Friday February 26, 2010 If you look on a map, you'll probably be just a bit surprised to see how close together the two biggest resorts in southern Vermont really are.

Mount Snow (1-800 245-7669, in Dover, Vt., and Stratton Mountain Resort (1-800787-2886; ), in Stratton, Vt. are less than a dozen miles apart as the crow flies and not much farther even by twisting Vermont roads.

You'd think that two resorts so close would be a lot alike, and in some ways they are. I've enjoyed skiing both recently, and here's how they compare.

To start, both Stratton and Mount Snow have put a lot of money into lifts, snowmaking and grooming, and it shows; both are powerhouses of the terrain park and competition scenes. And both make a lot of skiers and riders happy.

But they are also different enough that you are likely to favor one or the other for those differences - at least on a given day.

We'll start with one quick difference: from most places, Mount Snow is a little easier drive than Stratton. But that sometimes means fewer people at Stratton. Your call on who has the advantage here.

On snow quality, the similarities are striking -and not accidental. Mount Snow, which was one of the first areas in New England to make a real commitment to snowmaking and grooming, is once again among the go-to resorts when Mother Nature isn't cooperating with natural snow. Since Peak Resorts has taken over, the quality of the snowmaking and grooming has improved almost unbelievably.

But the main reason they had to make these improvements was the fact that Stratton was consistently delivering some of the best snow conditions in New England. Stratton still has an advantage in dry years, when their huge snowmaking pond (one of the best summer swimming holes ever) gives them more water to work with, but in normal years, I'd call it a draw.

In terms of lift capacity, it's pretty much a wash. Mount Snow has 20 lifts, Stratton 11, but Stratton has a summit gondola and three detachable six-packs. On really busy days, both areas have some out-of-the-way lifts that rarely have a wait. Sadly, Stratton has removed the Kidderbrook lift, which used to be one of my favorites for this.

Speaking of lifts, the two are fairly comparable on ticket prices. A walk-up weekend/holiday adult lift ticket is $75 at Mount Snow, $84 at Stratton ($79 if you buy it on line) How about terrain? If you want pure variety, Mount Snow has the advantage. There's nothing at Stratton that comes close to being as steep and challenging as Ripcord on Mount Snow's North Face. But Stratton has more and better glades - at least in my opinion - for tree skiing when the snow's deep.

Both have multiple terrain parks for all ability levels, so they are even there.

Overall, I'd say Stratton has more interesting intermediate terrain, but not by that much. Novices have a lot of terrain to play with on both mountains.

The place where the difference between Stratton and Mount is in the feel of the mountain. Mount Snow has a better base lodges and caters more to day visitors, while Stratton is more focused on multi-day stays (they offer some incredible ski-and-stay packages).

While Mount Snow has a lot of condos nearby and a slopeside hotel, the base area is a ghost town after the lifts shut down. You pretty much have to have a car, though some of the inns near the mountain have lodging, dining and shuttle services. Stratton, on the other hand has a real slopeside village with shops and restaurants galore. Park your car when you arrive, and you won't have to move it until you leave.

So Stratton and Mount Snow are different in some ways and one might suit you better than the other. But I really can't remember ever spending a day at either when I didn't thoroughly enjoy myself.