2002 Number 9 resort in the Pacific: Alpine Meadows, Calif.

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Alpine Meadows walks a tightrope that few ski areas its size can: catering to both hardcores and families. Experts love the area's "Adventure Zones": challenging inbounds terrain with no lifts or grooming, providing backcountry experiences within patrolled boundaries. Traverse the ridges north to the small tongues of spindrift atop Beaver and Estelle Bowls, or hike south past Alpine Bowl to the breath-stealing views of the Twin Peaks area known as the High Traverse. In both areas, you'll find a delightful cache of big, open drops and daunting steeps. Alpine Meadows "puts the 'country' into backcountry," quips a reader. That's not to say the whole family won't be happy here. With a joint pass for parents so they can take turns watching the tykes and "the best children's ski school," in one reader's estimation, families are bountiful on Alpine's 2,000 acres of widely varied terrain. So is snow: Alpine averages more than 400 annual inches, and in 1998-99, it recorded an impressive 550 inches. But what Alpine offers in snow and terrain, it lacks in amenities. "Spartan facilities, lodge is very old and outdated," a reader observes. The area has no lodging, shopping, nightlife or alternative activities. For evening entertainment, people head to the pubs and clubs of Tahoe City and Truckee. During the day, Alpine's clientele is too busy skiing to care.

WHAT'S NEW Night terrain park off Kangaroo Chair; halfpipe has been resituated to base area; new full-day lesson program.

A GOOD DEAL Bed and Boards: For $59, get a lift ticket and night of accommodations at one of several nearby lodges.

HIGH/LOW PACIFIC RANK Terrain (8), Challenge (9), Scenery (13); Lodging (22), Service (23), Value (28).

DON'T MISS In April, Alpine hosts its inaugural "Spring Spectacular," a week-long festival of competitions and activities to benefit Juvenile Diabetes.

READER REMARKS (+) "Adventure terrain!" "Not much glitz-just a ton of fun."
(-) "Weak signage." "No village or hotels."