Northstar-at-Tahoe, Calif.: Rank 22 West, 1998

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Despite a distinct shortage of over-the-top terrain¿or maybe because of it¿Northstar-at-Tahoe's popularity is booming. More than 500,000 skier visits made 1997-98 a record season. With its mostly moderate terrain, "this mountain always makes you feel like a great skier," one reader explains. That doesn't mean Northstar is boring. Advanced skiers swear by the tree-lined bump runs on Northstar's backside. Terrain features for all ages and skills liven up the mountain. "Black is blue at Northstar" may be true, but what the resort lacks in jaw-drop terrain is made up for in service. At the top of the list: unlimited free ski and snowboard lessons for intermediates ages 13 and older. Families love Northstar because it's a self-contained resort where they set their kids free: A visitor card pays for everything, wristbands make tracking and contacting family members easy, and a free shuttle makes for painless transportation. It may not be rad and bad, but lovers of the good life keep returning. Basking in the sun at the Summit Grill with Lake Tahoe in the background is about as good as it gets.

What's New Remodel of the Big Springs Day Lodge; a children's center in the ski school area; night-time operation of the Day Lodge recreation area on weekends and holidays.
A Good Deal Families package: two nights' lodging and lift tickets from $160 a night, offered early and late season as well as most Sundays through Thursdays. Call (800) 466-6784.
Medals Gold Family, Grooming; Silver Terrain, Lifts, Service, Weather, Food.
High/Low Rank Family (5); Challenge (58).
Don't Miss Guided, out-of-bounds snowcat skiing on adjacent North Lookout Mountain. Tours cost $10 per run (with a lift ticket). Call (530) 562-2482.
Reader Remarks "Good value. Scenic and beautiful." "Poor traffic control. A lot of cars, crowds."