Our annual Reader Resort Survey, now in its 13th season, may be the sport's greatest oxymoron. That's because these Top 60 resort rankings are unequivocally defensible¿yet utterly indefensible. Let me explain. n Year in and year out, we are awed by the insights and expertise of the thousands of geographically dispersed SKI subscribers who enthusiastically fill out our four-page survey. These people ski an average of 22 days a season, and they know their stuff.
They are asked to rate only the resorts they've skied in the past two seasons, and the number of responses varies dramatically between a powerhouse such as Breckenridge, Colo., which entertained 1.4 million skiers last season, and a less-accessible destination, such as Big Mountain, Mont. Yet the readers, and the system, work brilliantly.
How else do you explain the fact that readers consistently select out-of-the-way, yet imminently deserving, Grand Targhee, Wyo., as No. 1 in Snow Quality? Or palm-sized Smugglers' Notch, Vt., as the perennial champion for Family Programs? Or Alta, Utah, and Mad River, Vt., tops for Value? Or remote Lake Louise, Alberta, for Scenery? Or, on a slightly busier scale, Deer Valley, Utah, for No. 1 in Service and On-Mountain Food¿but No. 81 in Value? And who can argue with a system that ranks Aspen, Colo., and Killington, Vt.¿two very different but very lively experiences¿as tops for Après-Ski in North America year after year?
Yet on the indefensible side¿as Peter Shelton (featured at left) insightfully points out in his column this month¿how can Alta be 31 places behind our new No. 1 resort, Vail, Colo.? Or in the East, how can the incredible terrain of Sugarbush, Vt., a mountain I called home for five incredible seasons, end up 14th¿behind New England resorts that just don't have the same caliber of hill?
As you may imagine, we are often asked these questions. Each season, when the rankings come in, we pore through the results and try to explain to eager resort managers why they went up or down on the list. And we always say there is a method to the madness. The numbers do add up. They make sense. The readers react to resort expansions, to new lifts and hotels, to higher levels of service and to snowfall on any given season. And yet, in the end, these numbers are entirely subjective. They are opinions¿and opinions only.
So we always remind readers to digest the rankings, but to do so with their eyes wide open. The most popular resort may well not be your favorite. What is a peach to one skier is a pit to the next. The most telling information is in the details. Simply find the categories that matter most to you, and plan a trip to the resort that best fits your idea of a superb winter vacation. After all, nobody knows that better than you.