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What is the best “Tier 2” resort in the Western US?

post #1 of 105
Thread Starter 

Recently, I was talking about my Colorado ski trip with a non-skier friend. I was struggling to explain the difference between a “big resort” and a “small resort” when it occurred to me that there are no clearly defined divisions or groupings of resort by size and the amenities provided. So at the risk of incurring some ridicule, I suggest the following definitions:

 

Tier 1 Resort: Thousands of acres of skiable terrain. Lots of lifts, including many high-speed lifts. Plentiful on-mountain food options. Many lodging options at or near the base. Typically the most expensive lift tickets. Examples: Killington, Deer Valley

 

Tier 2 Resort: Not as much terrain as Tier 1. Significant lift infrastructure, but perhaps only one or two high-speeds. Some on-mountain food options. Typically less expensive that Tier 1. Examples: A-Basin, Mad River Glen(?)

 

Tier 3 Resort: The smallest in terms of skiable acreage. Fewer lifts, mostly (or entirely) fixed-grip. Generally just a single base lodge. Usually the least expensive lift tickets. Examples: Eldora, Jack Frost(?), Sundance
 

Important note: The intention is to group resorts based on what they provide, not to imply that one Tier is better than another. For example: I would probably label Northstar as Tier 1 and Kirkwood as Tier 2, but that does not imply that Northstar is better than Kirkwood. Indeed, many skiers would probably tell you they prefer Kirkwood over Northstar.

 

If we could agree on such a system, we could debate such questions as:

 - What is the best Tier 2 resort in Colorado? (My answer: Wolf Creek)

 - Can you recommend a Tier 1 resort in Utah? (My answer: Snowbasin)

 - Which area in the US has most Tier 2 resorts? (No idea, but I’m guessing it would be New Hampshire)

 - Which area in the US has best Tier 1 resorts? (I’m not going to touch that one)

 

Where would you put your local / favorite resorts? Is three categories enough? Where does Alta fit in? Crested Butte? Your thoughts are appreciated. Just go easy on me, it's my first post here.

 

Mod note: thread title changed with OP's permission

post #2 of 105

Based on your own criteria, Snowbasin isn't Tier 1.

post #3 of 105
Thread Starter 

Good point. I agree that it lacks "Many lodging options at or near the base". I probably should have noted that some resorts would not fit every criteria.

post #4 of 105
In Montana, Big Sky is probably tier 1, Whitefish Tier 2, all the others Tier 3.
post #5 of 105

I'm curious as to what brought this avenue of discussion up, but I like your choice of best Tier 2...

 

 

However, I think Crested Butte is probably a better call in that regard. I tend to think of what you label "Tier 2" as regional destination resorts- places that serve a lot of folks driving out for a weekend, but don't draw a huge amount of nationwide visitors. CB is kind of a special case in that regard as it does draw a fair bit of destination skiers, but skier visits are quite low.

 

Purgatory is another tier 2/regional resort that draws most visitors from AZ, NM, and Texas, but very little from further away.

 

Colorado also has several decently sized ski areas that are not resorts- places like Loveland, A-Basin, and Wolf.  All of these places are well over 1000 acres (and Loveland is over 2,000), but generally don't draw much destination traffic because of the lack of lodging (although Wolf Creek attracts a lot of dirtbag ski-trippers that make the 36 mile round trip to the ski area every day of their trip).

post #6 of 105

I think most people already have inside their own head the same 3-tier of resorts. I like your idea of defining the tiers with clear criteria, even if the criteria doesn't always apply perfectly to every single mountain. 

 

But the last part of your post totally negates the whole purpose of this "tier-ing" concept: I bet the "best" tier-2 resorts are probably a tier-1 candidate! 

 

Basically, you have contradicted yourself by trying to arrive at a single "best" of anything, contrary to the concept of "tiers" which is basically a group of similar character without delving into the detail of exactly which quality counts more. 

