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updated 12/12/2006 6:32:55 PM ET 2006-12-12T23:32:55

From the top of Whistler Mountain, a toothy, glacier-strewn peak 7,160 feet up in the coastal mountains of British Columbia, the immensity of Whistler Blackcomb Mountains Resort becomes quickly and distressingly apparent. A high white wilderness unfolds all around, 360 degrees of alpine absoluteness. Chutes drop off below, precipitous and fast. Wide powder bowls, glaciers and double-black-diamond slopes funnel into an oblivion of trees far below.

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"Whistler Blackcomb is one of those areas that seem to provide an unlimited amount of mountain terrain," said Rob DesLauriers, a 41-year-old former professional skier from Jackson, Wyo., who has skied on all seven continents. "It was love at first sight for me."

North America is home to hundreds of downhill ski resorts, ranging from giants like Whistler Blackcomb to classic mountains in New England. The options for a traveling ski enthusiast have become utterly boggling. Colorado, for example, boasts 25 resorts; California has 30; and New York State, a surprising 40 ski destinations.

"We're blessed with dozens and dozens of world-class resorts," said DesLauriers, who tries to visit Lake Tahoe and British Columbia every year, along with skiing 50 or more days at home in Wyoming. "There are only so many days in a winter, and every year I have trouble deciding where to go."

In an effort to narrow the list to 10 of the continent's best resorts, we polled six influential members of the ski community. The results of our survey represent a geographic spread of the continent's best downhill destinations. Each of the featured mountains can provide an archetypal alpine ski experience, with long mountain views, deep powder and impeccably groomed corduroy cruisers. All skier skill levels are catered to at these resorts, with expert chutes and gladed tree skiing found alongside rolling intermediate terrain and gentle — though still scenic and fun! — beginner trails. World-class lift systems, fine dining and luxury resort lodging and amenities come standard with these picks.

Whistler Blackcomb Mountains Resort — the 8,171-acre Canadian behemoth — garnered the top vote from the panel, edging out Jackson Hole Mountain Resort by a single ballot. Alta, Utah, took third place, and three Colorado resorts made the list. In general, the picks were skewed toward Rocky Mountain and West Coast resorts, which by nature dwarf their New England competition in mountain size, vertical drop and snowfall.

Well-known destinations, including California's Mammoth Mountain and Squaw Valley USA, as well as Colorado's Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, made the top 10. But so did two lesser-known mountains: Red Mountain Resort in south-central British Columbia and Crested Butte Mountain Resort in central Colorado. A single East Coast area — Vermont's Stowe Mountain Resort — was voted in.

In the end, the list is purely subjective, constructed on the honest opinions of a small group of athletes and industry experts, though all well-traveled and respected in his or her niche. Dozens of additional resorts, to be sure, deserve to be included. But our picks here — all bar-none epic alpine destinations — provide a solid place to start.

Click to the slide show to see the complete top 10 list, and to get the details on our panel's resort picks.

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