Vail’s slide in resort rankings has no impact on visitation, business leaders say
Vail Mountain falls off Condé Nast Traveler's list of top ski areas and is ranked 20th in Ski Magazine's annual poll
Each year, various national magazines compile rankings for top destinations, hotels and ski resorts. This year, Vail Mountain fell off the Top Ski Areas in North America list from Condé Nast Traveler and maintained its No. 20 position from the previous year in a similar list (Top Resorts in the West) from Ski Magazine. Neighboring Beaver Creek Resort came in at No. 17 and No. 15, respectively, in the two rankings.
At the Tuesday, Nov. 15, Vail Town Council meeting, Council member Jonathan Staufer said that Vail’s slipping from the Condé Nast list was a cause for concern.
“I think everybody probably saw it and was as concerned as I was about the Condé Nast ratings for Vail,” Staufer said. “I think not even being in the top 20 is of some concern.”
Staufer added that while he doesn’t feel that there’s anyone working in the town, for the town or on the mountain that isn’t committed to the quality of guest experience, he expressed a desire to see a reinvigoration of PrimaVail — a guest service training program headed up the Vail Chamber and Business Association — “to concentrate on that guest services piece.”
“I’m not really sure where we’re falling down and I’d like to know that,” he said. “What can we do to get the private sector to help us get back to a commitment of quality? I think that’s incredibly important. Because, as I said, there’s not anybody in this entire organization that doesn’t want Vail to be No. 1 and I think that’s true across this entire community and up on the hill.”
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However, this concern for the slippage in the rankings was not held by representatives from the Vail Chamber & Business Association, Vail Valley Partnership and Vail Resorts.
Alison Wadey, the executive director of the VBCA, said the group does “not have any tracking if this ranking affects our guests’ reason for visiting or not.”
Both Vail Valley Partnership’s Chris Romer and Vail Resorts’ Senior Communications Manager John Plack said that there is not any correlation between magazine rankings and visitation.
“These types of rankings are important from a public relations perspective and it is always nice to be recognized as ‘best of the best,'” said Romer, who leads the valley-wide chamber. “However, there is very little if any economic impact that can be tracked to these ratings.”
Wadey added that she sees no economic impact from the rankings.
“We have had record sales tax collections the past year, so I do not think this ranking affects our visitors’ desire to come to Vail,” she said.
For Vail Resorts, the rankings are no cause for concern regarding the resort’s future: “Not one bit,” Plack said.
This year, Plack reported expectations of a banner year, with the resort “having a strong start to the season” as a result of Vail Mountain’s 60th anniversary season as well as a strong market hold by the mountain.
“Vail as a destination has incredibly strong brand awareness and affinity,” he said. “I don’t expect this one survey ranking to have any impact on that.”
Wadey expressed a similar lack of concern over the town’s future tourism in relation to these types of rankings.
“It doesn’t give me too much cause for concern with being able to continue to attract guests. We are lucky that Vail is the most recognized ski brand in the country,” she said. “We have a great community and town that supports the Vail brand and creates an amazing experience for all our guests. Our visitor knows and experiences this when they are here. So, as long as we keep delivering that amazing experience, the future of our resort and tourism is strong.”
Vail Town Council member Barry Davis said that the phrase “local flavor” had been used in Vail Mountain’s descriptor from the 2023 Ski Magazine list.
“I think that local flavor comes from us supporting our local business and kind of curating that culture of why people live here and why people love to live and work in Vail,” he said.
Both Wadey and Romer said that they have not heard concerns from the local business community either.
“My perception is that most of the concerns are coming from non-business stakeholders,” Romer said.
With other challenges looming for the business community, these lists are not top of mind.
“Our future is in our own hands; the ski company and town remain committed to working collaboratively with the private sector to build and address workforce challenges and focus on the guest experience,” he said. “These lists do not even register on my list of things to be concerned about.”
Changing year to year
The rankings fluctuate from year to year, with little or no explanation for the shifts. Over the years, both Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek have moved up and down in the rankings — with Vail also not making the Condé Nast list in 2017.
Previous years’ rankings from Condé Nast Traveler are as follows for Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek:
- 2022: Beaver Creek at No. 17 (Vail did not make the list)
- 2021: Vail at No. 6, Beaver Creek at No. 4
- 2020: Vail at No. 7, Beaver Creek at No. 12
- 2019: Vail at No. 14, Beaver Creek at No. 21
- 2018: Vail at No. 9, Beaver Creek at No. 12
- 2017: Beaver Creek at No. 14 (Vail did not make the list)
- 2016: Vail at No. 18, Beaver Creek at No. 10
Previous years’ rankings from Ski Magazine are as follows for Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek:
- 2023: Vail at No. 20, Beaver Creek at No. 15
- 2022: Vail at No. 20, Beaver Creek at No. 16
- 2021: Vail at No. 14, Beaver Creek at No. 9
- 2020: Vail at No. 11, Beaver Creek at No. 8
- 2018: Vail at No. 11, Beaver Creek at No. 9
While these most recent results put Vail near the middle or bottom of some of these lists, it previously had spent many years atop the Ski Magazine list. A Vail Resorts’ press release from 2004 reported the resort’s No. 1 position, making it its 13th year holding the position since the magazine started the survey in 1987.
Both the Ski Magazine and Condé Nast Traveler lists are supported by readers’ votes.
The annual Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards allows readers to weigh in on their favorite hotels, resorts, cruises, spas and much more. According to an editorial from the publication, over 244,000 voters participated in the annual survey. However, the magazine did not reveal the number of votes cast in the ski resort rankings or provide a rationale behind the numbers associated with the list.
Simply, it states: “All winners were independently selected by our readers.”
Plack hypothesized that the changes in methodology year to year make it difficult to know why the rankings change.
“With so many new additions it’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison year over year,” Plack said. “So it’s not possible to know what changed in the survey results. Vail previously held the eighth spot in 2021 with a score of 83.01. For comparison, Keystone took the 20th spot in 2022 with a score of 82.55. So, if Vail dropped by even one full point, it likely explains why the destination didn’t appear on the list.”
Hypothesizing further, Plack pointed to this year’s ski resort rankings shifting from Top 40 to Top 20 as well as factors such as a possible lack of correlation between resort visitors and readers of the magazine or “how hard the resort pushes the survey with its guests.”
Wadey cited similar year-to-year shifts, adding that this year, the publication “decided to not share the scorecard results with the resorts so it is hard to say what areas Vail fell short in the minds of those taking the survey.”
While Romer said he was “no expert at this,” he hypothesized two reasons for the change this year.
“The skeptic in me says a lack of advertising dollars spent and the pragmatist in me says it is probably due to Vail being increasingly seen as ‘Vail Resorts’ or as the Epic Pass product versus the destination,” he said.
Ski Magazine’s annual Resort Guide asks its readers to rate resorts based on 20 criteria. According to an editorial from the magazine, this includes categories like ski-centric snow, grooming and terrain as well as après, lodging and charm. This editorial said that it receives around 20,000 responses to its survey each year. And as far as the rankings go, while it does not weight its main lists, its Top 10 lists (for things like snowiest, most affordable, most challenging, etc.) are somewhat weighted.
This editorial also clarifies these rankings are 100% reader-based, stating, “resorts cannot buy their way into the rankings.”
With unclear methodology behind many of these rankings, Romer said that “we need to avoid overacting to these types of lists.”
“It is always good to be included in — and at the top of — these types of lists. Vail is an industry leader in not only the ski industry, but the travel industry as a whole,” Romer said. “We need to remain focused on the guest experience and the things we can control versus the things we cannot.”
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