Skiers are fiercely loyal to their resorts. Returning each year to the same mountain, they memorize every inch of its trails and regard the place as a home away from home.
But for those who are new to the sport - or those who want to branch out a bit - deciding where to go can be a challenge. Some resorts are beginner-friendly and cater to families; others are loaded with steep slopes and moguls, and attract singles. There's also the East-West debate: Eastern resorts are often cold and crowded, but they're also quaint, somewhat less expensive, and (for New Englanders) easier to get to than those in Colorado or Utah.
To make your choice easier, we've listed a few of the more popular destinations in various regions across the country, along with what makes them unique.
SQUAW VALLEY USA
Olympic Valley, Calif.
The site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, Squaw Valley is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It's one of the three biggest resorts in the United States (others are Vail and Mammoth). Favored by expert skiers - it has lots of steep chutes and drops - its average annual snowfall is the best.
Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
It's mammoth with a capital "M": More than 150 trails cover Mammoth Mountain. This unpretentious resort lacks some of the glitz found elsewhere - which suits serious skiers just fine. Its fans swear it has the lightest powder in the Sierra Nevada.
A mecca for the rich and famous, more skiers flock to Vail's slopes each year than to any other resort in the country. The resort can handle the crowds, however, since it covers nearly seven miles from east to west. It's one of the more expensive destinations, but you'll get more runs for your money.
One of the oldest ski areas in the nation, Aspen/Snowmass is actually four separate mountains: Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk. One lift ticket gives you access to all four; a free shuttle runs between them. Aspen is the most advanced, with no novice trails and no snowboarding allowed, Buttermilk is a "learner's" mountain, and the other two are in between. The stats below are a compilation of the four.
The biggest in the East, with seven separate peaks, Killington is famous for its extra-long season that sometimes stretches into June. With numerous aprs-ski options - there are more than 150 nearby eateries - it's also especially popular among singles. If you're looking to escape crowds, however, go elsewhere.
STOWE MOUNTAIN RESORT
A charming New England setting, with 90-plus adorable shops in town, Stowe is one of the oldest ski resorts in the country. It's also the town that the Von Trapp family (of "Sound of Music" fame) chose for their new home in the late 1930s - visitors can still stay in the Von Trapp Lodge.
DEER VALLEY RESORT
Park City, Utah
Preparing for the 2002 Winter Olympics, Deer Valley, by almost all accounts is "posh." It's one of the most expensive and most luxurious resorts, but the lodging and cuisine get high marks. The mountain is favored by intermediate skiers; snowboarding is not allowed.
SUN VALLEY RESORT
Sun Valley, Idaho
Home of the world's first chairlift, this classic resort has attracted the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. It has two peaks: Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain; the latter is reserved for beginners only.
TAOS SKI VALLEY
Taos Ski Valley, N.M.
Taos's ski school is known as the best in the country; that said, the resort is not really designed for beginners. Advanced skiers will love its challenging trails - and its shorter lift lines. There's no snowboarding, and some complain there's not much night life.
Lake Placid, N.Y.
The site of the 1980 Olympics, Whiteface boasts the biggest vertical drop in the Northeast. It's also a winter-sports enthusiast's heaven. But be prepared for the cold - it isn't nicknamed "Iceface" for nothing.
Compiled by Suman Bandrapalli and Liz Marlantes
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society