Vail tops SKI survey again |

Vail tops SKI survey again

Readers of SKI magazine, in what’s becoming an annual report card on ski resorts, placed Vail as the top ski resort in the nation again.

Vail repeated its top ranking, while longtime rival Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia moved up a notch from last year to second this year.

All the Vail Resorts ski mountains placed in the top 15 of over 700 ski resorts in North America. Beaver Creek fell from fifth last year to eighth this year in the ranking; Breckenridge moved up from 10th to sixth place; Heavenly rose from 17th to 13th place; and Keystone moved up from 19th to 15th.

“No other ski company even comes close to having such a tight banding of quality – all at the top of the prestigious SKI magazine rankings,” crowed Vail Resorts CEO and Chairman Adam Aron.

Colorado ski resorts took six of the top 10 spots. In addition, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Crested Butte ranked in the top 25.

Vail, the largest ski resort in the United States and the busiest most years, has reigned atop the annual survey for 12 of the 16 years the poll has been taken. Beaver Creek, which had the most visitors in its history last season, took some solace in slipping a few notches in improved lodging and dining scores and is looking ahead to opening a new high-speed lift, said John Garnsey, the resort’s chief operating officer.

Bragging rights

For the ski resorts in the top 10, it provides bragging rights and a vehicle around which to influence vacation-buying decisions.

The survey questions are heavily weighted toward ski and on-mountain amenities such as grooming, terrain, lifts. Respondents are also asked about lodging, dining, off-hill activities and ease of access to mountains.

“This is a really prestigious recognition,” said ski resort consultant and developer Jerry Jones. “I give it to the community. Skiing is just one portion of the total package.”

Jones said Vail’s hotels, restaurants and airport capable of handling direct flights are distinct advantages.

“Vail has become America’s ultimate ski destination,” said Greg Ditrinco, SKI magazine’s executive editor. “Better than any ski resort in North America, Vail delivers to every member of the skiing family. The resort puts a lot of time and creativity into staying fresh and innovative to meet the changing needs of today’s skier and it shows.”

Vail Mountain’s chief operating officer, Bill Jensen, said the reaffirmation sends a message that Vail is maintaining its edge in an increasingly competitive industry.

“There are over 700 ski resorts in North America. To be chosen again speaks volumes,” he said. “We tend to sit in this valley and read all this negative stuff about what’s going on. When the world looks at us, we’re still the best ski resort in North America.”

Jones said he thinks Vail’s sunny climate provides a big edge over the damp maritime conditions at Whistler Blackcomb.

“It’s not unusual there to have it raining on half the mountain,” he said.

But the ranking can prove a double-edged sword, he said.

“Live by the ranking, die by the ranking,” he said. “You don’t crow too loudly.”

Still, the ranking is valuable.

“The readers of SKI magazine and the people they influence are not unlike Consumer Reports,” Jones said. “They may pick the number one ski area as their destination.”

It’s also valuable for the resort to be able to build advertising around a top ranking, Jones said.

Rob Levine, general manager of the Antlers at Vail, said he feels the ranking is important, but in a world observing the maxim that you’re only as good as your last performance, it’s not everything.

It’s important and it’s meaningful, but sometimes it’s overrated.” he said. “It’s not the be-all or the end-all.”

Jewels of skiing

More important for the ski company is the fact that it three of its resorts in the top 10, said Jensen. Keystone was 15th and Heavenly, Calif., 13th. Both moved up four notches in the ranking.

The survey also cements Colorado as the single premier ski destination in the country with six resorts ranked in the top 10. Last year Colorado hosted 11.5 million skiers.

“One out of five lift tickets are sold in Colorado and it continues to dominate the ski industry in the United States,” Ditrinco said.

The top 10 rankings may provide Vail Resorts with an edge in its in-state battle with the other 800 pound gorilla of skiing, Intrawest. In Colorado, Intrawest operates Copper Mountain and Winter Park, neither of which made the top 10 in this poll.

The most visible manifestation of the competition in Colorado between Intrawest and Vail Resorts is the discount ski passes being offered by the ski giants in their effort to woo the 500,000-strong Front Range skier market to their slopes.

SKI magazine said its readers ski an average of 23 days per year. More than 20,000 SKI readers are surveyed each year, and the magazine called its survey the most comprehensive as well as longest-running in the winter sports industry. The magazine belongs to industry giant Time Inc., a division of AOL Time Warner.

The rankings can be viewed on the Web at The survey also ranks the resorts in a wide variety subjects, ranging from terrain to apres ski opportunities.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or

Support Local Journalism