Is There a “Best” Ski Resort?
Ok, Ok, we know it is a crazy, yes, even stupid, question! But every year there are numerous surveys and endless discussions on the subject. If we were mature we would ignore the whole topic and move on. But guess what – we can’t resist. We of course look at these surveys/reviews/opinions that fill our inbox. And you might be surprised by this, but we have our own obnoxious opinions.
Before we talk surveys and weigh in with those obnoxious opinions of ours, let’s first acknowledge the insaneness of this question. The question itself presumes there is one type of skier and that mythical skier seeks just one type of resort. Fortunately for the sport, that is not the case. Some of us seek only the steep/deep/sleep/repeat resort. Others want to follow up half days of cruising skiing with spa sessions, fancy dinners and a movie. Both pursuits, of course, are legit. While there may be some resorts that can offer it all, even those that come close are subject to legitimate attack. They can be hard to get to, experience bad weather, etc. etc.
Now that we have established the idiocy of discussing this subject we can proceed. In past years we have attempted to make sense of the mess by analyzing the different opinions and roughly using a “ranked voting” approach to determine if there is any discernable consensus. Not only is there no consensus, but it is basically chaos. That, coupled with the fact that many of the “surveys” are supported by industry players has lead us to come back to what we think is the probably the most interesting survey – Ski Magazine’s “Resort Guide 2023.” See Ski Resort Guide
What perhaps makes this survey the most intriguing (reliable?) is that it is based purely on reader input. Hence, actual users of the product determine the rankings. The downside – mailbox stuffing. The die hard supporters of a resort can tip the scales, but if that is happening in the survey it still points to an area being well liked. With that caveat, the survey is worth a serious look. As an added bonus, they provide separate reports on eastern and western resorts.
Their top five overall resorts – Sun Valley (lifts; terrain and town); Smugglers’ Notch (family oriented but some gnarly terrain); Deer Valley (amenities and varied terrain); Bretton Woods (grooming and guest services); Aspen (4 mountains; services and real town). The key take away from this list as stated in the Ski survey – which resorts offer the “best terrain, base village amenities, family programming, and overall vibe.” We could pick at this list (Sun Valley – paltry 180 inches of snow a year; Bretton Woods – 175 inches a year with a mere 1,500 vertical) but clearly enough SKI readers value the balance of amenities and actual ski experience to look past such issues. We are heartened to see two of our favorite hard core ski mountains in the top 15 – Jay Peak and Mad River – even though they are light on amenities.
The east/west specific lists support the notion that most skiers want a mix of respectable skiing and amenities. But both lists are nicely populated by areas that offer little but challenging terrain that are well off the beaten path. Ski’s Western list has Sun Valley and Deer Valley as 1/2 followed by Aspen. No surprises there really. But unique places low on amenities and, in some cases, no overnight lodging, score surprising well – Whitefish (6th); Schweitzer (11th); Arapahoe (13th); Snowbasin (14th); Powder (18th); Grand Targhee (24th). The East list is topped by Smugglers’, Bretton Woods and Killington – again showing the importance of the well rounded resort. But again, the quirky areas shine – Mad River Glen (4th);Jay Peak (7th); Magic Mt. (9th); Cannon (12th) and Whiteface (15th).
There is one huge take away – all those complaints about Vail’s mismanagement shine big time in the survey. Park City (owned by Vail) which offers both a great ski town and some very respectable skiing dropped precipitously from 13th to 30th and gets slammed by both locals and tourists. Perhaps more surprising is that Vail itself is stuck at 20th!! While it isn’t our favorite, Vail admittedly offers 7,000 acres of nicely varied terrain (Back Bowls anyone?) with deep amenities. Only really bad management can drag this resort into 20th. As an interesting side note, Forbes just came out with its top ten ski resorts. Based basically on a mathematical (it is Forbes after all) analysis (length of slopes; length of slopes by difficulty; # of lifts; prices; rating of skiing and apres) they rank Vail first. Too bad they didn’t ask anyone who skied there last year! Forbes Top Ten
Well, there you have it. We have spent way too much energy analyzing this subject. But, as we warned you, we couldn’t resist.
Be Well; Ski Well!