Listen closely to the mantra of Waterville Valley's staff, and you'll hear what the resort is all about: "Cool, easy and playful." Waterville may not have the urban vibe of nearby sister-resort Loon or the blood-and-guts steeps of its big-mountain neighbor Cannon, but it does have something that's hard to find in today's ski world: a multi-generational soul. Waterville was built by a family-the fast-skiing Corcorans-and today it stays true to that homey feel. "Consider this mountain family-friendly," raves one reader. It's not just the slopes, with their separate, mellow beginner area and long, wide, tree-speckled cruisers across the mountain. It's the extras. Like "Snowball's Den," a kid-size base lodge with tables, chairs, even restrooms all built on a kid-friendly level. It's Snowball the Tiger, Waterville's furry skiing mascot. Even the rental shop, "Top Dogs," is kid-friendly, with an entry shaped like a doghouse. That can get to some, though. "Not a real challenging area," laments one reader. While there aren't a whole lot of knee-shaking steeps, you can find challenge on the bumps of Valley or in the trees. Off-mountain, the lodging just down the road from the ski area, all Waterville-owned and -operated, offers a wide range of choices and free shuttles that run, seemingly, all the time. It may not be the Whistler of the East, but Waterville knows what it can be: cool, fun and easy. And if you get bored, there's the Threedom Pass-a midweek pass good notonly at Waterville, but at Cannon and Loon, as well. But you will come back. The many families who are now skiing and racing here-some of them four generations strong-can attest to that. -M.M.
WHAT'S NEW "Buckets," a new restaurant on the deck by the quad that serves everything-beer, ribs, chicken, fries, you name it-in buckets. Its heated floor makes the outdoors pleasant all winter.
A GOOD DEAL Lift tickets: At Waterville, they're $39 for adults, $29 for teens and $19 for kids, seven days a week.
MEDALS SILVER Family Programs.
HIGH/LOW RANK Family Programs (33), Value (40), Off-Hill Activities (41); Snow (55), Terrain (57), Lifts (59).
READER REMARKS (+) "Family-friendly." "Nice setting." "Good value: $39 every day." (-) "Grooming is terrible; lift system weird." "Sometimes overcrowded." u