 

You want to find the best ski destination, find the best. You want to choose from similar mountain to find one that fits YOUR specific preference, look into the right tier. There's no such thing as the "best tier 2". What about the worst tier 1? Or should we drop it into tier 2 because it really doesn't belong to tier 1???

post #7 of 105

I don't think the different tiers blend into each other. ie. the worst tier 1 is not better than the best tier 2. Its apples and oranges.

post #8 of 105
I don't see the tiers as being "quality" levels. More like niches. You wouldn't say New York City is "better than" a town or a village, as what you value in each of those categories is different. In fact, for many of us, the Tier 1 category (whether ski area or population concentration) would be shunned.
post #9 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by agreen View Post
 

I don't think the different tiers blend into each other. ie. the worst tier 1 is not better than the best tier 2. Its apples and oranges.

 

You may want to define your own tier then:

 

Quote:
Tier 2 Resort: Not as much terrain as Tier 1....

 

The OP's definition was firstly by size, then by amenity (which many don't care), and last but not least by cost (albeit day ticket rate). 

 

By that kind of categorization, anyone who skis at tier 2 and 3 are there for specific character that's highly personal. So the idea of a "best" will clearly vary from one person to another. What's "best" for you is meaningless unless you spell out what's the specific, personal characteristic that makes it best for YOU. 

post #10 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by at_nyc View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by agreen View Post
 

I don't think the different tiers blend into each other. ie. the worst tier 1 is not better than the best tier 2. Its apples and oranges.

 

You may want to define your own tier then:

 

Quote:
Tier 2 Resort: Not as much terrain as Tier 1....

 

The OP's definition was firstly by size, then by amenity (which many don't care), and last but not least by cost (albeit day ticket rate). 

 

By that kind of categorization, anyone who skis at tier 2 and 3 are there for specific character that's highly personal. So the idea of a "best" will clearly vary from one person to another. What's "best" for you is meaningless unless you spell out what's the specific, personal characteristic that makes it best for YOU. 


100% agree. But I think one tier doesn't necessarily have to be "better" than another tier. For example, for me, I like low key type places, don't need extravagant lodging at the base, fast lifts, and huge terrain ie. Vail. I would choose Loveland every time if I had to pick even if $ was no object. Loveland is still tier 2 and Vail is still tier 1. But, for me, The Love is way better and I would rank it very high in the category.

post #11 of 105

What we need here are a few charts and graphs.

post #12 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by 50kVert View Post

 

Tier 1 Resort: Thousands of acres of skiable terrain. Lots of lifts, including many high-speed lifts. Plentiful on-mountain food options. Many lodging options at or near the base. Typically the most expensive lift tickets. Examples: Killington, Deer Valley

 

Tier 2 Resort: Not as much terrain as Tier 1. Significant lift infrastructure, but perhaps only one or two high-speeds. Some on-mountain food options. Typically less expensive that Tier 1. Examples: A-Basin, Mad River Glen(?)

 

Tier 3 Resort: The smallest in terms of skiable acreage. Fewer lifts, mostly (or entirely) fixed-grip. Generally just a single base lodge. Usually the least expensive lift tickets. Examples: Eldora, Jack Frost(?), Sundance

 

Interesting ideas! Within particular regions, dividing into tiers can definitely make sense, but I'm not sure that cross-regional comparisons hold up so well. For example, "lots of lifts" would definitely include Perisher (47 lifts) in Tier 1, but if that's the baseline, it's tough to argue that most of the areas in the U.S./Canadian west might be in the same league. Killington is definitely "Tier 1" for the east, but MountainVertical.com pegs its true size as 750-1000 acres and 1,645 vertical feet... definitely not big leagues by the standards out west.

 

I think vertical drop is another important metric. I like MountainVertical's "True-up" measures, although they can be misleading, since one of the benefits to high vertical is the ability to find terrain to match the weather, even if you can't ski the whole thing at once. Still, I think that a decent metric for a Tier 1 resort (if you're going for an inter-regional standard) might be the capacity to qualify to host a World Cup Mens' Downhill event--at least 2,625 continuous vertical feet.

