VAIL — There was a big, public party in the town square of Jackson, Wyo., Wednesday evening, the result of Jackson Hole’s first-ever year of landing at the top of SKI Magazine’s annual reader ratings of North American ski resorts. That win was a bigger deal in Jackson than Vail’s third-place spot on the list is here.
There was some local grumbling about the list, of course. Buzz Schleper, owner of Buzz’s in Vail, is one of the resort’s most unabashed fans. Learning about Vail’s finish on the list, Schleper pooh-poohed the results. The pooh-poohing intensified when Schleper heard Jackson Hole holds the top spot on the magazine’s list this year, saying simply: “Oh. Right. Who’s filling these (surveys) out?”
On the other hand, Schleper said if he was in Jackson, he’d probably celebrate, too.
And make no mistake, Jackson Hole’s spot at the top of the rankings is a very big deal indeed.
Adam Sutner was Vail Mountain’s marketing manager for four years. He took a similar job at Jackson Hole this summer.
Sutner said the resort company decided to hold the “we’re number one” celebration in the middle of town instead of at the base of the mountain because “we wanted to make an unambiguous gesture that we share this award with the entire community.”
The community played a big part in Jackson Hole’s award, but SKI Magazine Editor Greg Ditrinco said there’s a lot going on at the resort, too.
“Jackson Hole has done a great job of expanding its appeal to a broader base,” Ditrinco said. That work has included offering more intermediate terrain, more on-mountain amenities and more dining and lodging options.
“It really shows the evolution from a great mountain to a great resort,” Ditrinco said.
While Jackson Hole, and Jackson, are still evolving, Ditrinco and Sutner both said Vail is already well-established in the ski resort hierarchy.
Vail already provides much of what winter tourists are looking for beyond a great day on the hill, Ditrinco said. Looking for a broader experience is part of the evolution of reader responses to the magazine survey, he said.
“People are looking for a full vacation experience,” he said.
With Vail a known entity, Sutner wondered aloud what kind of impact a top rating for the resort might mean in the grand scheme of things.
“It’s substantially more meaningful for us,” Sutner said. “I think the benefits will take place over time.”
Vail Resorts officials decided to focus more on what’s new and special at Vail and Beaver Creek (which landed in the 11th spot on the list this year) than their rankings in the latest survey.
An email from Liz Biebl, of the Vail Mountain Communications Department, noted that resort officials remain focused on guest service, and how best to work with people who already come to Vail and Beaver Creek. Vail Resorts has a program to gather guest feedback, Biebl wrote.
“This allows us to respond directly to (guests’) input and desires, and together we strive to continually improve and re-imagine the guest experience at our resorts,” she wrote.
The email also added information about new amenities including the new Mountaintop Express lift at Vail and the new, 500-seat Talons restaurant at Beaver Creek. It added information about new programs at both resorts’ ski schools, as well as the growth of Beaver Creek’s guest service staff.
Ultimately, Schleper said he doesn’t think this year’s resort rankings will have much of an impact on whether or not people decide to visit the valley’s ski resorts. Antlers Lodge General Manager Rob LeVine agreed.
“It doesn’t really affect my business,” LeVine said. “But there is a celebratory effect if you’re No. 1.”