SKIING OUT OF A SUITCASE In many U.S. cities the traveler with a spare afternoon or evening can easily get from downtown to downhill.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Gone are the days when a ski trip necessarily meant a long slog to a remote mountainside. Thanks to the growth of the skiing industry, along with improvements in snow making, diehard downhillers in 40 states can schuss until they drop. And with only a little advance planning, the traveling skier can easily get in some time on the slopes. Since most ski areas rent thoroughly modern skis, poles, and boots, the only gear you need is a pair of long johns, gloves, a hat, and the appropriate jacket and pants. The most detailed directory of North American skiing is the $12.95 White Book of Ski Areas, published annually by Inter-Ski Services (202-342-0886, or available in many bookstores). To help narrow the options, FORTUNE spoke with ski shop owners, local skiers, and area operators across the country to determine the best nearby places. Most of those listed are an hour's drive or less from downtown. Except as noted, they offer skiing until 10 or 11 o'clock every evening and most have extensive snow-making facilities; many of the smaller areas can blanket 100% of their skiable terrain. Lift tickets range from $10 to $27. Check conditions when you arrive; most ski areas have special phone numbers for recorded reports. Some of these places are mere bumps on the landscape compared with the great mountain resorts. But during the week, lift lines are practically unheard-of and slopes tend to be empty, so you can rack up more mileage in an afternoon than you usually can in a full day at your favorite weekend haunt. One Windy City wedeler told me he has skied more than 50 runs nearby on a weekday. ) The best skiing is where it always was, in the mountains. If you are lucky, business will take you to skiers' heaven, Salt Lake City. Seven major resorts, including Snowbird (801-521-6040), Alta (801-742-3333), and Park City (801-649-8111), lie within 35 miles and 50 minutes of the city. Neither Snowbird nor Alta has night skiing. For the carless, city buses make regular round trips to the four closest areas, and Lewis Bros. Stages (reservations: 801-359-8677) has buses and vans to take you to all seven for $6 to $10 one way. Advanced skiers with a taste for adventure can sign up for the Interconnect Adventure Tour (801-534-1779), an $85 extravaganza in which professional guides lead you over backcountry trails to five different areas in one very full day of skiing; lunch included. The schussing outside Denver is only a tad less spectacular. While a couple of small areas 50 miles outside the city cater to school groups and suburban skiers, another 25 miles will bring you to some of Colorado's finest resorts. Many buses and vans make the hour-and-a-half run daily from Stapleton Airport to Winter Park (303-726-5514), Copper Mountain (303-968-2882), or the triple-peaked Keystone Resort (303-468-4242). No night skiing at Winter Park and Copper Mountain. While New England's most celebrated skiing is in Vermont, Boston locals looking for a short drive to a long slide head west about one hour to Wachusett Mountain (617-464-5101). About half the height of its northern cousins, this hill sports almost 1,000 feet of vertical drop (the difference between the highest and lowest elevations) and 17 trails, one of which runs for almost two miles. Though much smaller than Wachusett, Blue Hill (617-828-7490) is less than 15 miles south on Route 128 from the financial district. The area makes a good spot for a winter workout before or after meetings. The best skiing within a reasonable drive of New York City is just over an hour away at the triple-peaked Vernon Valley/Great Gorge resort in New Jersey (201-827-2000). Snowmaking covers the area's 1,000-foot hills. You'll find one of the best ski complexes anywhere in the East 120 miles north of Manhattan at Hunter Mountain (518-263-4223; no night skiing). As crowded on weekends as commodity pits, the slopes are blissfully empty during the week. Though the round trip takes five hours, you can use the time to catch up on reading if you take the bus that leaves from various locations in Manhattan (call Hunter for information). Hidden Valley (814-443-6454) and Seven Springs (814-352-7777) are a fast hour's drive east of Pittsburgh, and according to Steel City schuss-boomers, both are well worth the trip. While many enthusiasts say the easygoing atmosphere at Hidden Valley is appealing, Seven Springs has more skiing to offer -- the vertical drop is 970 feet, almost twice the height of its neighbor. Both can be reached by limousine from the airport. They said it couldn't be done, but even the Midwest offers mogul bashers some downward momentum. Several operators have built mountains out of molehills, adding dirt to their peaklets to lengthen runs. They also favor names that help the skier think of lofty heights. Two of the most ambitious mainly serve Chicago skiers: Alpine Valley (414-642-7374) and Wilmot Mountain (414-862-2301). Just a 40-mile, one-hour drive north of O'Hare in Wisconsin, Wilmot is built on a 230-foot, mile-long ridge formed by glacial deposits. While speed freaks can conquer the hill in under 30 seconds, the average skier can take his time carving dozens of turns on the way down. If you prefer your slopes with trees, drive the hour and a half to Alpine Valley, where earthmovers have boosted the vertical drop more than 25%, to 370 feet. Michigan also boasts an Alpine Valley (313-887-2180), a favorite of Detroit locals and only an hour from Motown. The vertical drop is 300 feet, but nine chairlifts and 15 rope tows serve 23 mostly intermediate trails cut into the tree-covered hill. Mount Brighton (313-229-9581), also about an hour away, is famous for one of the steepest trails in the country. A missed turn on the 350-foot-long, 45-degree Challenge 250 can send you into a long, bruising slide to the bottom. A $25, 20-minute cab ride from the Minneapolis airport will get you to Buck Hill (612-435-7174), a 310-vertical-foot area that has been serving Twin City skiers since 1954. Be sure to stuff a face mask in your bag as the frequent winds can make an otherwise bearable day downright arctic. About 30 minutes east of town is Afton Alps (612-436-5245). With an astounding 18 chairlifts and 36 trails, Afton Alps looks as if it were designed by Rube Goldberg. Though it is only 40 feet higher than Buck Hill, skiers have more than six times as much skiable acreage at their disposal. Though no taller than Afton Alps, Welch Village (612-222-7079), one hour south, has the most challenging skiing in the area according to one competitor. If you think Southern California caters only to those with surfboards, skateboards, and sailboards, think again. Ski resort operators wait for cool northern storms to blow in, then turn their snowmakers on full blast. Less than 90 minutes from Los Angeles, Mt Baldy (714-982-0800; no night skiing) is as tall as some of Vermont's biggest mountains. But since snowmaking covers only about 20% of the skiable terrain, weather conditions dictate how much of the mountain will be open. Mtn. High (619-249-5471) is slightly shorter and 15 minutes farther from the city, but its snow blowers can blanket some 75% of the 1,600 foot slopes. Who says Californians can't have it all?