scarred with avalanche chutes. Skiing is only part of the story, however. Thanks to the giant casinos and all-night clubs on the Nevada side, Heavenly is the only area in America where après-ski can turn into pre-ski.

Unsung Runs: Killebrew Canyon sees less traffic than more-accessible Mott Canyon. To get there from the Nevada summit, traverse Milky Way Bowl, ski through the trees on the northwest side, and then look for

the three gates that lead into

the canyon. On the California side, Heavenly's signature bump run, Gunbarrel, is a cruiser's dream when it's freshly groomed (every three weeks or so).

How to Do Lunch: The Sky Deck, at the base of the Sky Express quad on the California side, has several giant grills where you can pick out your own chicken breast or hamburger and cook it yourself, or have the chefs do it for you. For unbeatable views, take the quad to the top and set up a picnic on the boulders just above the terminal.

The Après Approach: The strobe lights never stop and last call never comes at Neros 2000 in Caesar's Tahoe and Turtles at the Embassy Suites. To escape all that, head for Dixon's, a low-key bar/restaurant that serves 13 microbrews. Locals save Sunday for the buffet and free achy-breaky dance lessons at Wild West, a country-and-western club two miles out of town.

Where to Bunk: If you're up for it, Harrah's Lake Tahoe, a five-minute shuttle ride to the lifts, is the classiest of the four giant casino hotels, with 534 rooms and a full health club (doubles, $119; 800-427-7247). Lakeside Inn and Casino (doubles, $59-$79; 800-624-7980) has simple motel rooms but terrific access to the Nevada-side lifts. Best Western Timber Cove Lodge (doubles, $98; 800-528-1234), on the California side, overlooks Lake Tahoe.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: At the top of four lifts (two in Nevada, two in California) you'll see an instructor standing by to give one-run lessons to anybody (intermediate and above) willing to fork over $10.

Heavenly in a Nutshell:

Elevation:10,040 feet

Vertical: 3,500 feet

Trails: 35 percent expert, 45 percent intermediate, 20 percent beginner

Lifts: One aerial tram, three high-speed quads, 15 fixed chairs, five surface lifts

Average annual snowfall: 250 inches

Lift tickets: $42

Information: 702-586-7000

Reservations: 800-243-2836

Killington Ski Resort

killington, vermont

The Big Picture: This humongous six-peak resort in south-central Vermont's Green Mountains makes most everyone's list as one of the East's premier ski resorts. It does have impressive stats: the region's longest run (ten miles), most skiable terrain (860 acres), greatest lift capacity (36,327 skiers per hour), most extensive snowmaking system (44 miles of trails), and longest season (October to late May). What Killington doesn't have, though, is much in the way of New England charm. The base lodges and surrounding condos are mostly boxy and utilitarian; parts of the five-mile-long access road have all the appeal of

a Long Island strip mall. But that doesn't seem to matter to the fraternity of testosterone-charged New Yorkers and New Jerseyites who barrel up here every weekend in their muscle cars. Who needs atmosphere when there's a bar that holds bikini contests?

Unsung Runs: Leave the crowds on Double Dipper and head for Big Dipper, a wide, softly bumped expert trail that was written off as unskiable in low-snow years. Few people realize that it now gets substantial blow-over from Double Dipper's recently installed snow guns. Over on Skye Peak, skip jammed-up Superstar and check out the choice, regraded cruiser called Bittersweet. And on powder days, make the short hike up to Swirl, a twisty, narrow intermediate trail off the Rams Head chair that gets very little traffic.

How to Do Lunch: Ski the Sundog trail on Sunrise Mountain and watch for a sign for Judd Dugan's Olde World Pub, a small watering hole that's the antithesis of a frenetic on-mountain cafeteria. Settle in at a table by the picture windows and linger over a burger or the three-cheese lasagna.

The Après Approach: Catch the big show at the Bear Mountain Deli, where the deck will most likely be jammed with smug bump-gods hooting at the last sorry stragglers coming down Outer Limits, the region's steepest mogul run. Inside, there's live rock and roll, 101 kinds of beer, and a sense that things may shortly spin out of control. For some peace, head for Charity's, a dimly lit pub where you can actually have a conversation.

