Someone in the office dropped a copy of SKI’s October issue on my desk the other day, and at first I was chagrined to read that the magazine’s annual guide to North America’s 50 top resorts ranked Vail in fourth place (behind Whistler, Aspen, and Deer Valley; Beaver Creek finished sixth). Because in my mind, Vail is and always has been first—or second only to the Beav.
Then I recalled a story that the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum’s John Dakin told me about a guy who provides a healthy dose of perspective about what it means to just miss the podium: Anders Haugen, captain of the U.S. Ski Team at the first Winter Olympics, placed—you guessed it—fourth at the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix. The takeaway from his story: in 1974, a ski historian re-tallied the results, discovered a mathematical error, and just like that, Haugen received a bronze, albeit a half-century late.
No, I’m not demanding a recount. But it does make me wonder about the calculus magazines use to determine ski resort rankings. SKI gave Vail top scores for its lively après scene (No. 3), grooming (No. 5), and terrain variety (No. 6), but dinged it for value (No. 38), character (No. 23), and scenery (No. 26). As for character, I’ll admit there may be a grain of truth behind those “Plastic Bavaria!” jeers we often hear from our Aspenite rivals. But when it comes to scenery, I see no evidence that Vail is deficient.
Magic. It happens every day, whether you’re here for a week, or staying for a lifetime.That said, here’s one metric that’s missing from SKI’s resort-ranking algorithm: magic, the topic of Devon O’Neil’s excellent cover story, Three Magical Days in Vail. We have it in spades. I’ve personally experienced that moment captured so beautifully on our cover: riding with my wife and kids on the blanketed bench of a horse-drawn sleigh gliding over the boundless snowfields of Cordillera, clouds of steam erupting from the noses of a team of Percherons, a scene torn from the pages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter.
Magic. it happens every day, whether you’re here for a week, or staying for a lifetime
You’ll find it on a powder day in the Back Bowls, floating down black diamond Genghis Khan on a cloud of snow buoyed by a demoed pair of K2 Remedy 112s, one of the exceptional 2017 skis recommended by our experts. Or midway through Daniel Joly’s Le Menu Gourmand at Mirabelle, a four-course procession of masterfully executed dishes served in the romantically lit dining room of a historic Beaver Creek farmstead that’s now the family home of the chef, his wife, and their grown children, who all work at the restaurant. Magic.
You’ll also see and hear it on any weekday morning riding Chair 6 up Golden Peak, where dozens of students from Minturn’s Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy (the only public snowsports school in the United States) race down the practice course, their shin guards clacking on the gates like metronomes. Or if you’re lucky enough to glimpse resident Olympic hopefuls Tess Johnson and Heidi Kloser, the subjects of Kelly Bastone’s engaging profile, grinding moguls on Highline. Or when you duck into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum, where across from the parade cloak Anders Haugen wore at the first Winter Olympics in 1924 hangs the Polo cardigan that Kloser wore as she valiantly hobbled on crutches into Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi after breaking a leg on a practice run, gold medal dreams dashed, yet modeling a Vail athlete’s courage for all the world to see.
Yes, SKI, you may think we’re number four. But in the ways that really matter, I’m convinced we’re number one.