Marolt: Ranking the rankers
December 19, 2018
Conde Nast magazine has ranked Buttermilk ahead of Snowmass in their 2018 rankings of best ski areas. The only thing this proves is that Popular Mechanics is a better periodical to use planning your next ski vacation.
Buttermilk is fine. I know many locals like to go out there when the rest of our slopes are crowded during the holidays and spring break. But, this is only sanity preservation. They don't really like Buttermilk more than Snowmass, Highlands or Aspen Mountain. The terrain is not challenging. There is little variety. They don't get more powder. What little nightlife it has happens during the daytime. There are myriad reasons why it has the lowest skier visits of all our mountains. It is the lowest common denominator in our Power of Four.
Just because most people choose to throw a frozen pizza in the oven during these busy times of year rather than fight the traffic to go into town for dinner, search 30 minutes for a parking space, and wait hours for a table even though they have a reservation doesn't mean that a Tombstone pizza is better than Il Poggio.
I know this is based on Conde Nast's readership and isn't necessarily a reflection of what its writers and editors think, but I do presume that the editors have control over what is printed in their magazine and thus have the ability to omit nonsense. This ski ranking thing doesn't reflect well on their purpose. Ranking Buttermilk ahead of Snowmass insinuates that their readers might not get out much when it's cold outside. It screams that they should watch the Winter X Games less and travel more.
For this reason, I rank Conde Nast dead last in publications that rank ski resorts for 2018.
Next to last in my personal periodical rankings is the online publication Snowpak. While I quibble little with their top picks — Jackson Hole, Telluride, Vail and Aspen Mountain, in that order — I can't get past that for Aspen Mountain they posted three pictures of Highlands and The Bowl. In the write-up, the author does explain that his favorite area in Aspen is Highlands, nonetheless the stated ranking at No. 4 clearly says "Aspen Mountain." As with Conde Naste, this confusion confirms that they probably haven't spent much time around here. And, if they haven't been here, what other resorts in their rankings are placed where they are by virtue of reputation alone.
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Just ahead of Snowpak is SKI Magazine. While mothers who preach to their children, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," will love it, the fact that they seemingly make up a category to be best at something for all of their advertisers, these rankings beg more questions than provide answers. For example, I think Sunlight Ski Area was ranked best resort within 20 miles of a fairy cave.
Since I only reviewed five publications for this piece, I will now jump right to No. 2 on my list. It is Outside Magazine. I like them for an obvious, completely biased reason; they picked Aspen-Snowmass as the best resort in the Rocky Mountains. They followed that up with Alta, Beaver Creek, Big Sky and Breckenridge.
There are two reasons why Outside was not my favorite. First, they chickened out and did regional rankings instead of just going for it and making one big, useful list. It ends up being more of an appeasement to advertisers than a comprehensive guide for skiers.
Even worse, though, is that they rank Breckenridge as their No. 5 pick. While this charming little town has a reputation for a raucous nightlife, not even a post concert, backstage party in Def Leopard's dressing room could make up for the complete lack of challenging terrain at what has, more than once, been called "Breckenfield" by skiers who had to rely on maps to make sure they where actually headed downhill there.
Now we get to my No. 1 publication for ranking ski resorts. It's Forbes. Yes, I do mean the stodgy, conservative, business publication that has mostly become a monument to its eponymous publisher. They come straight out and say, from top to bottom, Jackson, Alta, Snowbird, Vail, Telluride, Whistler and Aspen-Snowmass are the best all-around resorts. They do this without fluff or apologies. Reading their descriptions, it seems like they have been to all of these places multiple times and, since they are filthy rich, I think it's safe to assume they have. Also, and I can only speculate here, it seems they must have made room for at least one hippie on staff.
Roger Marolt thinks the best place to ski is usually the place with the most snow. Email at email@example.com.
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