SKI Magazine's Steamboat ranking takes slight dip

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After reaching the lofty heights of No. 5 in 2003 and No. 10 last year, Steamboat Ski Area ranked 11th among North America's ski resorts in the latest annual poll conducted by SKI Magazine this week.

Steamboat has dropped out of the top 10 in spite of ranking second in terms of the family programs it offers.

1. Deer Valley, Utah 2. Vail, Colo. 3. Whistler Blackcomb, B.C., Canada 4. Snowmass, Colo. 5. Park City, Utah 6. Beaver Creek, Colo. 7. Breckenridge, Colo. 8. Aspen, Colo. 9. Mammoth Mountain, Calif. 10. Sun Valley, Idaho 11. Steamboat

Steamboat Ski Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said although he's happy to celebrate when Steamboat gets a top-five rating, he's taken a more measured response to the poll results of the past two years.

"When you get a high rating, you make the most of it," Wirth said. "When it's low, you think hard about it."

After last year's poll, Wirth said ski area officials thought it was time to ask customers whether they were aware of the poll, and if so, whether they used it as a basis for deciding where to vacation. Steamboat officials learned that very few guests were tuned in to the poll.

Just the same, Wirth was encouraged with the score on family programs and pointed out that Steamboat's programs rank No. 1 among Western ski resorts.

"This substantiates our efforts to own our spot as having the best family resort in the West," he said.

Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond said the ski area has maintained its reputation as being family friendly through innovation.

"Steamboat's industry innovative Kids Ski Free and Kids Fly Free programs, top notch ski and snowboard school, nationally recognized Kids' Vacation Center and cutting-edge resort technology system, Steamboat MountainWatch, all combine to make Steamboat the only choice for families," he said.

SKI Magazine hired an independent polling firm to canvass 20,000 of its subscribers of at least two years for this year's poll. They were asked to rank their favorite ski resorts in 17 categories, including "snow" and "on-mountain food." SKI readers were asked to rank resorts they had skied within the past two years, Executive Editor Greg Ditrinco said.

When the results were tabulated, Deer Valley, Utah, had the top ranking. Vail, ranked second, was one of five Colorado ski areas in the top 10.

Ditrinco's magazine's readers are an affluent group, and the elevation of Deer Valley to the top of the heap signifies they place a high value on service, luxurious surroundings and a hassle-free vacation.

"Our readers are looking for a full-service resort experience," Ditrinco said. "Essentially what they want is a no-risk vacation."

Deer Valley earned top marks for service, on-mountain dining, trail grooming and ease of access.

Among magazines in the nation, SKI ranks fourth in terms of the household incomes of its readers, according to the publication's Web site. Only Conde Nast Traveler, Wine Spectator and Inc. rank ahead of SKI, whose readers have a median income of $96,878.

Ditrinco said, on average, his readers are 37 to 38 years old and ski 23 times a season.

Steamboat's lowest ranking was a 38th place for the availability of challenging terrain. That's a perception it may never be able to change. However, it also received low marks in the poll for "value" and "access." Wirth said the ski area's 32nd rank in the access category represented an improvement from several years ago, when it ranked 42nd.

Ditrinco noted that Steamboat has marked steady improvement in the SKI poll ranking for its terrain park, which moved up to ninth this year.

"We're certainly not thrilled with this year's poll results, but we've decided we have to put them in context," Wirth said."

Participants in last season's on-mountain survey were asked whether they were familiar with the SKI poll, and 13 percent said they were "very familiar, Wirth said. "Twenty percent were somewhat familiar and 70 percent said they had no awareness of the poll."

Three percent of people said they relied on the poll heavily when deciding which resort to visit, and 70 percent said they did not use it at all.

Steamboat's other rankings include: snow, 19; grooming, 19; terrain variety, 30; lifts, 20; service, 13; weather, 22; mountain food, 15; lodging, 11; dining, 12; aprÃs ski, 15; off-hill activities, 11; family programs, 2; and scenery, 33.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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