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Ski resorts with elbow room

If you're looking for something different this year, try these three gems off the beaten path. It takes a little more travel planning, but the new experience is worth every minute.

Big Sky/Moonlight Basin, Mont.

Promoters call this "The Biggest Skiing in America." With one breathtaking view at the mountain, you'll understand why. Located in southern Montana, 45 minutes south of Bozeman (the nearest airport), Big Sky offers a diverse course of challenging chutes, wide-open bowls and ripping groomed runs. Its remote location keeps away the tourists, so you'll be able to pick out your tracks on the way back up the lift. It's also spitting distance from Yellowstone National Park, so take an extra day to explore.

The highlight: For those looking for more than just quad-burning groomers, buy the combo pass ($93) and access the huge terrain off the resorts' signature Lone Peak.

Information: Ticket prices: $78, $55; skiable acres: 5,512 combined; annual snowfall: 400 inches. bigskyresort.com, moonlightbasin.com.

Brighton, Utah

Authentic is the word that best describes this resort tucked in Big Cottonwood Canyon, a mere 35 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. It thrives on its laid-back, snowboarder vibe and seems like a world away from the big-name Utah resorts. The 20-room Brighton Lodge offers minimal accommodations with a hostel-like feel but makes up for it with a free breakfast, hot tub and lift-side location. Few distractions mean full-tilt skiing.

The Highlight: Brighton is now fully serviced with high-speed quad chair lifts and this year debuts the Milly Day Lodge, a 3,500-square-foot outdoor deck and indoor dining area with an eco-friendly geo-heating system.

Information: Ticket price: $58; skiable acres: 1,050; annual snowfall: 500 inches. brightonresort.com.

Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

Consistently rated in the top 5 resorts for freeskiing, this Sierra resort south of Yosemite National Park is a hot spot for Southern Californian riders but is otherwise largely unknown. It made its name as a terrain park paradise, and one run through any of the seven parks or three halfpipes and you'll understand why a number of pro freeskiers call this home. It also offers plenty of steeps (try Grizzly or Shaft) and in-bounds terrain for all levels.

The highlight: Getting here is easier than ever now with daily flights from LAX to Mammoth-Yosemite Airport. It's an hourlong trip on Horizon Air; stay at a resort property and take a free shuttle from the airport.

Information: Ticket price: $83; skiable acres: 3,500; annual snowfall: 400 inches. mammothmountain.com.

Ski resorts with elbow room 11/15/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 15, 2008 3:31am]

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