VAIL, Colorado - Ski Magazine released the results of its annual reader poll Wednesday that ranks the best ski resorts in North America. Vail took the No. 3 spot on this year's poll and Beaver Creek came in 9th. The new No. 1 resort is Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, with the former winner Deer Valley ranking 2nd.
This is the 25th year for the survey that asks magazine readers to rank resorts in 20 different categories, including terrain variety, character, digital presence, service, ski lifts, night life and grooming, to name a few. Ski Magazine has a circulation of about 400,000, mostly within the United States.
The rankings serve as bragging rights for resorts, said Vail Councilman Ludwig Kurz, who also serves on the Beaver Creek Resort design review board, but he's not sure they mean much more than that.
"It's not that critical in terms of the guest perception," Kurz said. "I'd be more concerned if this was a scientific poll, but it's a perception rather than something is really scientific."
That's not to say the rankings don't matter. Vail Mayor Andy Daly, who once served as president of Vail Resorts and was inducted into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame in 2000 for his contribution to the ski industry, thinks it's important for Vail to remain in the top five every year.
"My preference is that we're 1 or 2," Daly said.
Daly hadn't yet seen the rankings Wednesday afternoon, but said he wasn't alarmed by Vail's No. 3 spot given the poor snow conditions that most Colorado resorts experienced last year.
"The Back Bowls didn't open until mid-January, so that's devastating," Daly said. "I think with normal snow, Vail's going to come roaring back."
Vail was No. 1 in 2006, but it slipped out of the top spot in 2007 as Deer Valley moved into its place. Deer Valley has held onto that top position ever since, until Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, took over this year.
Vail has ranked No. 1 in the poll 14 times, more than any other resort.
The editor of Ski Magazine, Greg Ditrinco, has said readers are destination travelers who want a full resort experience. He has also called the difference between the top three spots "statistically insignificant."
Kurz thinks the poll should note distinctions between boutique ski resorts like Deer Valley and larger commercial resorts like Vail and Whistler. Deer Valley, for example, caters to skiers - snowboarders are not allowed - and it also caps the number of people allowed on the mountain each day.
"I think it's slanted and therefore I think we need to take (the ratings) with a grain of salt," Kurz said. "We all strive to provide great guest services with lots of innovations on an ongoing basis. We're not going in the tank because of a rating."
Even the ratings themselves note surprises in how readers rank resorts in certain categories. Beaver Creek, for example, is "severely underrated," according to Ski Magazine.
Kurz said the proof is in the pudding.
"People are not abandoning Vail and Beaver Creek, we are continuing to gain," Kurz said. "We do have, I think, the best recognized ski company certainly in the state, and maybe in North America, and maybe even the world."