With the ski season off to such a great start and maybe a little financial boost from the stock market, it is time to think about a ski get-away. And like they have for the past 26 years, “Ski Magazine” readers have come up with their ranking of their top destinations.
Now, such listings are always subjective, based on a compilation of scores in various categories of the skiing experience. All those listed in this ranking are in North America. And anyone can vote: novice or expert, dedicated local or adventure traveler, first tracks to last chair ironman, or the mid-morning to leisurely lunch bunch. Based on some of the rankings, you can guess who voted.
Keeping in mind that when the snow is good and the weather is, too, the best place to be is where you are right now, here is what I think about this year’s rankings.
The magazine leads with its Top 30 resorts, all in the West. Jackson Hole Wyoming comes out on top, followed in order by Deer Valley, Utah and Vail, Colo. Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, a frequent No. 1 one in the past, slipped to sixth place. I’ve skied the top 17 in this year’s ranking and several more that made the list. There is not a bad choice in the bunch. Each area has its special feature or two, so go with the one that matches your special interest. And don’t be afraid to try some place new.
One criticism of the Western rankings is the absence of Banff and its two great skis areas — Lake Louise and Sunshine Village. Either one of those two could be near the top of Ski’s list. Since most people who go there stay in the beautiful town of Banff, the combo is an excellent choice for a ski trip. While you might not know it from Ski’s list, the Canadian Rockies have lots of fine areas. For anyone who gets to No. 21, Whitefish Resort in northern Montana, include a nearby Canada crossing for a visit to Fernie.
While the Western 30 is a pretty challenge-free list, the Top 20 in the East can be a head scratcher.
A few years ago, when there was some controversy over vertical drop and trail counts at Eastern areas, an aerial survey of northern Vermont was done to rank the larger areas. Smugglers’ Notch, near Burlington, was No. 6 on that limited list. When asked what he thought about that, former Smugglers’ president Bob Mulcahey responded “Sixth? I’m flattered we were even included in the survey.”
Well, Smuggler’s Notch not only made Ski’s list this year, it was selected as the top resort in the East. Property owners and employees are overjoyed, I’m sure. Others should be shaking their head.
Don’t misunderstand. “Smuggs” is a fine resort with some interesting terrain. But from its mediocre snowmaking to its aging lifts, it is not the leader of the pack, except in one important category: children’s activities. If a family vacation with Learn to Ski or Snowboard programs for the kids is important, you can’t beat “Smuggs”.
For as long as memory serves, the resort that has been No. 1 in the East has been Mt. Tremblant, north of Montreal in Quebec, and for good reason. It has excellent, wide ranging terrain, a modern high-speed lift system, an engaging village and top-flight lodging and dining. It is not so much that it is a better place than any other in the East, it is just that it overwhelms the rest of the field with more of more of what most people find appealing.
Whiteface in Lake Placid, a perennial second-place choice in the East fell to No. 10 on the list for no apparent reason. The combination of skiing, along with the winter activities menu of Lake Placid, is unmatched anywhere in the region. The choice of Holliday Valley as No. 5 in the East is an example of how an area, especially a good one with lots of local fans, can make a regional list. There isn’t anything to compare it to. Seven Springs in western Pa., Camelback in eastern Pa., Snowshoe in West Virginia are the best in their vicinity. But overall in the East? No!
There are at least two areas in the East that have been regularly overlooked in the past, but made the list this year: Saddleback in Maine and our own Gore Mountain in North Creek.
Saddleback in the Rangeley Lakes region of northwestern Maine may be the find of the decade. Hampered by years of land-use issues, this place gets lots of snow and has an exceptional diversified trail layouts — from glades to bumps to cruisers, groomed and ungroomed. It is a haul from our area, but if you can find it, ski it.
Gore, as most local skiers know, continues to get better and it is finally getting recognition for what it offers. The Burnt Ridge area and North Creek Ski Bowl terrain make it now one of the largest layout in the East.
Like in the West, I wonder if “Ski Magazine” readers ever go north of the border. The Eastern Township areas in Quebec, just north of Jay Peak, are worth the trip, especially Mt. Sutton, which offers some of the best bump skiing you’ll find anywhere. For those willing to try a real rubber tire get-away, Mt. St. Anne and LeMassif, east of Quebec City, are Top 20 on my list. The snow is great, the ambiance is excellent, the skiers are enthusiastic and if food is important in your selection, you won’t find a better choice of places to dine.
Once again this year, there is not a bad choice on “Ski Magazine’s” resort lists. If you are going to make a trip, however, check not just the overall area rankings, but also the listing of favorites by individual category, food, snowmaking, on mountain lodging for example. This will help match you with the features you find most appealing.
With the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics just a few weeks away, there have been some good results from U.S. athletes so far, led by alpine technical racers Mikaela Shiffrin and Ted Ligety, and U.S. bobsledders led by defending Olympic champion Steve Holcomb. Among our regional competitors, biathlete Tim Burke from Paul Smiths’ in the Adirondacks has been the most impressive with a bronze medal in the sprint event last week in Sweden. If Burke or his teammate, Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, win a medal at Sochi, it would be the first ever for the U.S. in that sport which combines cross country skiing with target shooting. One who will not be in the starting gate is Tommy Biesemeyer of Keene, one of the best young speed skiers on the US team. He suffered a season-ending ACL injury last weekend.
Speaking of the Winter Olympics, the same athletes you will see in Sochi in February will be in Lake Placid Dec. 10-15 for World Cup bobsled and skeleton events. And there are Americans with solid medal-winning prospects in the field of competitors. Day tickets for the events at the Mt. Vanhoevenberg track outside of Lake Placid are $16 for adults, $10 for juniors and for seniors, 65 and older.
With the ski season off to such an early start; does it make more sense this year to consider buying a season pass? As a general rule, if you ski 10-12 days at one area, it will be more economical to buy a pass that will be good through the end of winter. With all of the holdays ahead and good coverage on the ground already, you could be skiing at a discount as early as the New Year. No matter if you use a season pass or day ticket, make sure to check area websites when you do go. Not only will this keep you current on conditions, but there are a lot of special promotions, especially before the holidays.