Snowmass up to third in ranking of ski areas

Scott Condon

Readers of Ski Magazine gave the Aspen Skiing Co. a glimmer of hope this month that Snowmass eventually can knock off Vail as king of the hill among North American ski resorts.

Snowmass climbed to third in Ski’s annual ski resort rankings for the 2006-07 season, according to sources familiar with the results. Snowmass was third for the 2004-05 season as well, but fell to fourth last season.

Aspen Mountain improved one notch, from eighth to seventh, in the latest rankings, while Aspen Highlands leaped from 21 to 11. Buttermilk never makes the list despite its coveted role as home to the ESPN Winter X Games.

Ski Magazine won’t release its complete resort rankings until later this month, when its October edition hits newsstands, so it couldn’t be determined where Vail sits. However, Vail is a perennial powerhouse. It always lands the top spot or occasionally falls to No. 2.

But a source within the ski industry opined that if Snowmass is No. 3 now, the Aspen Skiing Co.’s bread-and-butter resort could finally reach the pinnacle in rankings with the completion of the 1 million-square-foot Base Village. The Skico is also undertaking multimillion-dollar improvements on the slopes, like the gondola that will run from the village to the bottom of Elk Camp.

Skico Senior Vice President David Perry agreed that the sky is the limit for Snowmass. For now, he’s happy with rankings ” and you can bet they will fold the solid results into their marketing efforts.

“When they’re positive we shout it out from the mountaintops. When they’re negative we hide our heads in the sand,” Perry quipped while loosening up his tonsils Monday.

Some comments in Ski’s reader survey were so positive about Snowmass that not even a Skico marketing genius could have dreamed them up.

“It is like Heaven,” one reader wrote in the comments section of the survey. “I mean you get off the chair and see the beautiful peaks and someone asks if you want a cookie and warm cider.”

And this one: “The big daddy of Aspen mountains. You haven’t skied Aspen until you’ve skied Snowmass, if that makes sense.”

But Snowmass also took plenty of lumps.

“Snowmass Village looks as though it hasn’t been touched since 1970,” one respondent said. “[The village] sucks but their ambitious plan looks good.”

Then there was this blunt assessment: “A big mountain but half of it is boring. A resort, not really a town.”

Ski Magazine acknowledges its survey isn’t scientific. It is open to readers, so it may reflect more on the demographics of the magazine than to the true feelings about North American resorts.

On the other hand, they are the best information to work with, and they are good for a few chuckles.

Aspen Mountain was revered by some respondents to Ski’s survey and reviled by others.

“The Granddaddy of them all still reigns!!!” gushed one reader.

“The name conjures up the word ‘skiing,'” wrote another.

“Hey, it’s Aspen, the soul of U.S. skiing,” wrote yet another.

But Ajax also had plenty of detractors. “The gondola sucks,” wrote one picklepuss, who might find the new bucket more to his or her liking. “Some non-skiers with nice clothes clog mountain,” this particular respondent continued.

“This has to be the most over-rated place in America. I just don’t get it,” wrote another curmudgeon. “I think people go to the mountain to say they’ve been there. Go to the Highlands or Snowmass.”

One perceptive respondent added a new twist on the complaint that Aspen is too expensive. The person said, “The Aspen dollar bill is a five.”

Another detractor apparently wasn’t pleased with the perceived inaccessibility of Aspen. “Can’t get theah from anywheah,” the person wrote.

But for one apparently lonely man, Ajax is accessible enough for his type of company. “With all the hot women, I may just find a wife here!” the guy wrote.

While Snowmass and Aspen Mountain returned to familiar places in the rankings, Aspen Highlands continued its puzzling roller coaster ride. It was 13th two seasons ago but plummeted to 21st last season despite the opening of more terrain in the highly acclaimed Highland Bowl. Highlands ascended closer to where Perry believes it belongs this year, at the 11th spot. He predicted it will crack the top 10 with continued improvements.

While only the snow gods can explain Highlands’ wild ride in the rankings, its fans among Ski readers gave the same impassioned praise the ski area has always seems to garner.

“This is one of the gems of North American skiing, small but mighty,” wrote one.

“Wow, I wish I could move here now,” wrote another fan. “I would greatly enjoy skiing this location every day for the rest of my life.”

The addition of the Deep Temerity chairlift last season inspired one person to write, “The legend has grown.”

Alas, even Highlands has detractors.

“Overrated resort. Too small, limited terrain. Lots of average skiers,” wrote one, who apparently hasn’t visited Highland Bowl, Steeplechase or Olympic Bowl.

“Only went there to see the changes. Not worth the effort,” groused another.

“Liked Highlands pre-Temerity lift because it was less crowded,” said another skier who demonstrated his or her head was entrenched in an undesirable place by writing, “Highlands Bowl is over-crowded with hikers and the new lift adds useless terrain.”

But perhaps the strangest comment among respondents came as an assessment of Aspen Mountain. “All the stereotypes are true,” wrote this person. “Men take themselves too seriously wearing fur, and the women are over-done.”

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is


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