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Breaking down the rankings

Kaye Ferry

While the new council settles in and we get ready for the holidays, I’m going to catch up on a few topics that were overlooked as we got buried in all of the election issues.This week, I’m going to try to do an analysis of the Ski magazine rankings that moved us from our last year’s overall ranking of No. 1 down to No. 2. And lest we not forget and be too hard on ourselves, we have been voted No. 1 in 10 of the past 15 years.The Ski Magazine Reader Resort Survey had a response of 5,500 people – a record return on the 18the year of this analysis. They shared their opinions of 250 resorts in the United States and Canada, separated into East and West Coast resorts.The attributes ranked included the following 17 items: access, apres ski, dining, family programs, grooming, lifts, lodging, off-hill activities, on-mountain food, scenery, service, snow, terrain-challenge, terrain-variety, terrain parks, value, weather.Deer Valley took the prize this year. They also got No. 1 rankings for grooming, on-mountain food, access and service. Service is where they really set themselves apart, however. They won hands down with comments like “outstanding.” They combined that with top five finishes in dining, lodging, weather, lifts and family programs. All of that added up to No. 1 overall. Vail pulled off No. 2 with comments like “the secret to Vail’s enduring popularity is that all members of the family return home happy.” “If you’re looking for one place to ski, pick Vail. What continues to set Vail apart is three words: The Back Bowls.” “The best of everything.” Interestingly, we received no first place rankings in any of the 17 categories, only one second for terrain-variety, and no third place rankings, either. One continuing complaint about Vail is that it’s too crowded. So I did some math. At 5,289 acres and a maximum capacity day of 19,000 skiers, we still only ski 3.59 skiers per acre on the busiest days of the year.Deer Valley, on the other hand, is touted for controlling their access to a max of 6,500 skiers per day. With a mere 1,825 acres, that equates to 3.56 skiers per acre. So what’s the big deal? There are Summit county days at 6-8 skiers per acre and God only knows the East Coast numbers. It would seem that if we could disperse the crowds at 2, 3 and 4 we could rid ourselves of this persistent misconception.Whistler-Blackcomb rolled in at third with comments like “that place is freaking huge,” which is true at 8,171 acres and a vertical of 5,280 (that’s a mile!). The range of other comments was all over the place, from “the best skiing ion North America” to “fickle and unpredictable weather,” which is also true, remembering last year’s almost disastrous conditions.Rounding out the rest of the top 10 (in order) were Snowmass, Park City, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Aspen, Mammoth and Sun Valley.So let’s go back to rankings of the top three in any category. Deer Valley and Whistler/ Blackcomb led the pack with six each. Next came back Mammoth Mountain with four. Then Alta and Aspen with 3. Jackson Hole, Snowbird, Sun Valley and Taos each had two. And Beaver Creek, Canyons, Heavenly Valley, Lake Louise, Park City, Steamboat, Telluride and Vail each had one either first second or third place win in an individual category.Keeping in mind that this No. 2 ranking was for the Vail community as a whole, I then tried to divide the 17 rated categories in to four groups: those that are VR’s responsibility; those that belong to the town and the business community; those that we share jointly with the resort company; and finally, those that none of us can control.Let’s start with the last group first because they are the easiest: weather, access and scenery. VR’s list is tied to the mountain specifically and they are, in my opinion: snow (to the extent that they make it although part of this could be put into the first group), grooming, terrain/challenge, terrain/variety, lifts, on-mountain food and terrain parks.The town and business community share the job of providing quality lodging, dining, off-hill activities and apres ski. And finally, we jointly share the job of providing value, delivering good service and developing family programs.So what does all of this mean? VR will take care of their list because they always do. And if they don’t, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. I’m more concerned about the things on our list and the things we can work on together.We’re already started on one category. Customer service will continue to be a priority for the town, the Vail Chamber and Vail Resorts. These three groups have just made another year’s commitment to the Premier Impression’s Program for the 2005-06 season. Through their joint partnership, a new and expanded program will be offered this year, and it is specifically geared toward rewarding the delivery of excellent customer service by the front-line employee.Additionally, Vail Resorts, the Vail Chamber and Eagle County are also once again sponsoring 24 sessions of Turn It Up! In its 11th year, with a new speaker and a new program, we are looking forward to setting the stage for an even more successful ski season. Between these two programs, last year we were able to raise our Ski Magazine rankings from 9 to 7 in the service category.We need to look at the other areas where by collectively harnessing our efforts, we can effect positive changes on how the guest perceives us. Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado


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