Top 10 North American Ski Resorts

Hot lodge: Stay in Ketchum, Sun Valley's neighbor and the epicenter of the après action. The Best Western Kentwood Lodge, situated right in the mix, has an airy stone-and-wood lobby, big rooms, a hot tub, and a pool.

Soul patch: Clomp into Apple's Bar and Grill, at the base of Greyhawk, and mingle with folks who packed it in after logging 30,000 feet of vert -- by lunchtime. Notice all the passes tacked to the wall? You could once trade yours for a pitcher of suds. Talk about priorities.

TAOS SKI RESORT, NEW MEXICO

By Mitch Kaplan

Price: $$ Number of Runs: 110 Number of Lifts: 12 Terrain: 24% beginner, 25% intermediate, 51% expert Skiable Acreage: 1,294 Vertical Rise: 2,612 feet Season: Mid-November to April Annual Snowfall: 305 inches Web Site: http://www.skitaos.org/

Taos, of course, is the stuff of legends. In skiers' lore, it ranks with Aspen, Sun Valley, and Squaw Valley among North America's must-ski places. So, when I'm standing at the bottom of Al's Run, the legendary trail at the legendary resort, and reading the sign that starts out by saying "Don't panic!" and goes on to explain that what you see before you is only a fraction of what the place has to offer, I can't help wondering if even I, a damned good skier, have bitten off more than I can chew.

Indeed, Taos offers as much as any skier could care to chew. Picking our way across the High Traverse ledge, the runs drop so steeply to our right that vertigo sets in. You'd best know how to set an edge up here. But, that, too is just a fraction of what's to be found here. You can hike up from the top of Kachina Lift (some say it's 20 minutes' hike, but we flatlanders would lean towards 45 minutes) and take on the awe-inspiring bowl off Kachina Peak, or drop in en route to a series of chutes and glades that depart the Highline Ridge at regular intervals, each a bit more memorable than the last.

These, then, are the downhill routes that made the Taos legend. That, and Ernie Blake's somewhat absurd notion of putting a Bavarian-style Alpine resort in the middle of the American Southwest. Whether a Bavarian-style makes sense is a matter of aesthetics. But the need for a more intermediate-friendly ski hill eventually became obvious. And, Taos has responded to the challenge. Both sides of the mountain offer surprisingly pleasant intermediate cruising, especially off the Kachina Lift, but the novice trails remains somewhat limited. The ski school, however, is so good that novices should be tackling blue runs in relatively short order.

Meanwhile, if it's southwestern flavor you're after, the trick is to stay in town -- about a half-hour drive down the access road. Replete with a classic, central town plaza; dozens of atmosphere-rich B&B's, eateries, and art galleries; and a stone's throw from the famous Taos Pueblo, this is the place that first got Georgia O'Keeffe hooked on New Mexico and where D.H. Lawrence liked to hang out. Taos offers classic skiing, excellent facilities, great family programs, and 305 inches of annual snowfall.

Be aware, however, of two things: one, snowboarders are not welcome here; and two, you will have to make a choice between lodging on the mountain or in town -- a choice because the access road can be a laborious trip, particularly during the pre- and post-skiing rush hours, but also later when the aprés-ski life has worn you to a nub.

VAIL SKI RESORT, COLORADO

By Nathan Borchelt and Claire Walter

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