Ski resorts suck, ski areas are great, local hills are even better. No wonder so many people hit the backcountry instead of resorts.
What I look for in a ski area is as follows:
Good terrain, good snow, quality weather. These are left up to mother nature, the owners/operators just found the place.
Quality lift system. My definition is different than others. I want slow, old lifts that move very few people to the top of the hill per hour. This keeps the ski area more prisine, limits the need for excessive grooming, lessens crowded runs, and keeps the goods around longer. I'd rather wait in line at the bottom of a run than on it. No need for the lifts to access all of a mountain either. If you have to work for terrain a little, even 5 minutes of hiking, most people avoid it, therefore, those who do ski it, ski it, not destroy it.
No resort style at all. No massages, no sushi, no $15 hamburgers from McD's, no $68 lift tickets, no imported liftys with fake accents, no Bogner anything, no valet parking, no pay for parking, no cyber cafes, no $8 cans of beer, no high speed 6 packs, no condos on the runs, no well, you get the point.
Good ski patrol. I trust these people with my life. I thank them everytime I am near one, and enjoy talking with them. These people are the ones that open the mountain for us to enjoy, and should be the best. Some schmuck who can barely control a sled on a blue run is not my idea of good. The ones that I love are the ones who will happily hike up a 60 degree face with a backpack full of dynamite, at 6 am. Ski patrol should be able to ski well also. Belay skills are also nice.
A place to keep a sack lunch and a place to eat it. ever been chased out of the cafe because they didn't make money off of you?
Locals deals. If you live near an area, you should get a deal. Sorry tourists, but locals are the ones who staff the resorts, or at least their kids do. There are many other reasons as well. I can accept this when I travel, I end up paying more for tickets. Colorado have this one nailed.
It all boils down to what I want in a ski area is this: A ticket office, a lift system, a mountain, a cafe, a ski patrol office and a rental/repair building. That is all. I'm there for the skiing, not to be seen skiing.