Waaaah, waaaaah, waaaah! Enough comparisons to the "good old days". I've got news for y'all - they are gone and not coming back! Howzabout we do some objective analysis of the area as it is today?
Terrain: There is ample terrain for all. This is the first year I've had a season pass at Stevens and it (combined with my own improving abilities) has allowed me to explore the area like never before. Mill Valley (aka "The Back Side"), while having admittedly slow lifts has more than enough challenging terrain to satisfy beginners thru experts (esp. if you can find someone to show you around the "out of bounds" terrain). No, the total vertical is not that long, however if your abilities are such that you are not even out of breath skiing the Southern Cross lift line top to bottom, there aren't many areas around here that are going to "wow" you (and more power to you as well!). Even the groomers are a lot of fun as we discovered only yesterday when the snow was hard and we just RIPPED run after run after run down the previously maligned "Skyline".
Lifts: Welllllll, if you build them, they will come. Yes, Stevens definitely has some slow lifts but guess what - keeps the crowds down - esp. in Mill Valley.
Crowds: non-existent during the week (and that's just fine, thank you very much) and generally manageable on weekends. As for "snowboarder etiquette", if you are really concerned and think the (VOLUNTEER) Ski Patrol should do more, I encourage you to visit the Patrol office and sign up to help.
Staff: I have had no problems with the professionalism and attentiveness of staff at Stevens, esp. as compared to Snoqualmie (really bad . . . ). I've skiied Crystal many times and can't discern any real difference. It's no Whistler, but then again, what is?
Schools: I can't really comment on the "phasing out" of the "mom and pop" schools, except to suggest there may be other issues at work than the casual observer would be privy to. So long as whatever option(s) left provide ample capacity and quality then I don't care whether they are mom and pop or corporate. Heck, Whistler Kids is about as big and structured as anything I have seen and it provides some of the best quality instruction I have ever experienced.
Growth: Interestingly, Stevens just hosted several info sessions on their future expansion plans. I have truly mixed feelings. IMO, the area still has a fairly good mom and pop feel to it, particularly when compared to Crystal or even Snoqualmie. Yes, Baker and Mission are a little more folksy, but both still suffer from more slow lifts than not - esp. when trying to access the "better" terrain. ANy expansion (including speeding up lifts) will just translate into a corresponding increase in the number of people going there. Pick your poison folks - this conundrum ain't just particular to Stevens!
In summary: Stevens is the closest area to my home, so it's where I go more frequently. In honesty, if it were equidistent to Crystal I'd want to go to Crystal for more terrain, however the $$$ factor would push me to Stevens - the more inexpensive option (at least right now). Plus, I still have yet to wait in line at Stevens as long as I have at Crystal OR the Summit. That said, I find I really like the offerings at Stevens, both for myself (advanced/expert) and my kids (beginner/intermediate).
Overall local area rankings (IMO of course):
4 - 998: Anything else, including little rope tow only Hurricane Ridge)
999. The Summit at Snoqualmie (yeah - I've got a bias . . . )