Popularity of Ajax, S’mass static | AspenTimes.com

Popularity of Ajax, S’mass static

Aspen Mountain and Snowmass didn’t gain any ground in this year’s Ski Magazine resort rankings, but they didn’t lose any either.

Aspen Mountain remained at No. 5 while Snowmass kept the sixth spot, according to Greg Trinker, a former Aspen journalist and an editor at Ski. The magazine determines ski area rankings – through readership surveys – every year at this time. The full rankings will be released when the magazine’s October issue hits newsstands around Friday.

“The big news is Vail is back to No. 1 again,” said Trinker.

Whistler/Blackcomb topped Vail last season, but the Canadian resort tumbled to third this year. The top four resorts remained the same, but their order changed.

“It’s the usual suspects,” said Trinker.

Vail jumped from the fourth spot in 1999 to the top. It was followed by Deer Valley, Whistler/Blackcomb and Sun Valley, Idaho.

They were followed by Aspen Mountain and Snowmass.

“I think No. 1 gives you bragging rights,” said Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Pat O’Donnell.

The marketing and public relations people can build off top billings, but no one really goes out to tout being second, fifth or 10th, he said.

On the other hand, said O’Donnell, placing within the top five is “good.”

Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton, who handles the company’s marketing campaign, said he would like to see the company’s four resorts viewed differently for the rankings.

“I always wonder how highly we’d be ranked if we were considered one complex instead of four individual mountains,” he said.

Norton said the rankings are probably most valuable for the top-ranked resort.

“I think it’s very important to be recognized as No. 1,” he said. “I wish we were there.”

However, in reality the difference between the top 10 positions probably isn’t all that great among customers, he said.

Aspen Highlands climbed from 22nd last season to 16th. It placed No. 8 in the “terrain” category, one of the most important pure skiing qualities in the survey.

Skico officials expect Highlands’ stature to rise when construction of a new village at the base is completed. Work at Highlands Village has turned the ski area into a construction zone.

Buttermilk didn’t garner enough responses to make the list, said Trinker.

Ajax scored well on several off-mountain qualities. It was once again No. 1 in apres ski.

“They’re perennial winners in that,” said Trinker. “There’s Aspen, then there’s everybody else.”

Aspen was also tops in dining and second in off-hill activities. It also got high marks for on-mountain restaurants, lodging and service.

The mountain earned a respectable rating of 15th for challenge, but only 25th for terrain. Trinker’s interpretation was that Ski’s readers felt there was “wonderful terrain, just not a ton of it.”

The variety and amount of terrain helped Vail reclaim the top spot. It opened the 520-acre Blue Sky Basin last January and “really captured skiers’ attention,” Trinker speculated.

Snowmass scored its highest mark with a No. 2 in family programs. Other top-10 ratings includes weather, grooming, challenge, service and lodging.

Aspen was once again hurt in the “value” category. It ranked 78th out of 87 resorts. Interestingly, though, Vail, Deer Valley and Killington, Vt., all finished lower in perceived value. Snowmass ranked 60th.

Readers rank the ski resorts in 16 categories ranging from best snow to best dining. Trinker said 10,000 surveys were sent out this year. The response rate was 25 percent.

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