High Sierra skiers who want to push the limit-or have other people think they're pushing it-avoid Northstar altogether. "They don't call it Flatstar for nothing," gripes one critic. But those who define a great ski day by other measures-friendly service, a relaxed atmosphere sans attitude, innovative service programs and amenities fine-tuned for families-know why more than 450,000 skiers a year consider Northstar "the most underrated resort at Tahoe." Originally built as a homeowners' perk in 1972 to draw buyers to a planned community, Northstar has blossomed into the Tahoe region's third most-visited resort. The resort's beauty is in the details: free lessons five times daily for advanced skiers, noontime grooming, a state certified day-care center that gives parents pagers for the slopes and even a mountain pizza phone that makes sure hot pies are waiting at the base. This gladed, scenic hideaway has muscled through the extreme ski era on the strength of its service. But make no mistake, you can turn 'em here. Abundant cruisers (Grouse Alley, Powder Bowl) are Northstar's trademark, but the faithful know this mountain's 2,420 acres hide a constellation of other delights, such as the bump bonanza on the backside. "Consistently steep for almost 2,000 vertical feet," one reader says. This season's debut of a high-speed quad on Lookout Mountain, heretofore home to only snowcat-serviced expert runs, is sure to keep this scrappy Tahoe contender nipping at its more famous neighbor's heels.
WHAT'S NEW The first expansion since 1983: A new high-speed quad on Lookout Mountain opens 200 acres and 1,200 vertical feet.
A GOOD DEAL Free Mommy, Daddy and Me lessons teach parents how to ski with their tots (a bonus for families taking advantage of Monday through Thursday's "Stay and Ski Free" program).
MEDALS GOLD Grooming, Service, Weather, Family Programs; SILVER Snow, Terrain, Challenge, Lifts, Accessibility, On-Mountain Food, Off-Hill Activities.
HIGH/LOW RANK Family Programs (7), Grooming (8), Service (10); Scenery (48), Terrain (59), Challenge (61).
DON'T MISS Polaris Park, a nighttime park with snow toys like the Zorb, a plastic ball that rolls down a track with one howling human inside.
READER REMARKS (+) "One of the best family areas around." "Great grooming and cruising." (-) "Not much for serious skiers." "Long lines."