Where to Bunk: The Inn of the Six Mountains (doubles, $155-$195, including breakfast; 802-422-4302), with 103 country-style rooms and an indoor lap pool, is Killington's best hotel. High Ridge (800-343-0762) has one-bedroom condominiums a mile from the base village for $210 per night. The Summit Lodge (doubles, $130, including breakfast; 802-422-3535) is a mile and a half from Killington, with a skating pond and a free shuttle to the slopes.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: Bypass the early morning crush on Bear Mountain by warming up your legs on quieter Rams Head or Snowden Mountain.

Killington in a Nutshell:

Elevation: 4,170 feet

Vertical: 3,150 feet

Average annual snowfall: 252 inches

Trails: 32 percent expert, 18 percent intermediate, 50 percent beginner

Lifts: One gondola, two high-speed quads, 14 fixed chairs, two surface lifts

Lift tickets: $44

Information: 802-422-3333

Reservations: 800-343-0762

vail, colorado

The Big Picture: Vail is the king of megaresorts. For starters, there are its 4,000 skiable acres, including seven giant bowls, just off U.S. 70. Then there's the village, which somehow manages to be lovable in spite of its ersatz Tirolean facades and all those lodges, restaurants, shops, celebrity fund-raiser hoo-has, and beautiful Bogner-clad couples buying antler chandeliers and $100 sweatshirts.

The town is tucked into a narrow valley at the base of the lifts, and all the ski terrain flows from one long slope-shouldered massif. Even when you're off in the resort's most remote reaches, you never have the sense that you might encounter trouble or even find yourself more than a few minutes away from your next cappuccino. Fear, confusion, thirst--that kind of thing is simply not allowed in Vail.

Unsung Runs: For fast and steep, nothing beats double-black-diamond Blue Ox when it's groomed, which is only about five times a year. Though Simba and Bwana aren't quite the unknown havens they were before the Pride quad went up last year, they're still superb, buffed roller-coaster rides. If it's untracked you're after, try Outer and Inner Mongolia Bowls.

How to Do Lunch: Grab one of the outdoor picnic tables at Wildwood, an under-patronized European-style timber hut at the top of Chair 3, for great barbecued brisket, venison chili, and grilled chicken with apple-ancho chili barbecue sauce.

The Après Approach: Head for the Red Lion, strategically located at the top of Bridge Street, where you can join the meet-and-greet crowd on the sun deck and watch the parade down the village's main pedestrian thoroughfare.

Where to Bunk: The recently renovated Vail Village Inn (doubles, $195, including breakfast; 303-476-5622) is within walking distance of the Vista Bahn chairlift. Antlers (studio condo, $185; 800-843-8245), a well-appointed condo complex close to the gondola, gives you a base in Lions-head. The Sonnenalp Hotel (suites, $345, including breakfast and lift tickets; 303-476-5656) has just redone its elegant all-suite Bavaria Haus.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: Avoid the base congestion by parking at the Westin Hotel, buying a lift ticket there, and riding the Cascade Village lift to the Pride Express, the fastest way to the top.

Vail in a Nutshell:

Elevation: 11,420 feet

Vertical: 3,250 feet

Annual average snowfall: 335 inches

Trails: 32 percent expert, 36 percent intermediate, 32 percent beginner (backside: 64 percent expert, 36 percent intermediate)

Lifts: One gondola, eight high-speed quads, 11 fixed chairs, five surface lifts

Lift tickets: $45

Information: 303-476-5601

Reservations: 800-525-2257

midsized resorts

Mount Bachelor

bend, oregon

The Big Picture: Just 22 miles from Bend, the 9,065-foot snow-cone of Mount Bachelor rises mirage-like from the firs. You can ski 360 degrees off the summit from November to Memorial Day, enjoying views of the high-desert country, the distant Cascades, and the solitary volcanic peaks of the Three Sisters, Mount Hood, and even Mount St. Helens on clear days. The east face has sunny bowls up high and tree-sheltered trails toward the bottom; the west side is more challenging, with untouched, open snowfields and tricky wind-packed plunges.

Six day-lodges surround the mountain, but there's no slopeside lodging. Most people spend the night in Bend--and seem to carry that town's genial life-is-sweet aura up to the mountain with them. This is a fundamentally friendly ski area, full of gung-ho intermediate skiers wearing five-year-old jackets. There's no pressure to show off, and in fact there isn't all that much pressure to ski: Four years ago, Bachelor installed an automated pay-per-run ticket system, which means nobody feels obligated to amortize their lift tickets.

