What constitutes a great ski town?
If you're 23 years old and single the answer is different than if you have a couple of youngsters zooming over the snow with you.
But there are ski towns that meet everyone's needs, places you want to wake up in at the start of the day, dine in after hours on the slopes, and do whatever the evening suggests.
Let's start with the premise that good snow is good snow, that all the resorts herein produce a fairly similar product. But if only seven hours maximum are spent on the slopes, what about the rest of the day? Here is a review of seven great ski towns in this country.
Burlington, Vt.: Most savvy ski parents want to send their kids to a college town that they want to visit with an eye to skiing themselves. The University of Vermont is therefore a good goal for the kids. After all, a cheap season ski pass is the least they can do to pay back their parents' sacrifice. There are seven ski areas within an hour of this lakeshore city, with the jewel being Stowe, a natty ski town in its own right. Burlington is served by a small but serviceable airport. The nightlife ranges from a few dozen excellent restaurants to some clubs that get rolling on the weekend with good live music. Of course, you'll be sharing it with the college crowd.
Stowe, Vt.: Despite its rather glitzy image -- as supported by a number of first-rate restaurants and upscale shops -- Stowe is much grittier than it seems at first look. With the daunting Mount Mansfield in its midst, Stowe has been an outdoor sports town for more than a century, and caters to a fly-fishing crowd once the snow begins melting into the nearby trout streams. The ski accommodations range from bunkhouse-style to high-end inns, and average motel rooms. But for those who like fine dining after a day on the slopes, this is the town.
Woodstock, Vt.: This is one of the preppiest, prettiest, picture postcard towns in all of ski land. Despite its magazine image, Woodstock is an old-school area where skiing first began. Suicide Six, just outside of town, had the first lift-operated skiing in the country, and areas ranging from the historic Ascutney to the huge and all-purpose Killington are well within reach. Woodstock and its environs have decent dining, with a true first-class restaurant at the famed Woodstock Inn.
Park City, Utah: It's no accident that this is where the US Ski and Snowboard Team is headquartered. Despite what one thinks of the Salt Lake City ambience, less than half an hour away is this ski capital that mixes sloping ranch land with soaring mountains and has some of the best skiing to be had anywhere. The areas of Park City, Deer Valley, and The Canyons provide thousands of acres of ski terrain with an annual snowfall of 350 inches. Though there's plenty of groomed intermediate terrain, this is also the land of off-piste skiing through chutes and back-country glades. Park City has a historic, artsy feel, and the downtown area has dozens of top-rated restaurants and casual pizza joints.
Frisco, Colo.: This is about as funky as a ski town gets, bringing together a mix of high-end Breckies in Bogner to professional ski bums who dress like cowboys and rock on Arapahoe Basin. Summit County features one of the greatest variety of areas in all ski country. Copper and Keystone are just about 20 minutes out of town. If the weather is clear it's an easy drive to Vail and Beaver Creek. Frisco's downtown still has a mining look and feel, and there are some real folksy restaurants ranging from greasy spoons to chop houses. There is also high-end stuff.
Jackson, Wyo.: Mad River Glen uses the marketing phrase ''Ski it if you can," but that slogan rightfully belongs to Jackson, where the mountains soar above the town. If it's real back country you're looking for and the stunning scenery from ''Brokeback Mountain" inspires you, then Jackson should be on your radar screen. Several peaks are connected by tram, and this area, with its 4,000-plus-foot vertical, can wear you down. And if you dig ski celebrities, Jackson is home to 1994 Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe. Moe gives demonstrations in his latter-day specialty -- free skiing. Downtown is funky and very cowboy. Check out apres-ski life at the Mangy Moose.
Aspen, Colo.: You can't neglect Aspen in any collection of superlative ski towns. Of course, the skiing is great, whether you prefer the steeps of Aspen Highlands that local powderhounds flock to after storms, or the steep but sometimes crowded Ajax (Aspen Mountain). There's something for everyone here. Also, there is one of the best novice cruiser mountains in Buttermilk, which also has some appeal to blue skiers who want some serious speed. Yes, Aspen has gotten quite high-end of late but you can still find a range of lodging and dining prices, and still some funky fun in this former silver mining town.
The Mother Lode is still great for dining, as is The Red Onion and a couple of pizza joints. Sure it's pricey, but if you can swing it, Aspen's heart still pumps with the beat of a ski town.