decent vertical, good terrain, close to Chicagoland
crowded beginner area
Four of us decided to take a day trip to Alpine Valley, which we chose because it offered the maximum vertical drop for the least driving coming from Chicago's western 'burbs. Although we were there on a Sunday and the weather was great, we never had to wait more than a few minutes to get on a lift; the two quads moved enough people to keep the lines down and take the pressure off the other lifts. Even then, we could speed things up by going through the single-rider line.
My main observation about the mountain was that the hill is divided into two parts: the steeper trails on the front, and the beginner terrain on the right, and each area is serviced by different lifts. There is not much in between with respect to ability since the blue runs aren't really much harder than the greens. The top of Big Thunder and Lodge Express are steep enough to be fun and simultaneously spook away beginners. The result of this seemed to be that greens and blues were clogged with kids and beginners, while the black diamonds were relatively uncrowded. This observation was confirmed when I was hit by an out-of-control novice snow boarder when I went to look for my friends on a blue run. If you are with a group of people who have different skiing abilities, you might have to split up as we did. This is not really a complaint, just an observation - it was nice having Big Thunder wide open.
My only negative observation was the quality of the rental equipment. It made me glad I own my own gear. The boots were old, rear entry types with only one buckle and many of the rental poles had been bent in crashes or lift accidents. Still, it wasn't much better or worse than other rental equipment I've seen elsewhere.
We ate at the outside grill at the base area - a nice option to have since the weather was sunny. The pseudo-Bavarian style of the buildings in the base area was a nice touch. There was even a place to check your skis so you didn't have to worry about your gear while you were eating.
A final note: The men's bathroom in the ticket area had an ante-room which could be used for changing. This was a real convenience, since I didn't have to change in a bathroom stall or drive an hour and a half in my base layer.
If our experience at Alpine Valley was a typical one, it is definitely worth a visit. It is a good compromise if you live the Chicago area, but aren't up for the longer drive to Cascade, Devil's Head, or Chestnut.