Unsung Runs: On powder days, head straight for the run known as The Grotto. Take the Red Chair up, watch for the picture of the Virgin Mary nailed to a tree, and turn your skis downhill. You'll also find powder in the trees on the cinder cone that juts up between the Outback Chair and the Red Chair. You'll have to work for it--there's no lift here.

Experts should take the Summit Chair and try skiing the exposed West Ridge instead of dropping into Cirque Bowl as most people do. On the mountain's eastern flank, traverse past popular Beverly Hills until you reach Cow's Face; it's steep and smooth and gets lots of sun.

How to Do Lunch: Outfox everybody by heading across the West Village parking lot to the lodge at the cross-country ski area, a cozy log cabin with a quiet, sunny deck. Pick up some homemade soup and bread and park yourself on one of the benches in front of the main-floor fireplace.

The Après Approach: Soak up the local karma at Café Paradiso, an ultra-mellow downtown coffeehouse in a former vaudeville theater. Late-night action is best at the Deschutes Brewery, which serves on-site concoctions like Bachelor Bitter.

Where to Bunk: The River House (doubles, $69; 800-547-3928), in Bend, has deluxe rooms overlooking the Deschutes River. The Inn of the Seventh Mountain (doubles, $99; 800-452-6810) is closest to the ski area, with a fireplace and kitchen in most rooms and its own skating rink. At Sun-River Lodge (doubles, $89; 800-547-3922), a huge self-contained resort with restaurants, shops, and an airport, each double room has a fireplace and deck.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: Don't waste your energy hiking to the top of the cinder cone. Instead, tuck the Leeway (off the Pine Marten Chair or the Red Chair) and you'll be carrying enough speed to shoot you about halfway up it.

Mount Bachelor in a Nutshell:

Elevation: 9,065 feet

Vertical: 3,100 feet

Average annual snowfall: 300 inches

Trails: 25 percent expert, 35 percent intermediate, 40 percent beginner

Lifts: Six high-speed lifts, four fixed chairs, two surface lifts

Lift tickets: $33

Information: 800-829-2442

Reservations: 800-800-8334

Park City

park city, utah

The Big Picture: Park City's proximity to Salt Lake (27 miles) makes it one of the few western ski areas where East Coast travelers can get in some quality slope-time the day they arrive. The most complete all-around resort in Utah, Park City mixes the funky appeal of a restored mining town with a sprawling, wide-open mountain. Though known as a cruiser's hill, the area also has some steep bowl skiing. Would the U.S. Ski Team chose this place as its headquarters if there weren't some tough stuff here?

If Park City suffers from anything, it's the misconception that it's buttoned up. On the contrary, this resort is its own little world--a tiny, independent party planet in the midst of a staid Mormon universe. A favorite with southern California college kids (that's why all the women look like Heather Locklear with hat-head), the town has dozens of bars and dance clubs that don't exhibit one iota of decorum.

Unsung Runs: After a snow dump, head straight for Jupiter Peak and the McConkey's and Puma Bowls; you'll do a long traverse and then have to hike for about 15 minutes to get to the jumping-off point. When Ford Country and Glory Hole are groomed--two or three times a season--they're superb, advanced, go-fast runs.

How To Do Lunch: Scout out the Mid-mountain Lodge, a renovated miners' boardinghouse at the base of the Pioneer Lift, where the mashed potatoes and gravy is so sublime people have been known to make an entire meal out of it. Choice seating is out on the deck, where you can see 50 miles east to the Uinta range.

The Après Approach: As soon as the lifts close, head to Steeps, in the base complex, for great views and live acoustic music. Around nine o'clock, duck into to Cisero's, a snug dance club in the basement of a turn-of-the-century parlor-house restaurant.

Where to Bunk: The Washington School Inn (doubles, $200; 800-824-1672), built in a former school in old Park City, has a hot tub, sauna, and loads of charm. Shadow Ridge (800-451-3031), an easy walk to the lifts, offers one-bedroom units starting at $195. Edelweiss Haus (doubles, $95-$110; 800-438-3855) has been recently remodeled with simple, comfortable rooms across from the lifts.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: Since this is Utah, all the bars are "clubs," and technically you have to buy a $5 membership, which is good for two weeks, to get in. What most people don't realize is that you can simply ask the doorman--or anyone within earshot--to find someone already inside to sponsor you.