 

I'm also not convinced that 3 tiers is enough, at least in western North America. Lumping Eldora and Sundance in with Elk Ridge, Arizona; Kendall Mountain, Colorado; or Cooper Spur, Oregon (for instance) just doesn't seem right.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by anachronism View Post
 

However, I think Crested Butte is probably a better call in that regard. I tend to think of what you label "Tier 2" as regional destination resorts- places that serve a lot of folks driving out for a weekend, but don't draw a huge amount of nationwide visitors. CB is kind of a special case in that regard as it does draw a fair bit of destination skiers, but skier visits are quite low.

 

Purgatory is another tier 2/regional resort that draws most visitors from AZ, NM, and Texas, but very little from further away.

 

I definitely agree with your characterization of Crested Butte, but I'm not sure that the regional versus nationwide dichotomy necessarily holds up broadly. In my experience, Telluride predominantly has visitors from Arizona, and there was some other thread here a few months ago with figures on what a huge percentage of Mammoth's skiers are from Southern California... but I'd argue both of these are "Tier 1" resorts even with their regional draw. And I think many of the interior British Columbia Tier 2 resorts must be drawing a broadly international skier base, since pretty much no one lives nearby.

post #13 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by bounceswoosh View Post

What we need here are a few charts and graphs.
...twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was
post #14 of 105
Quote:

Originally Posted by New2Utah View Post

 

Interesting ideas! Within particular regions, dividing into tiers can definitely make sense, but I'm not sure that cross-regional comparisons hold up so well. 

.....

I'm pretty sure cross regional comparison make very little sense. Within each region, it's pretty clear which is tier 1 and which is tier 2. However, many of the tier 2 out west are bigger than the tier 1 of the east. And even many tier 3 mountains out west are bigger than the tier 1 of the midwest! (unless one accepts there's no tier 1 mountain in the midwest, period) 

I'm also not convinced that 3 tiers is enough, at least in western North America. Lumping Eldora and Sundance in with Elk Ridge, Arizona; Kendall Mountain, Colorado; or Cooper Spur, Oregon (for instance) just doesn't seem right.

 

3 tiers is plenty good enough as long as we separates them by region. 

post #15 of 105
Thread Starter 

Including vertical drop, as suggested by New2Utah, seems like an excellent idea. The five largest "True-Up Vertical" Descents in North America are Revelstoke, Whistler, Jackson Hole, Snowmass, and Big Sky.

 

A few interesting anomalies pop out. Arizona Snowbowl has a 2300 foot vertical, 2180 foot True-Up Vertical (more True-Up Vertical than Stowe, Alta, Solitude and Deer Valley). Yet Snowbowl is decidedly Tier 1.

post #16 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by 50kVert View Post

Including vertical drop, as suggested by New2Utah, seems like an excellent idea. The five largest "True-Up Vertical" Descents in North America are Revelstoke, Whistler, Jackson Hole, Snowmass, and Big Sky.

A few interesting anomalies pop out. Arizona Snowbowl has a 2300 foot vertical, 2180 foot True-Up Vertical (more True-Up Vertical than Stowe, Alta, Solitude and Deer Valley). Yet Snowbowl is decidedly Tier 1.

Really? Based on what? National recognition? Number of lifts and amenities? Acreage? For this thread, tier 1 isn't what an individual skier likes as much as a recognition that there are categories of resorts that within each category are similar. Tier 1 could just as easily be the purple tier. It's not a rating, although it certainly could correspond to size and recognition factor.
Quote:
Tier 1 Resort: Thousands of acres of skiable terrain. Lots of lifts, including many high-speed lifts. Plentiful on-mountain food options. Many lodging options at or near the base. Typically the most expensive lift tickets. Examples: Killington, Deer Valley
post #17 of 105
Thread Starter 
*edit* Snowbowl is decidedly Tier 3. My mistake.
post #18 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by 50kVert View Post

*edit* Snowbowl is decidedly Tier 3. My mistake.

