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About That New No.1

I can already hear the hardcores cackling over their Kootenays in Whistler, mumbling into their jello shots at Jackson and ordering another martini in Vail. Deer Valley, Utah, No. 1 in North America? SKI readers, in our 14th annual Reader Resort Survey, pushed this five-star Utah resort to the top-the first time a place other than the mega-mountains of Vail and Whistler has experienced such rarefied air. n Deer Valley accomplished this feat despite offering Terrain that readers ranked just 43rd in North America. This means two things.

First, that there are a lot of great mountains in North America whose Terrain rankings are closely bunched. Deer Valley didn't make the Top 40 in Terrain, but it was still ahead of such highly respected mountain playgrounds as Breckenridge, Colo., Heavenly, Calif., and Mt. Bachelor, Ore.

The second message is that SKI's readers do indeed look beyond Terrain in choosing their favorite places to ski. There are 16 categories that decide the rankings, and Deer Valley dominated the field in Service, Grooming and On-Mountain Food, while finishing a close second in both Lodging and Dining. These big gains were more than enough to offset the small point losses in what we refer to as the "harder" categories-such as Terrain and Challenge. At day's end, the folks at Deer Valley landed the No. 1 ranking the old-fashioned way: They earned it.

My annual advice is to use the Top 60 resort writeups, which begin on page 134, as North America's most comprehensive ski vacation planner-regardless of a resort's overall ranking. Your priorities may differ significantly from those of our surveyed readers (as Peter Shelton notes in Mountain Chronicle on page 72). So decide what's most important to you, and pick a resort accordingly. You won't be disappointed.

For the first time in 25 years, a ski season opens without Les Otten at the helm of a ski resort. The self-confident, silver-haired pioneer was arguably the most important person in skiing when he amassed an empire that included nine resorts and some 5 million annual skier visits. Victimized by too little snow and even less money, he left the company last spring amid surprisingly little fanfare.

Otten goes down as one of skiing's most influential, albeit flawed, characters. He was a passionate skier who, after starting out as a Killington junior manager, transformed Sunday River, Maine, from a sleepy, out-of-the-way resort into an Eastern powerhouse.But shed no tears for Les. Instead, feel sorry for the resort employees and townspeople left in his leveraged wake. When the consolidation move began five years ago, many observers viewed it as a potentially positive development. The report card at this point, as Ken Castle reports in "Big...Bigger...Bust" on page 43, may indicate otherwise.

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