We’re not No. 1 (but neither is Vail)
None of Aspen’s ski areas received the highest ranking in the annual SKI magazine readers’ survey this year, but Aspenites still have something to cheer about.Vail got knocked off the top spot.Two of Aspen Skiing Co.’s mountains were among the top 10 in North America, according to the survey, which will hit newsstands later this month.Snowmass was ranked highest among the local resorts at No. 4. It slipped one spot from last year.Aspen Mountain also slipped one spot to the eighth position.Aspen Highlands inexplicably fell from grace with SKI readers. It fell from 13th last year to 21st. Maybe some SKI readers couldn’t handle the bowl – or maybe they couldn’t handle the ski area’s base village.Buttermilk was nowhere to be found in the rankings despite its rise in respectability from hosting the ESPN Winter X Games.Deer Valley (dear Lord!) was voted the top ski resort. It wrested the lofty perch from Vail, which dropped to No. 2 this year. Whistler-Blackcomb came in third. After Snowmass at fourth was Park City; Beaver Creek; Breckenridge; Ajax at eighth; Mammoth; and Sun Valley.Greg Ditrinko, executive editor at SKI and a former reporter and editor at the Aspen Daily News, said his magazine’s annual survey is “a good snapshot once a year of the industry.” It shows what is important to the magazine’s subscribers but doesn’t necessarily match perceptions of ski town locals.The results can cause a lot of “hooting and hollering” among ski town residents and even within SKI’s office, he acknowledged. But that’s the fun of polls.”You can’t get your knickers in a twist over it,” Ditrinko said. “If you start scratching around, you can find the warts [in the results].”OK, so let’s seek the warts.Snowmass got top-10 marks in categories such as grooming, snow, variety of terrain, service, weather, on-mountain food, lodging and family programs. No real surprises there. It bombed in challenge of terrain, value, après-ski, off-hill activities and scenery. It makes you wonder if those survey respondents have skied the Wall, AMF or Gowdy’s, or checked the view from the top of Elk Camp chairlift.Aspen Mountain got high marks for service, weather, on-mountain food, lodging and off-hill activities. It got the highest marks in the survey for dining and après-ski. Ironically, the top billing for nightlife comes at a time many locals are bemoaning losses of favorite old watering holes and character. Ditrinko said it’s all a matter of perspective. Aspen still provides a hell of a nightlife for visitors, he said.”Obviously Aspen is one of the best ski towns in the freakin’ galaxy,” Ditrinko said.Aspen Highlands somehow fell from seventh last year to 11th in challenge of terrain, even though more double-diamond terrain in Highland Bowl opened. The ski area also fell from 14th to 37th in lodging, although the accommodations didn’t change.Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said company officials are pleased to have two areas in the top 10 in North America, but they were perplexed by the drop of Highlands. Hanle wasn’t worried that business would drop because of the rankings. He said he isn’t sure the magazine’s survey results influence tourists’ choices.”I think they care, but I don’t think it affects us,” Hanle said. He noted the Skico has one of the highest return rates in the industry among its customers.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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