As always, the magazine’s annual dissection of Western ski hills means winter is tantalizingly close but not quite here, like pre-season gear sales, or the latest snow-porn opus from Travis Rice. That is to say the SKI mag rankings exist to whet your appetite for the season to come, and when Colorado lands a whopping 12 resorts on the top-30 list — the most of any state — there’s plenty to salivate over.
But how arbitrary is the list? I’ve always wondered about the inner workings, and after reading through the brief blurbs paired with each of the top-30 resorts, it seems like a mix of journalist science, reader survey and magic sauce. Each season, SKI mag asks readers to rank resorts based on a slate of criteria, from snow and terrain to lodging, dining, nightlife and more. From those surveys, the editors must toss everything into a spreadsheet that may or may not use an algorithm to spit out final rankings.
(You ever seen the South Park episode, “Margaritaville,” when Stan tries to return a margarita blender and somehow discovers that Wall Street’s economic decisions are made by three white guys and a headless chicken? I imagine the process might be something like that, only with computers and ski editors.)
DECODING THE LIST
Enough pontificating about the process — onto the 2016 rankings.
To nobody’s surprise, the crown jewel of British Columbia, Whistler Blackcomb, topped the list with No. 1 rankings for variety (8,171 skiable acres) and après (Vancouver is just 75 miles away). If you haven’t made the trip yet, either head north now for the pre-Vail Resorts treatment or wait until Whistler is on the Epic Pass next season.
(Small Whitefish, Montana made No. 8 on the list ahead of every Epic Pass property except for Vail itself. I wonder if that hill is next on the VR world-domination map.)
Telluride was the top-ranked Colorado resort at No. 4, and for good reason, the editors said. It made No. 7 for challenge thanks to “some of the best steep terrain in the country,” one reader wrote, and the ski school got plenty of praise. The one oddity: readers ranked it No. 1 for scenery, only to complain about how remote it is (?). The editors’ response: “But that’s exactly what makes this southwestern-Colorado town so amazing.”
Breck landed smack in the middle of the list at No. 14 and was Summit’s top-ranked resort. Readers loved everything about Main Street — après was No. 8 overall for an “authentic town,” the editors said — and moaned about the wind whipping over Breckenfridge. Somehow readers only placed it at No. 22 overall for variety, but the SKI mag must visit on occasion. “The most diverse assortment of terrain this side of Squaw Valley,” the editors said.
Next up was Copper Mountain at No. 16. The après and nightlife scene got battered, but one reader’s blurb says it all: “It feels like a local’s hill but skis like a destination resort.”
At No. 22 was Keystone. The best-kept secret this side of Copper also got penalized for a lifeless village — it’s known as a family-friendly hill these days, just as it has been branded — but ranked No. 6 overall for terrain parks (every Summit resort cracked the top-10 in that department). Somehow, the Stone was way down at No. 42 for challenging terrain, but again, the editors must ski here on occasion, saying, “We counter that it’s there if you know where to look,” before name-checking The Windows. I’d add any of the hike-to terrain east of Dercum Mountain, like Independence Bowl, Bergman Bowl and Erikson Bowl.