What skiers, boarders really think about Aspen, Snowmass
September 6, 2002
A closer look at the annual Ski magazine reader survey of North American ski resorts shows what skiers really like and dislike about the Aspen/Snowmass ski areas.
In sum, they like to ski in Snowmass and eat and party in Aspen, but they think it’s expensive. (Hope you were sitting down.)
The typical Ski magazine reader is a 44-year-old guy who skis 20 days a year with a household income of over $110,000.
The magazine’s editors send out 20,000 surveys to people who have subscribed for at least three years. They ask them to rate 17 attributes of ski resorts they have visited in the past two years, including the value of a resort’s lift tickets, lodging and food, how likely a resort is to have pleasant, sunny weather, and the variety of afternoon and evening activities, such as bars, nightclubs, concerts, theaters, etc.
Overall, Snowmass was ranked fourth this year and has not been ranked below seventh best ski area in North America since 1994. In 1997, it reached its highest ranking of third.
This year, Vail, Deer Valley, Utah, and Whistler/Blackcomb in Canada were rated the top three resorts.
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Snowmass got its highest rankings among ski areas for its grooming (fourth best), weather (fourth), family programs (fifth) and lodging (sixth).
It was ranked lowest among 60-or-so ski areas in value (40th), challenging expert terrain (27th) and apres ski (20th).
What would it take for Snowmass to get back into the top three? Or reach No. 1?
Well, clearly the value proposition, or at least the perception, could be worked on.
But Greg Ditrinco, the executive editor of Ski magazine and a former Aspen resident, thinks the new Base Village proposed for Snowmass could help a lot, if not with the terrain, at least with the apres scene.
“If Snowmass gets a legitimate base village, I see no reason why they can’t be between one and three,” he said.
Vail’s popularity stems from its consistency across the range of 17 attributes. While it was not ranked No. 1 in any single category, including accessibility, on-mountain food, terrain parks or grooming, it scored high enough across the slate to take the top spot.
“It is a no-risk vacation,” Ditrinco said.
Meanwhile, readers ranked Aspen the No. 1 ski resort in two categories, dining and apres ski, and the second best in off-hill activities, such as cross-country skiing, ice skating, shopping, art galleries, nature walks, etc.
Aspen was also ranked high in lodging (fourth), on-mountain food (fourth) and service (seventh).
In got low marks in value (55th!), terrain (30th), family programs (29th) and snow (26th).
Yes, there are lots of strange outcomes of the survey, which resembles an SAT test.
For example, while Aspen Mountain’s snow was ranked 26th, Snowmass’ snow was ranked 10th, and the snow at Aspen Highlands was considered the 15th best on the continent. Readers were asked to consider “How good is the snow? Consider both natural and man-made snow.”
Highlands got some newfound respect in this year’s survey, climbing from 17th to 11th place overall.
It got its highest marks for weather (sixth), scenery (eighth), challenge (eighth) and off-hill activities, which all sounds about right.
The resort’s low marks were for terrain parks (39th), family programs (38th), value (32nd) and lodging (31st).
Not enough people even rated Buttermilk, so it didn’t make the list.
In addition to filling in circles with pencils, Ski magazine’s editors ask their readers to make a general comment about the resort and to point out a strength and a weakness.
One reader said that at Highlands, “terrain, scenery and snow conditions stand out.” But the reader listed Highland’s weaknesses as “high-speed crazies and out-of-control wannabes, it’s Aspen, mucho $.”
Another happy Highlands skier wrote that “the Highlands Bowl was a rush that I’ll never forget.” Another said “Love the escalator!”
One Aspen Mountain skier made three comments: “I hate gully skiing,” “tough skiers mountain, utterly uncrowded,” and then, as a weakness, “not enough intermediate.” Must be a connection between “utterly uncrowded” and “gully skiing,” no?
As to that value thing, one Aspen skier wrote that the resort was “overpriced for most people who love the sport,” another that “lodging is too expensive,” and a third that “a long way from Denver, premium prices.”
Still one more complained of “too many ‘gravity balls’ skiers,” and another said “lift lay out to access mountain is terrible … they still think it’s 1970s.”
But Aspen has many fans. “Apres ski, nightlife is awesome, great shopping,” wrote one reader. Other comments included “a classic must-ski experience,” “still tops in my world,” and “it’s a party town.”
And one very perceptive reader simply put “It’s Aspen” under both the “strength” and the “weakness” categories of the comment section. Send that man a free subscription on us!
As for Snowmass, readers complained of “sluggish lifts,” “no nightlife,” “on-mountain activities for families weak compared to Vail,” and that the “mall needs updating.”
On the other hand, one reader said Snowmass was a “friendly, family-oriented resort and has a great range of options for all skill levels.”
And another of our favorite Ski readers said that one strength of Snowmass was that it’s “real close to the Woody Creek Tavern.”