It’s true: Surveys of any type are highly subjective tools. Over the 30-some years we’ve been conducting our annual Reader Resort Survey—which is live right now, so go vote—many people, including our readers, have questioned its usefulness. (Confession: We have too.) But the results, while not scientific by any stretch, are useful in showing trends.
Many factors go into why skiers rank resorts the way they do. Sometimes the vacation didn’t go as planned—the snow was sub-par, the customer service was lacking, the ski school was overpriced and underwhelming. But remember, one person’s mediocre group lesson is another person’s breakthrough moment.
Which is why, when looked at individually, survey results are fairly meaningless. Does Vail care that Bobby from Podunkville USA ranked its resorts poorly in several categories? Not a chance. But when years of results suggest the same weaknesses, the resort leadership might show some interest.
We poured through the last five years of survey results looking for trends at some of the country’s most popular resorts, and what we found was pretty interesting. All of the resorts on the list below have done consistently better in the rankings year over year, and all of them, save one, are smaller, community-minded, non-corporate ski areas.
So what does this tell us? That perhaps skiers’ desire to visit smaller, more character-driven resorts was already in motion well before the pandemic. Will the trend continue? Cast your vote in our annual Reader Resort Survey for a chance to have your say, get your thoughts featured in the magazine next season, and win a pair of K2 skis.
Vote For Your Favorite Resorts Here >>>> SKI Magazine 2022 Reader Resort Survey
The biggest movers and shakers are listed below, along with our favorite stories that truly capture the essence of these special resorts.
Whitefish Mountain Resort, Mont.
- Lowest rank: 11 (2017)
- Highest rank: 3 (2021)
Fiercely independent Whitefish has continued its upward trajectory in the rankings over the last several years, sitting comfortably at No. 3 for the last two surveys. Where will it land in this year’s contest?
What readers say: “Whitefish is that rare ski area that could be a mega-resort and charge outrageous prices but does not because they want everybody to be able to afford to ski. They know that making skiing affordable for families to keep their children skiing guarantees skiers in the future.”
Read more about why Whitefish is hot—and continues to streak up the charts: Local’s Guide to Whitefish, Mont.
Taos Ski Valley, N.M.
- Lowest rank: 24 (2018)
- Highest rank: 4 (2021)
Taos Ski Valley didn’t even crack the Top 30 resorts in the West just a few years ago, now it’s clawed its way into the Top 5 for the first time. Confirmation that skiers are seeking out smaller, family-run ski areas with more character? We think so.
What readers say: “Taos feels like a little European town tucked into the mountains in New Mexico. It’s adorably quirky. The mountain is challenging but SO fun! And the views are absolutely breathtaking.”
Are you good enough to ski Taos? Find out here: How To Get Extreme in Taos, N.M.
Wachusett Mountain, Mass.
- Lowest rank: 20 (2018)
- Highest rank: 9 (2021)
How does a community ski hill known for its nightly beer league and women’s ski clinics beat out the glitzy destination resorts of Vermont and New Hampshire? It’s all about spirit and heart.
What readers say: “This family owned business puts all of its resources back into the mountain, with state of the art snowmaking and meticulous grooming twice a day.”
What does Wachusett have that others don’t? Family values: This Massachusetts Ski Area is Winning the Fight to Stay Independent
Arapahoe Basin, Colo.
- Lowest rank: 28 (2020)
- Highest rank: 18 (2021)
A-Basin just missed the survey cutoff for years before emerging in 2020 at No. 28. Then it jumped 10 spots this season. Long thought of as a local’s ski area, Arapahoe Basin’s terrain expansions over the last decade are slowly turning it into a destination resort. But this place continues to do it on its own terms, including limited season pass sales for next season.
What readers say: “A-Basin took back its soul this year in leaving the Epic Pass. It started going back to the sleepy, easy-to-miss resort it used to be. Only, it has way more terrain now with the Beavers. Expert terrain here is fun with no end. The elevation of the resort means the season is long and the snow stays strong. What it lacks in non-ski activities and lodging it makes up for by its proximity to Breckenridge.”
Here’s why Arapahoe Basin will continue to climb in the rankings: Colorado’s Anti-Resort Is Doing Things Its Own Way—And You’d Better Like It
Sun Valley, Idaho
- Lowest rank: 10 (2017)
- Highest rank: 1 (2021)
With the exception of one year, Sun Valley has nabbed either the first or second spot in the West since 2016. The only traditional destination resort on this list, Sun Valley succeeds by blazing its own path and holding tight to what makes it unique, despite joining the Epic Pass last season.
What readers say: “Outstanding area all around. Tons of history and a terrific mountain. Not the biggest or steepest but the best all around experience you can get. Staying at the Lodge is like a piece of history in the skiing world.”
A trip to Sun Valley is a must for all true skiers: Here’s Everything You Need to Plan It