Park City in a Nutshell:

Elevation: 10,000 feet

Vertical: 3,100 feet

Average annual snowfall: 350 inches

Lifts: One gondola, two high-speed quads, 11 fixed chairs

Trails: 30 percent expert, 50 percent intermediate, 20 percent beginner

Lift tickets: $45

Information: 801-649-8111

Reservations: 800-222-7275

Winter Park

winter park, colorado

The Big Picture: First-time visitors approaching Winter Park over 11,315-foot Berthoud Pass can be forgiven for thinking they're getting themselves into something a little nasty. The switchbacks, the drop-offs, the plumes of blowing snow--it's quite a drive. What a surprise, then, when you finally pull into the resort and discover that the place is as wholesome and unintimidating as Mayberry. Part of the Denver Mountain Parks system since 1940, the ski area is still owned by the City of Denver and is run as a nonprofit entity. Thanks to these unglamorous roots, Winter Park remains the most affordable and least image-conscious big-time ski area in Colorado. People don't come here to make a statement; they come to make turns--on the undulating boulevards of Winter Park, the tough bumps of Mary Jane, and the creamy snowfields of the Parsenn Bowl, saving just enough energy to make the 67-mile drive back to Denver at the end of the day.

Unsung Runs: Gambler and Aces & Eights, on Vasquez Ridge, are two short, steep bump runs that are remarkably underskied. On a powder day, hop the Timberline lift to North Cone and then slide into Parsenn Bowl, where the moderate pitch makes it perfect for even the most timid deep-snow skiers. When Mulligan's Mile is groomed, it's a great steep cruise.

How to Do Lunch: Take the Zephyr Express to the magnificent timber-and-glass Lodge at Sunspot, then find a seat somewhere close to the large fireplace in the dining room for floor-to-ceiling views of Rocky Mountain National Forest.

The Après Approach: By 5 p.m., you'll want to be in position at The Slope, a local institution about three-quarters of a mile from the ski area, with three bars on four floors.

Where to Bunk: Engelmann Pines Bed & Breakfast (doubles, $95; 303-726-4632), about four miles from Winter Park, has antique furnishings and views of the Continental Divide. Snowblaze Condominiums (studio condos, $98; 800-525-2466), in downtown Win-

ter Park, offers an athletic club and units with full kitchens. Closer to the ski area is the full-service Vintage Hotel (doubles, $130; 303-726-8801), which has a heated outdoor pool.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: Don't forget to tuck on the long, excruciatingly flat Big Valley runout from Vasquez.

Winter Park in a Nutshell:

Elevation: 12,060 feet

Vertical: 3,060 feet

Average annual snowfall: 345 inches

Trails: 20 percent expert, 58 percent intermediate, 22 percent beginner

Lifts: Six high-speed quads, 14 fixed chairs

Lift tickets: $38

Information: 303-726-5514

Reservations: 800-453-2525


carrabassett valley, maine

The Big Picture: On this remote white-domed peak in western Maine, the skiing is pure Yankee, with lots of forthright fall-line shots and no-nonsense GS swoops through the pines. Skiing Sugarloaf is always an adventure: Maybe it's the teams of wandering moose or the above-timberline snowfields, or maybe it's simply the weather--the area often gets socked with fierce coastal storms. Sugarloaf may feel isolated, but it's New England's second-biggest resort, with a compact base village full of shops, restaurants, and hotels that's one of the best-designed and toniest in the East.

Unsung Runs: Double Bitter, a classic New England expert trail off the Sugarloaf Super Quad, has the same sweet contours as the Narrow Gauge trail, but fewer skiers. You'll have to do some poling to get to it--but it's worth the effort. Intermediates should skip the busy central lifts and use the Bucksaw chair to access six uncrowded blue runs.

How to Do Lunch: At D'Ellies, in the Village West, pick up a turkey salad sandwich on homemade anadama bread, a Granny Smith apple, and a Whoopie Pie. Then ride the Bucksaw chair to the top, head to the Horseshoe Trail, and three minutes into the traverse, look for two picnic tables on the left that overlook the Longfellow Mountains.

