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.
Kellee Katagi joined SKI as an associate editor last winter after spending the past two years as the editor of Rocky Mountain Sports, a highly respected regional magazine that covers a variety of outdoor sports, including skiing. Ever since she was an 800-meter specialist while competing in high school track in the Pacific Northwest, Kellee has been fascinated with sports fitness, which explains why she has become a budding triathlete. So it's appropriate that she oversees SKI's Healthy Skier and Ski Fit departments. For this issue, that entailed writing a definitive guide on the pros and cons of wearing a helmet, as well as a selection of the best helmets out there. She also recruited U.S. Ski Team members Chad Fleischer, the Nastar national pacesetter and a World Cup medal winner, and Katie Monahan to demonstrate an exclusive SKI/U.S. Ski Team fitness test. Kellee, who first skied at Snoqualmie Pass, Wash., as a high school student, also edits SKI's Pacific regional section. She lives in Denver with her husband Wes Katagi who is, fittingly, a physical therapist.
Peter Shelton has written his popular column,, "Mountain Chronicle," for the past eight years and has contributed features to SKI since 1985. During that period, readers have come to enjoy Peter's distinct, soulful take on what skiing should be about, a perspective summed up by the phrase "less is more." For a taste of that philosophy, turn to page 74 for this month's column, "The Survey Is Wrong," in which Peter weighs in with his own take on how we should determine North America's top resorts. Recently, Peter took a hiatus from writing to build a new home in Montrose, Colo., but now he has more time on his hands. So in this issue, Peter also authored "Skiing's Brigadoon" for our "Then & Now" resort package. It's an inside look at a ski area (not resort!) that personifies the best aspects of the sport, and also affords a peek at a 21st century management team that respects history and tradition. In other words, it was the perfect pairing of writer and subject.