2002 Number 13 resort in the Pacific: Kirkwood, Calif.

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Kirkwood has long been recognized for its severe steeps and great snow (500 inches a year), and readers acknowledge that this 2,300-acre High Sierra hideaway offers "terrain for everyone," and "striking scenery." But a lack of accommodations and nightlife have long been a sore spot. No longer. After 10 years of planning, the Mountain Village finally is completed this winter, with $100 million in capital improvements resort-wide. New this year are two lodges (Snowcrest and Meadowstone), expanded retail space, an ice rink and a recreation center. All of this serves to make Kirkwood, 35 miles south of South Lake Tahoe, feel a little less remote-even if its patrons still have to contend with a long drive. "It's hard to get to when the Tahoe area gets snow," grouses a reader. To save skiers' nerves for the slopes, Kirkwood offers $5 round-trip shuttle service from South Lake Tahoe, as most inexpensive lodging remains out of the area. Nonetheless, the Kirkwood faithful say it's worth the trip. "If Kirkwood weren't so far away, I'd ski it every day," says a reader. "It just doesn't get better than this, especially on a powder day."

WHAT'S NEW The Mountain Village's pulse quickens with a 6,000-square-foot outdoor ice-skating rink, a rec center, a remodeled Cornice Café and the new Meadowstone and Snowcrest lodges.

A GOOD DEAL The Stay and Ski Free Package gives lodging guests free lift tickets Sunday through Thursday.

HIGH/LOW PACIFIC RANK Snow (2), Terrain (4), Challenge (5); Off-Hill Activities (27), Family Programs (30), Access (36).

DON'T MISS The Palisades Bowl on a powder day, followed by karaoke at the Cornice Café.

READER REMARKS (+) "Awesome vertical and terrain variety." "Snow, plenty of elbow room."
(-) "Long ride from civilization to resort." "Needs high-speed lifts."