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Ask T&L: Summer skiing, crowd-free beaches, hotel dancing

q. It's summer but I'm dying to ski. How do South America's resorts compare with, say, Vail or Chamonix?Which is the best value?
—D.R., Denver, Colo.

a. Argentina's San Carlos de Bariloche, a two-hour flight from Buenos Aires, is the largest and most popular ski resort in South America. It resembles a traditional Alpine village but has the social hum of Aspen. The mountain with trails for everyone is the 7,874-foot-high Cerro Catedral, south of Lake Nahuel Huapí in Bariloche. The skiing here is similar to Vail's; there are good beginner slopes at the top and bottom of the mountain. Stay right at the base in the Club Hotel Catedral (54-294/446-0044; doubles from $204) or in town at the Hotel Edelweiss (54-294/442-6165; doubles from $185). For a bigger challenge, shorter lift lines, and the best value, head for Chile's Portillo, in the Andes 90 miles northeast of Santiago; the skiing is like that at Chamonix. Reaching altitudes as high as 10,827 feet, Portillo has legendary dry powder, heli-skiing, snowboarding, and an extreme 45-degree slope known as Roca Jack. There's really only one place to stay—the Portillo Hotel—which offers great packages and everything from private chalets to rustic shared bunk rooms in the recently renovated 1949 lodge (800/829-5325 or 56-2/263-0606; weekly rate, including room, meals, lift tickets, and taxes, from $1,090 per person). High season in the Andes typically begins around the end of June and runs through mid-October.

q. What do you feel is the perfect suitcase?
—L.H., London

a. After years of trial and error, we have concluded that the only way to go on a long trip is with a big, black, standard-issue rolling bag. Check it, and carry on a tote bag, or some kind of small soft-sided bag—here's where you can splurge on style—that will balance on top of the rolling bag. Wheeled carry-ons that fit under the seat are great for short jaunts, but even these are usually too unwieldy to hurl into an overhead bin. Spare yourself the chiropractor bills.

q. Where, oh where, is the ultimate uncrowded American beach?I've had it with sharing sand.
—B.S., Lexington, Ky.

a. T&L features editor Peter Jon Lindberg was amazed at the lack of people along Oregon's miles of wide, sandy beaches—especially in Manzanita and Waldport. Granted, the average July high temperature there is only 68 degrees, but where else can you spot whales so easily from shore while sunbathing?The longest white-sand strand in Hawaii, the 2 1/2-mile Papohaku Beach, on the untrammeled island of Molokai, is blissfully empty during the day. Just before sunset, however, dozens of tourists with tripods descend. It's harder to find solitude on the East Coast. Try the Delaware Seashore State Park—10 quiet, protected miles that front the Atlantic. We also love the Cape Cod National Seashore—more than 40 miles of sandy beaches and tidal flats—in September; the ocean is at its warmest then, yet the crowds have disappeared.

q. I've always read about the tea dances at the Ritz in London. Are there any other hotels that have great dancing?
—K.J., Chicago, Ill.

a. How about stompin' at the Savoy?London's Savoy hotel (44-171/836-4343; dinner and dancing $68 per person) swings to music from the 1920's through the 40's by the Piccadilly Dance Orchestra, beginning at 10 p.m. most Saturdays in the Art Deco-style Thames Foyer. The stunning 17th-floor Roof Restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, Boston (617/536-5700), has a six-piece Big Band orchestra with a singer every Friday and Saturday night through Labor Day, from 6:30 to 12:30. Make an evening of it and come for a four-course dinner ($85 per person), or just reserve a table for drinks ($20 cover charge). You can also get down at the 19th-floor Top of the Mark club at San Francisco's Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental (415/392-3434; $6-$10); guests and locals swing the night away there seven days a week to the sounds of the Black Market Jazz Orchestra.

E-mail your questions to AskTL@travelandleisure.com, fax to 800/926-1748, or mail them to: Ask T&L, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, 10th floor, New York, NY 10036. We regret that questions can be answered only in the column.

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