Top 10 North American Ski Resorts

Price: $$$ Number of Runs: 193 Number of Lifts: 33 Terrain: 18% beginner, 29% intermediate, 53% advanced Skiable Acreage: 5,289 Vertical Rise: 3,450 feet Season: Mid-November to Mid-April Annual Snowfall: 348 inches Web Site: http://vail.snow.com/winter/

Vail is the 800-pound gorilla of American skiing. This massive mountain is all things to all skiers and riders -- a soothing beginner environment, a nurturing place for small fry to make their first turns, a mountain full of electrifying challenges, and most of all, a huge ski area with abundant groomed cruising terrain for intermediates (in fact, Vail has more groomed terrain than any other resort on the planet). The country's largest ski school (with over 1,000 instructors and classes for all skill levels), unsurpassed on-mountain services and facilities, and a fully interchangeable lift ticket with Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin are additional pluses, but the terrain at Vail alone could keep you knee-deep for weeks at a time.

The front side of the resort boasts all variety of skiing, from gentle blue cruisers to the four-mile-long Riva -- a black-to-blue leg burner -- to deep mogul runs to bunny slopes. Tree skiers on the front side should head into the Game Creek Bowl, where stashes of powder linger between the runs, or drop into the patches of pine below the Northwoods Express and Mountaintop Express lifts. Greens and blues are nestled into a nice pocket of terrain off Giant Steps Lift, and blacks and double-blacks are…well, everywhere. But some of the most challenging terrain lies in the Back Bowls, a dizzying mix of black and blue runs that could easily swallow entire days of your vacation. During storms the Back Bowls can become blustery as there's no tree cover to brunt the force of the wind. In those cases, retreat either to the front side, or off to Blue Sky Basin, another spectacular stash of blue and black runs woven into dense crops of trees with trails that prove glade skiing ain't just an East Coast phenomenon. If you head to Blue Sky Basin, just remember that that part of the resort closes early because it takes a while to get back to the main mountain.

The large and lively town of Vail is segmented into several interrelated centers, the original Alpine-style Vail Village, rejuvenated Lionshead, tranquil East Vail, (relatively) economical West Vail, and Cascade Village with practically private chairlift access to the western part of the ski terrain. At the top, Eagle's Nest boasts a day-and-night family entertainment area called Adventure Ridge, with night skiing and snowboarding, sledding, tubing, ice skating, and dining.

Where: 100 miles from Denver and 35 miles from Vail/Eagle County Airport, right along I-70.

What's There: 3,450-foot vertical drop, 193 trails, 5,289 acres, and a total of 34 lifts, including one gondola, 14 high-speed quads, one fixed-grip quad, three triple chairs, five double chairs and surface lifts, and one magic carpet. Vail also boasts four terrain parks, including a 400-foot-long Superpipe with 18-foot walls, 25 tabletops, 40 rails -- plus an additional 12 hand-carved rails, and one night-lit, on-mountain fun park.

What's New: Vail's Lionshead base is currently under construction, and will soon boast a full-service base lodge with dining, après-ski pubs, and more. MTV's new all-digital channel has also built a studio near Eagle's Nest.

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