The Après Approach: Your first stop has to be The Bag and Kettle for a Dead River Dark from the new local mi-

crobrewery. Then check out the big and noisy Widowmaker Lounge, in the base lodge, for highly danceable Top 40 tunes, blue margaritas, and great gloppy plates of nachos.

Where to Bunk: On the mountain, the Sugarloaf Inn (800-843-5623) has packages starting at $138 for a double, including health-club passes, daily lift tickets, and a group ski lesson. The Lumberjack Lodge (doubles, $60; 207-237-2141), at the base of the access road, has one-bedroom efficiency units that can sleep up to eight. And seven miles north, in the small town of Stratton, the Spillover Motel (doubles, $65; 207-246-6571) has recently remodeled rooms, but you'll need a car, since the mountain shuttle doesn't venture out this far.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: Don't get anywhere near the Spillway Chair between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. or 1:30 and 2:00 p.m.

Sugarloaf in a Nutshell:

Elevation: 4,237 feet

Vertical: 2,820 feet

Average annual snowfall: 175 inches

Trails: 32 percent expert, 33 percent intermediate, 35 percent beginner

Lifts: One gondola, one high-speed quad, 11 fixed chairs, two surface lifts

Lift tickets: $41

Information: 207-237-2000

Reservations: 800-843-5623

intimate resorts

The Big Mountain

whitefish, montana

The Big Picture: This wide-open ski mountain in northwestern Montana has just about everything: vast tree-studded backcountry, summit vistas of neighboring Glacier National Park, a more-than-adequate cluster of base facilities, a rollicking bar scene in an Old West town, and a steady stream of kick-ass winter storms. So how come you've never been here? Well, let's just say that Whitefish, Montana, is not exactly a major transportation hub.

In many ways, the Big Mountain's remoteness is its strongest draw.When at last you arrive you're rewarded with an edge-of-the-world feeling that you won't find at the ski areas that are simply exits on superhighways. Eight miles up a snaking road from the town of Whitefish, the Big Mountain gets an average of just 2,000 skiers a day (mostly Minnesotans, Calgarians, and Seattleites who arrive in Whitefish by train). And locals aren't exaggerating when they say they can find untracked powder in the area's 3,000 skiable acres two weeks--two weeks!--after a big snowfall.

Unsung Runs: Just about everywhere, but especially Good Medicine, a broad, forested, expert-level bowl, and for intermediates, the sweet, relatively new cruiser called Inspiration.

How To Do Lunch: At the base of Chair 2, find Moguls Bar & Grille, a sunny sit-down restaurant with huge atrium windows and a memorable grilled turkey sandwich with sautéed mushrooms and smoked Gouda.

The Après Approach: Go straight to the Hellroaring Saloon at the base for a plate of nachos supreme and a hat beer. (After you buy a $20 hat at the bar, you get one free beer every day for the rest of your life.) Next, plan to be at the Bierstube by 5:30, especially if it's a Wednesday. That's when the Ski Patrol presents the Frabert Award to the resort's clod of the week.

Where to Bunk: For basic slopeside rooms, try the Alpinglow Inn (doubles, $98; 406-862-6966). The big Kandahar Lodge (doubles, $124; 406-862-6098), with its wooden beams, stone fireplaces, and down comforters, is a classic mountain hotel. A one-bedroom condo unit at the Anapurna ($120; 406-862-3687) gives you access to the only indoor pool on the mountain.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: Don't flail around on your own trying to find the best expert terrain. Take a free guided mountain-tour your first day out.

The Big Mountain in a Nutshell:

Elevation: 7,000 feet

Vertical: 2,300 feet

Average annual snowfall: 300 inches

Trails: 20 percent expert, 55 percent intermediate, 25 percent beginner

Lifts: One high-speed quad, six fixed chairs, two surface lifts

Lift tickets: $35

Information: 406-862-3511

Reservations: 800-858-5439

Solitude Ski Resort

big cottonwood canyon, utah

The Big Picture: Cloistered 12 miles up in the snow-hushed walls of Big Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude is practically a religious experience. First-time visitors who drive up from Salt Lake for the day are stunned when they see the extensive gladed backcountry, the buffed-out supersteeps on the front face, and the unsullied powder hidden in the trees.

