Vail’s back as No. 1 |

Vail’s back as No. 1

Cliff Thompson

That’s the conclusion of a recent annual survey of 20,000 readers by Ski Magazine, which ranked the top 60 ski resorts in North America. It’s contained in the October issue soon to hit the newsstands.

Vail ascended to the top spot by nudging Utah’s Deer Valley downward a notch; British Columbia’s Whistler/Blackcomb was again third. It’s the 11th time in 15 surveys Vail has hit the top spot.

Beaver Creek, meanwhile, edged up to fifth and Breckenridge to 10th, while competitor Intrawest’s Copper Mountain was 16th.

Respondents to the survey rated resorts on 17 categories, including: terrain; snow conditions; weather; grooming; food; lodging; how easy it is to travel to the resort; and off-mountain activities. Readers are asked to numerically rank each category from “poor” to “excellent.”

The survey, conducted by an independent research firm hired by the magazine, is mailed to the magazine’s subscribers of two years or more and distributed geographically to reflect the magazine’s subscription base, said Ski Magazine’s executive editor, Greg Ditrinco.

“It’s an annual snapshot of the ski industry and all of what that implies, warts and all,” said Ditrinco. “The American culture is obsessed with ranking things. (But) you should look at rankings with open eyes. There are good resorts that are not in the top 10 or even the top 30.”

The survey is broken into three geographical areas and categories: North American Resorts; Eastern Resorts; and Midwestern Resorts. Quebec’s Mt. Tremblant, for example, was the top-ranked Eastern resort, while Nub’s Notch, MIch. topped the Midwest’s.

Still room for improvement

Vail received top ratings in 10 categories:

– Grooming

– Terrain

– Lifts

– Service

– Access

– On-mountain food

– Dining

– Apres ski.

– Off-mountain activities

– Family programs

– Terrain parks.

“When Pete Seibert opened Vail in 1962, he revolutionized American Skiing,” said Ditrinco. “And Vail continues to do that today. Whether it’s Blue Ski Basin, kid-friendly Adventure Ridge or the constant improvements that have been made each season, Vail gives skiers what they want most – security in knowing they’ll have a successful vacation.”

The categories in which it did not achieve top rankings were: snow quality, challenge, value, weather, lodging, dining and scenery.

For Vail Resorts, which operates resorts at Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone Breckenridge in Colorado and Heavenly in California, the top ranking provides bragging rights. More importantly, however, it provides a powerful tool in the marketing world, where perception is often equated with reality.

“We use the ranking in our marketing,” said a happy Vail Resorts’ CEO Adam Aron. “When you’re No. 1, you scream it from the highest mountain.”

Last year, when Vail was in second place, the top ranking was discounted and marketing focused on the good snow, terrain and other amenities, Aron said.

The Beav’

While Vail Mountain’s top ranking gets the headlines, Beaver Creek’s upward mobility is what Aron said he noticed the most, calling it “huge news.” In years past it has garnered seventh or eight place.

“To have Vail at No. 1 and Beaver Creek at No. 5, ahead of Aspen, has to turn some heads around the ski industry,” he said. “We have more than 700 ski resorts in North America. For the Vail Valley to have No. 1 and No. 5 is just fabulous.”

With American Skiing Co. digging itself out of debt, the North American ski industry picture is changing, with two main emerging competitors – Vail Resorts and Intrawest, which are in a bare-knuckled brawl for Colorado’s 500,000 Front Range skiers. Each resort company is pouring millions into base village and on-mountain improvements, with the all-important skier market share at stake in a static market.

Intrawest, which operates Copper Mountain, just inked a deal with the city and county of Denver to manage Winter Park. The company is offering a season pass for Copper Mountain and is expected to bundle that with a pass for Winter Park. Renewals cost $299.

Vail Resorts, meanwhile, offers a $319 Colorado Pass which skiers can use at Vail, Beaver Creek, Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Breckenridge. Vail’s $269 Buddy Pass, meanwhile, can be used at Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Breckenridge. Most discounted passes have some restriction on days they can be used.

No. 1 means highest ticket price

With Vail repositioning itself in ticket price wars, Aron said the top ranking will give Vail justification for having the nation’s highest-priced lift ticket, although that price has yet to be announced. Aspen last year charged $68, a dollar more than Vail.

“If you’re going to charge the highest price in the country, you have to have the top-ranked resort in the country,” Aron said.

Aspen typically has had the highest priced lift tickets, outpricing Vail by a dollar or more each season, until now.

The top ranking also rubbed off on Vail’s town staff, said Town Manager Bob McLaurin.

“Our mission and vision talks about being the premier mountain resort in North America,” he said. “It’s a source of pride for us within the organization. It’s also a good thing for Vail.

“Vail has historically and consistently been the No. 1 ski resort in North America,” McLaurin added. “That’s been the benchmark target we shoot for.”

Top 20 resorts:

1. Vail

2. Deer Valley, Utah

3. Whistler/Blackcomb, B.C.

4. Snowmass

5. Beaver Creek

6. Steamboat

7. Park City, Utah

8. Aspen

9. Jackson Hole, Wyo.

10. Breckenridge

11. Aspen Highlands

12. Telluride

13. Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

14. Sun Valley, Idaho

15. Winter Park.

16. Copper Mountain

17. Heavenly, Calif.

18. The Canyons, Utah

19. Keystone

20. Snowbird, Utah

– Source: Ski Magazine

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

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