VAIL, Colorado - Vail reclaimed the No. 2 spot on SKI Magazine's list of top North American ski areas this year.
But for the fourth year in a row, Vail trailed behind Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah.
The rankings will appear in SKI Magazine's resort guide issue in late October, Editorial Director Greg Ditrinco said. The magazine has about 450,000 readers, mostly in the U.S., and has been generating the list for some 23 years, he said.
More than 20,000 readers filled out a survey that rates resorts on snow, lifts, grooming, terrain, on-mountain dining, apres ski and other categories.
"The ski experience is much more than just snow and lifts, which it was a generation ago," Ditrinco said. "For many people, and our readers in particular, the ski experience is now a full resort experience."
Although the Vail community is tuned into any nuance in the rankings, Ditrinco said the difference in scores between the top resorts was "minimal." He said Vail does a great job of coming up with something new each year, but said it's hard to discern exactly what pushed Vail to No. 2.
"It's difficult, and perhaps artificial, to try to tag it to any particular change in operation," he said.
As for Beaver Creek, the resort rose to No. 4 this year, up from No. 5 last year and No. 6 in 2008.
Vail has taken the No. 1 spot more than any other resort, placing first in 14 of 22 years prior to this year. Yet for the past four years, Vail has taken a back seat to Deer Valley.
"I don't know if anything's holding Vail back," Ditrinco said. "It's a great operation. What Deer Valley does as well as anyone is they really address their particular customers' needs."
Deer Valley is a smaller resort with a smaller client base, Ditrinco said. The resort limits the number of skiers on the mountain at any given time to 7,500 and forbids snowboarding.
By comparison, Vail has a more heterogeneous customer base, from the skier coming in from Denver to European visitors, "so they probably have a little more of a challenge to address all of their customers' needs," Ditrinco said.
Last year, Vail fell behind Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia. However, readers have since relegated Whistler to No. 3, despite the exposure that resort received as the host of last year's Olympics.
Vail Councilwoman Susie Tjossem said Vail's rise to No. 2 is a "huge credit to the Vail experience."
Of course, Vail also benefited from the Olympics, as the nation's attention focused on locally based skier Lindsey Vonn. Tjossem thinks the Epic Pass also played a role by making skiing more affordable.
Although Vail has fallen short of No. 1 in recent years, Tjossem is optimistic about the upcoming winter. Major construction projects in Vail like Solaris, the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton will be finished, plus the new Chair 5 will be in place.
"I would hope that this coming year, with all of those things put together, Vail will rise back to No. 1, where it very much deserves to be," Tjossem said.
As far as trailing behind Deer Valley, Tjossem said it's hard to compare the two resorts. Whereas Deer Valley limits the number of skiers on the mountain, Vail couldn't do that if it wanted to because it stands on public Forest Service land. Whereas Deer Valley is more of a "high end hotel" on private property, Vail caters to skiers and snowboarders of all abilities, Tjossem said.
"I don't think it's an even playing field," she said.
Liz Biebl issued a statement on behalf of Vail Resorts Wednesday:
"Recognition and praise from various annual reader surveys and publication rankings is always valuable and we're thrilled that Vail continues to deliver on guest satisfaction and value, even with the challenging snowfall we saw during the 2009-10 season. The media and technology landscapes continue to evolve and have allowed us to remain flexible and engage directly with guests on a regular basis. By seeking more immediate feedback and dialogue, we can continue to create and implement relevant improvements and products like Epic Mix and the Epic 7-Pack that ultimately enhance the guest experience and provide a spectacular value."
Local skier Chris Anthony said he suspects Whistler fell behind Vail because the weather is less consistent there.
"The weather patterns in Canada are a little bit tougher," he said. "You can get up there and it can start raining."
Denver resident John Beall, a skier who visits Vail on weekends, said he think the Epic Pass helped nudge Vail back to No. 2. He guessed the long lines at Chair 5 and parking shortages could have held Vail back from No. 1.
"They need more (parking) in Vail," he said. "What is it, $25 a day? That's a little steep."
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.