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What's new at North America's high-class hills.
Catch a Rising Star
Once a waning light in the crowded Tahoe firmament, Northstar-at-Tahoe (www.northstarattahoe.com) is cranking up the wattage. This winter, visitors will find the tired old base area transformed into a pedestrian-friendly village, with a free 9,000-square-foot (836-square-meter) skating rink ringed by shops and 213 new condos. A 300-million-dollar, 173-room Ritz-Carlton Highlands ($350; www.ritzcarlton.com) also broke slopeside ground last summer. On-hill improvements include a high-speed quad, in lieu of the aging Pioneer chair, that will open up the West Ridge and reduce the lift rides needed to reach more advanced terrain on the mountain's backside.
Paint the Hill Red
Rossland, British Columbia
Red Mountain Resort (www.redresort.com), three hours north of Spokane, Washington, has long been one of ski-dom's steepest, most unheralded mountains. Not for long: Red is undergoing major changes courtesy of American entrepreneur Howard Katkov and partners, who bought the place in 2004. Since then, skiable terrain at Granite and Red Mountains has jumped by a third (to 1,585 acres (641 hectares)). This winter, look for the resort's first ski-in/ski-out luxury lodging: spanking-new 67-unit Slalom Creek ($400; www.redresortproperties.com).
Spread Your Wings
The award for Oddest Mountain Upgrade goes to venerable Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort (www.snowbird.com). It's currently boring a 600-foot (183-meter) tunnel (for a moving sidewalk) through its mountaintop to convey skiers more easily to Mineral Basin, on the hill's far side, and to back up the popular tram, which often gets shut down by weather. To serve the tunnel (slated to open in 2007), a new high-speed quad now zooms up Peruvian Gulch nearly to the ridgeline. If you need any more reason to go: They just finished revamping all 511 rooms in stately Cliff Lodge ($222; www.snowbird.com).
Ski Up a Creek
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Save for those who hurtle down the Birds of Prey course in a skintight racing suit, Beaver Creek Resort (www.beavercreek.com) isn't exactly known for its adrenaline rush. But this winter's unveiling of Stone Creek Chutes, east of Rose Bowl, is set to up the amperage considerably. Think 180 acres (73 hectares) of steep, gladed runs, and junior cliffs that, while not quite Alaskan in scale (only 400 to 600 vertical feet (122 to 183 vertical meters)), are ramped up to 45 degrees and offer triumphal chest-thumping potential for everyone.
Ride a Full Moon
Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky country just broadened its horizons. After merging with neighboring Moonlight Basin, Big Sky Resort (www.beavercreek.com) boasts Lone Peak Tram, which accesses 5,512 acres of terrain, 23 lifts, and 220 runs over 4,350 vertical feet (1,326 vertical meters). With their $79-a-day Lone Peak Ticket, skiers drop into Big Sky's 1,300-vertical-foot (396-vertical-meter) Big Couloir, then ride the tram to Moonlight's expansive North Summit Snowfield. If you want intel from the locals, Alpine Lounge (www.alpinebigsky.com) is the best place to find them, and the private hot tubs at Moonlight's posh town homes ($470 a night; www.moonlightbasin.com) are the best place to get away from them.
Feast in the East
Franconia, New Hampshire
Bode Miller's home hill—Cannon Mountain (www.cannonmt.com)—has a Jackson Hole esque 70-person tram that draws favorable comparisons to its Western cousin. Carve down Tramline or the seemingly endless Kinsman Glade after a dump to confirm the kinship. Follow skier-cut glades down to the funky Tyrolean base village and recoup at Victorian-era Franconia Inn ($91; www.franconiainn.com).
Winter's top behind-the-scenes burgs.
Methow Valley, Washington (population 6,000)
Here in Methow (www.methow.com), amid a million acres of wilderness, area residents can skate-ski on 130 miles (209 kilometers) of groomed trails of hop in with North Cascade Heli-Skiing (www.heli-ski.com) for rollicking backcountry runs.
Joseph, Oregon (population 1,054)
This hip little enclave (www.josephoregon.com) has morainal Wallowa Lake on the edge of downtown and two backcountry hut systems www.wallowahuts.comwww.wingski.com tucked in the Wallowa Mountains.
McCall, Idaho (population 2,084)
Brundage Mountain, 15 miles (24 kilometers) from low-key McCall (www.mccallchamber.org), skis bigger than its 1,800 vertical feet (549 vertical feet). And backcountry runs abound in the Salmon River Mountains—if you've got a snowmobile to reach them.