Hunter Mountain is, quite simply, the busiest weekend-only destination ski resort in the nation.

And, quite simply, destination resorts are where skiers go for one - and two-week holidays, not for a weekend vacation, leaving the slopes all but deserted Monday through Friday.

But then Hunter is special. Itís where the subway crowd from the Bronx and Brooklyn and Queens and Staten Island and, oh yes, even Manhattan party and ski and snowboard when time is short. Dynamite slopes always covered with snow - man-made or natural - are only a couple hours away in Rip Van Winkleís Catskills.

The ski complex is comprised of four separate areas: (1) Hunter One, a beginnerís area; (2) Hunter Mountain, basically for those intermediate to expert; (3) Hunter West, strictly for the hotshot black-diamond crowd; and (4) the local villages - ah, but more about them in a moment. As far as the subway tribe is concerned, anyone with a ski ticket can ski anything. At any given moment, 50 percent of those who are skiing, skidding, racing, and tumbling down Hunter Mountainís intermediate slopes range from beginners to advanced beginners.

However, only true double-black-diamond fiends even stare down the dizzying cliff called K27. Skiing magazine included it in a list of the 12 meanest, steepest ski runs in the nation serviced by a lift.

Orville and Izzy Slutzky, the owners of Hunter, defied all the odds when they acquired the area 35 years ago. Experts predicted no ski resort could survive the rocky terrain and mixed winter weather conditions in the Catskills.

But the Slutzkys began experimenting with snowmaking, then in its infancy. Hunter became the first ski area in the world to pour enough man-made snow to cover every one of its 49 trails, served by 15 lifts from base to summit. It still prides itself as ďThe Snow Making Capital of the World.Ē

The large and crowded base lodge includes two cafeterias, a sushi par - lor, an undulating bar crowded four-deep all day with thirsty skiers, a deli, a pizza shop, a gourmet restaurant, an art gallery featuring the paintings, photographs and handicrafts of local artists, a ski museum, as ski shop, rentals, a repair shop, a first-aid center, and a nursery-play area. At the summit thereís a bleak, silo-shaped stone lodge to slip inside only if itís necessary to warm up on a cold day.

When the lifts fall silent on the weekends, the crowds flood through the nearby villages of Hunter, Tannersville, and Haines Falls for some of the liveliest, noisiest apres-ski fun in the country. The entire country. Go to sleep, Aspen.

The villages also have every variety of lodging, from B&Bs to elegant resort hotels, and cafes that range from pizza parlors to three-star eateries.

For information: Hunter Mountain, P. O. Box 295, Hunter, NY 12442, (518) 263-4223; housing: (800) 775-4641; snow: (800) 367-7669. E-mail:

hunter@albanyny. net. On the Internet: http://www. huntermtn. com.

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