by Mitch Kaplan, Ski Editor

It happens every year. The temperatures drop, the leaves fall, the days grow short, and ski areas start bragging. Maybe it's not surprising. After all, this sport is all about conquering mountains. So, why not claim to be king of the hill?

Modern skiing - with its increasing dependence on technology instead of mother nature - presents a vast array of categories in which to claim superiority. In an effort to join the spirit of the game, here's a look at the superlatives of northeast skiing in a variety of departments.

Keep in mind: while some of this is objective, much is subjective, and most is subject to intense advertising and public relations hyperbole. For statistical back-up, I've relied upon The White Book of Ski Areas, published by Inter Ski Services in Washington, DC.

The Biggest: Killington, VT. Biggest can be interpreted in many ways, but when you add it all together (runs, chairlifts, vertical drop, peaks and skiable acres), you've got to come up with Killington. Any way you cut it, it's the Big Apple of eastern skiing.

Most Runs: Killington, VT. Some debate occurred two winters back when Killington changed the way in which trails were counted and the place grew magically from 107 to 150-plus trails. Now they claim 162. No matter. They still possess the most.

Most Lifts: Mt. Snow/Haystack, VT (21). This may be a little deceptive, since Mt. Snow and Haystack are technically two separate mountains. But, they operate together, so we'll give them the award.

Greatest Uphill Capacity - Killington, VT. Oddly, even though Killington has five fewer lifts than Mt. Snow, it can move nearly 1,000 more skiers uphill per hour. About 35,000 per sixty minutes. That's more folks than live in my home town.

Most High-Speed Lifts: Mont Tremblant, Quebec. With six out of 10 lifts running at high-speed, Tremblant must be champ.

Most Exotic Lift: Stratton, VT. A new high-speed six-seater premiers this season. How do six passengers disembark simultaneously without crashing into each other? Stay tuned. Close runner-up: Killington's heated, stereo-equipped gondola.

Oldest, Slowest, Lift: Mad River Glen, VT. That single chair and I have the same birth year - 1948.

Shortest Lift Lines: Pico Resort & Jay Peak, VT, Sugarloaf USA, ME. Pico because its double quads move people out of the base so quickly; Jay and Sugarloaf because they're so remote.

Best Snowmaking: Sunday River, ME. Snowmaking capacity or power is even more subjective than trail counting. Several resorts - Hunter Mountain, Killington, Vernon Valley/Great Gorge and even Campgaw in Mahwah among them - claim the most powerful snowmaking, based on the strength and reach of the system relative to the skiing acres. But, nobody blows the white stuff better, faster or more efficiently than Sunday River.

Best Snow Grooming: Sunday River, ME & Okemo, VT. I like my snow the way Nature gives it to us. But, most folks appreciate the work those quarter-million dollar grooming machines do, and these two resorts put them to better and more comprehensive use than anyone.

Largest Vertical Drop: Whiteface, (Lake Placid), NY. It's 3,216 feet higher at the top than the bottom. Tall enough to stage two Olympics.

Best for Families: Smuggler's Notch, VT. The base village is self-contained so your kids can't get lost; they've specialized in teaching kids far longer than anyone else; they have specific programs for every age group on and off the slopes. Honorable mention: Okemo, and Pico, VT, Sugarloaf and Sunday River, ME.

Longest Trail: Killington, VT. They claim that Juggernaut, at 10.2 miles, is the longest in the country. That may be, but much of it could pass for cross-country skiing. Stowe is next at 3.7 miles, then Smuggler's Notch, Okemo and Mad River Glen at 3.5 miles - all in Vermont.

Most Gladed Runs: Jay Peak, VT. "Ski the Longest, Steepest and Snowiest Glades & Chutes in the East," says a Jay ad.

Most Above-Treeline Skiing: Sugarloaf, ME. The only above-treeline skiing in the east. Could be the closest the east gets to being Montana.

Biggest, Baddest Bump Run: (tie) Killington, VT & Sunday River, ME. Killington's Outer Limits was first, but Sunday River claims their White Heat is the longest, steepest, lift-served bump run. Both require rubber knees.

Best Old-Fashioned Skiing: Mad River Glen, VT. Stuck in time somewhere between 1955 and 1962. Runner-up: Sugarbush's Castle Rock area. Honorable mention: Plattekill, NY.

Most Natural Snowfall: Jay Peak, VT. Annual average is 318 inches. There's an explanation for this but only people with Ph.D.'s in weather science understand it.

Longest Season: Killington, VT; close runner-up: Sunday River, ME. Each year, these two behemoths undertake a PR battle to open first and close last. With skiing from October to June, Killington wins. But, not by much.

Most Night Skiing: Camelback and Seven Springs, PA. Camelback offers 100% night skiing on 32 trails. Seven Springs offers only 95% lit skiing, but it covers 475 acres. You figure it out.

Best Self-Contained Destination Ambience: Mont Tremblant, Quebec, and Smuggler's Notch, VT. The improvements that have taken place at Tremblant in the past four years are nearly unbelievable. Smuggler's is pure Vermont Currier and Ives. Honorable mention: Sugarloaf, ME; the base village is not only self sufficient, it has to be - the nearest real town is fifteen miles away.

Best Snowboard Park: Waterville Valley, NH. They call it The Boneyard. Any questions?

Most Ski Resorts for One Lift Ticket. SKI, Ltd., owns Killington, Mt. Snow/Haystack, Bromley, Waterville Valley and Sugarloaf. LBO Enterprises possesses Sunday River, Attitash/Bear Peak/Cranmore and Sugarbush. I don't know if ski company conglomerates are good or bad for the sport, but each combination can be experienced on interchangeable lift tickets.

Most Exotic Culture: Mont Ste. Anne, Quebec. The ski resort is functionally a suburb of Quebec City. It's as close to going to France as you can get without crossing an ocean.

Most Money Spent on Improvements This Season: Sugarbush, VT. Some $28 million has been sunk into seven new or replacement lifts, vastly expanded snowmaking and added base lodge space.

Most High Speed Lifts in Pennsylvania: Camelback. With a new one this year, they've got two.

Best Place to Ski: you decide.