Long a favorite with slumming Snowbird ski patrollers and day-tripping powder-junkies who didn't care about the quirky fall-lines and lack of base facilities, Solitude in the last few years has been transforming itself into a more family-friendly resort. The trails and lifts now make a logical progression from beginner to high-expert terrain, and the grooming is unusually aggressive (much more so than some diehards would like). And by next year, Solitude should have its first overnight facilities--phase one of what will ultimately be, according to resort operators, a Vailesque alpine village.

Unsung Runs: Three days after a big storm, Middle Slope and Milk Run will still be full of untouched powder. Sunshine Bowl, off the Eagle Express quad, gets the bulk of the expert traffic, but narrower, groomed Serenity, a few trails to the left, gets the nod from regulars. Honeycomb Canyon is all superb; when you see a line you like, dive in.

How To Do Lunch: Take the chair up to the airy second-story dining room at the Roundhouse, a civilized spot with crystal and china settings, classical music, and a baked vegetable risotto.

The Après Approach: Need we say it? Raucous, Solitude ain't. Still, you can find what locals call heavy beer at the Club at Solitude--a perfect place to stare into your mug of Wasatch Ale and listen to the hot licks of the local dulcimer player.

Where to Bunk: In south Salt Lake City, try the Best Western Executive Inn (doubles, $64; 801-566-4141), 17 miles from Solitude. Downtown, the elegant Doubletree (doubles, $77-$87; 801-531-7500) has an indoor pool, sauna, and whirlpool.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: Read the signs carefully in the backcountry. Occasionally somebody gets stranded on the cliffs in Honeycomb Canyon and patrollers have to rappel down to rescue them. They don't like that.

Solitude in a Nutshell:

Elevation: 10,030 feet

Vertical: 2,030 feet

Average annual snowfall: 410 inches

Trails: 30 percent expert, 50 percent intermediate, 20 percent beginner

Lifts: One high-speed quad, two triple chairs, four double chairs

Lift tickets: $29

Information: 801-534-1400

Crystal Mountain

crystal mountain,


The Big Picture: For an area that's the domain of day-tripping Seattleites, Crystal Mountain feels wild--so wild that regulars liken it to heli-skiing without the expense of a chopper. Just 12 miles from Mount Rainier, Crystal is full of secret glades, snow-choked bowls, and hidden chutes. And everywhere you look there are cornices and cliffs and young yahoos who want to jump off them, perhaps in the hope that someone will mistake them for favorite son extreme skier Mike Hattrup.

This is Washington's largest, highest ski area--its 3,100-foot vertical drop is second in the region only to California's Heavenly Valley. There are four no-frills lodges at the base, and nightlife is practically nonexistent. For a place this bare-bones, management is fond of technology. Skiers who join Club Vertical get a watchband gizmo that, when touched to electronic readers at the base of each lift, will keep track of how many vertical feet you ski each day. Ski a ton and you get a prize. Like you needed another one.

Unsung Runs: Expert backcountry skiers should check out Brain Damage and Pinball, off Silver King in the South Back; steep-seekers should look for Iceberg Gulch, Exterminator, and Bull Run. Intermediates will love Queens, a meandering trail through the trees that is designated green but has some challenging terrain-changes.

How To Do Lunch: At the rustic Crystal Inn Cookhouse & Saloon, snag a table near the fireplace and order an El Paso pizza topped with spicy chicken, peppers, and jack cheese.

The Après Approach: Nurse a Crystal Mountain Ale at the Snorting Elk Cellar, a relaxed, Bavarian-style basement pub, and then hit the hot tub.

Where to Bunk: The Village Inn (doubles, $77) offers basic motel rooms, plus a sauna and pool. Silver Skis Chalet has one-bedroom units at $128 for up to four people. Quicksilver Lodge (doubles, $95) is a no-smoking property with recently renovated rooms. For all three properties, call 206-663-2558.

Ski Patrol Tip of the Day: If you're skiing Lower Northway, watch carefully for the base-lodge turnoff. Otherwise you'll end up on a stretch of road a mile and a half from the ski area.

Crystal in a Nutshell:

Elevation: 7,002 feet

Vertical: 3,102 feet

Average annual snowfall: 340 inches

Trails: 30 percent expert, 57 percent intermediate, 13 percent beginner

Lifts: One high-speed quad, nine fixed chairs

Information: 206-663-2265

Reservations: 206-663-2558

Meg Lukens Noonan is a frequent contributor to Outside.

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