Aspen ski resorts improve in SKI’s annual rankings | AspenTimes.com

Aspen ski resorts improve in SKI’s annual rankings

Revelers pack the base area of Aspen Highlands for the resort's end-of-season party last season. The ski area got high marks for its bowl and atmosphere in SKI magazine's annual ranking of ski areas.

Snowmass climbed to one of its highest positions in several years in Ski magazine's annual readership survey to determine the best ski resorts in North America.

Snowmass, Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands all ascended compared with their rankings last year, according to results that Ski magazine posted on its website Wednesday.

Snowmass climbed to No. 6 among resorts in the West, according to the magazine. It was ninth in the 2014 rankings.

Aspen Mountain climbed one spot to 12th. Aspen Highlands jumped four notches to 16th.

The magazine said it tabulated survey results from 12,000 readers to help determine the 30 best ski resorts in the West and 20 best in the East.

The fourth ski area owned by Aspen Skiing Co. — Buttermilk — didn't crack the list.

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The results of the annual surveys fluctuate notoriously. A ski area can be the apple of skiers' eyes one season and plummet the next even though conditions haven't changed. But that's what makes them interesting to many observers.

"We like to see the (rankings) going the direction we think they should be," Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said. He said Snowmass has scored the highest ranking of Skico's ski areas since 2000. It hit No. 4 in 2002 and 2008.

Ski magazine didn't post the top winner in the West on its website Wednesday. It urged viewers to check back today at http://www.skinet.com/ski/galleries/2015s-top-ranked-western-ski-resorts?i=55593814&s=30. However, from scanning the list, it was obvious that perennial powerhouse Whistler/Blackcomb was absent from the other high-ranking positions and almost certainly grabbed top honors.

No. 2 in the West was Deer Valley, Utah. Rounding out the top five were Sun Valley, Idaho; Telluride; and Vail.

Following Snowmass at No. 6 were Park City, Utah; Jackson Hole, Wyoming (last year's top resort); Breckenridge; and, at No. 10, Steamboat.

The top resort in the East was Tremblant, Quebec.

Hanle said that when he looked at the list, he thought he could "make a good case" that Snowmass, Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands are better than some of the resorts ahead of them. The methodology of the survey penalizes Skico's resorts because they are considered separate and cannot capitalize on the Power of Four, as the company's marketing theme portrays them.

Therefore, Aspen Mountain suffers in the surveys because it doesn't have a kids' ski school. Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands are docked points because they don't have terrain parks, yet Snowmass and Buttermilk have two of the best in the business, Hanle said.

Nevertheless, he credited Ski magazine's survey for its importance in the ski industry.

"We won't live or die by this, but we'll continue to (improve) our rankings where we can," Hanle said.

Some categories are out of the hands of Skico employees, he said. Scenery and accessibility are among the many characteristics that are ranked.

Snowmass founder Bill Janss' determination that he found "the perfect mountain" in the 1960s is echoed by many of the magazine's readers, Aspen freelance writer Catherine Lutz wrote in the magazine's summary of the ski area. Snowmass earned high marks for variety of terrain and grooming.

When assessing Aspen Mountain, one Ski reader said it "skis much bigger than it is," according to the website.

"A study in contradictions, Aspen rewards those who take the time to get to know it," Lutz wrote for Ski.

Aspen Mountain got good grades for apres ski — No. 2 — as well as No. 4 for off-hill activities and No. 4 for dining.

Aspen Highlands got accolades for Highland Bowl. One survey respondent said skiing the bowl "was one of the highlights of my nearly 40-year ski history," the magazine's website said.

Buttermilk will look to get its due later in the fall when Transworld Snowboarding magazine's annual poll results come out. Buttermilk — home of the Winter X Games — grabbed top marks for best superpipe and best terrain park last year and shared the best overall resort award with Snowmass.

Freeskier magazine also ranks resorts later in the year.

scondon@aspentimes.com