Now that makes sense.
post #19 of 105

I can get behind this and I even like the idea of 3 tiers for the western resorts.  I am familiar with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and would break down those states' resorts as follows:

 

Colorado

Tier 1:

Aspen

Aspen Highlands

Beaver Creek

Breckenridge

Copper Mountain

Crested Butte

Keystone

Snowmass

Steamboat

Telluride

Vail

Winter Park

 

Tier 2:

Arapahoe Basin

Buttermilk

Loveland

Purgatory

Wolf Creek

 

Tier 3:

Everything else (Silverton is obviously unique and pretty much defies any type of classification)

 

Utah

Tier 1:

Alta

Canyons

Deer Valley

Park City

Snowbasin

Snowbird

 

Tier 2:

Brighton

Powder Mountain

Solitude

Sundance

 

Tier 3:

Everything else

 

Wyoming

Tier 1: Jackson Hole

Tier 2: Grand Targhee

Tier 3: Everything else

post #20 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lofcaudio View Post
 

I can get behind this and I even like the idea of 3 tiers for the western resorts.  I am familiar with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and would break down those states' resorts as follows:

 

Colorado

Tier 1:

Aspen

Aspen Highlands

Beaver Creek

Breckenridge

Copper Mountain

Crested Butte

Keystone

Snowmass

Steamboat

Telluride

Vail

Winter Park

 

Tier 2:

Arapahoe Basin

Buttermilk

Loveland

Purgatory

Wolf Creek

 

Tier 3:

Everything else (Silverton is obviously unique and pretty much defies any type of classification)

 

Utah

Tier 1:

Alta

Canyons

Deer Valley

Park City

Snowbasin

Snowbird

 

Tier 2:

Brighton

Powder Mountain

Solitude

Sundance

 

Tier 3:

Everything else

 

Wyoming

Tier 1: Jackson Hole

Tier 2: Grand Targhee

Tier 3: Everything else


Now that my season is officially over I enjoy these types of threads. I think of the Tier 1 resorts as the types of places SKI mag likes to litter their pages with and the types of places my wife enjoys :). Huge, Spa type lodging, Fast lifts etc etc  so does Alta fit that mold? Im not so sure because of the lodging issues .  Also Snowbasin doesn't fit for the same lodging reasons.

 

Utah:

Tier 1: All 3 Park city resorts, Snowbird

Tier 2: Alta, Snowbasin, Solitude, Brighton

Tier 3: the rest

post #21 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by agreen View Post
 

Now that my season is officially over I enjoy these types of threads. I think of the Tier 1 resorts as the types of places SKI mag likes to litter their pages with and the types of places my wife enjoys :). Huge, Spa type lodging, Fast lifts etc etc  so does Alta fit that mold? Im not so sure because of the lodging issues .  Also Snowbasin doesn't fit for the same lodging reasons.

 

Utah:

Tier 1: All 3 Park city resorts, Snowbird

Tier 2: Alta, Snowbasin, Solitude, Brighton

Tier 3: the rest

For the folks who stay in a lodge at Alta, it's definitely Tier 1.  Not just because lodging is ski in/out but also because of how well guests are treated and the wonderful food that's included in the room rate.  The lodging options at Solitude are not in the same ballpark.

post #22 of 105

"Ski Resorts are like snowflakes - each one of them is uniquely different"

 

They all get a gold star and honorable mention here at Epic.

 

Except VAIL!   :dunno

post #23 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by sibhusky View Post

In Montana, Big Sky is probably tier 1, Whitefish Tier 2, all the others Tier 3.


Would Bridger be Tier 3 or Tier 2?  No lodging, but really close to Bozeman and there is plenty of lodging and food there at all price levels.

post #24 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by New2Utah View Post
 

 

I think vertical drop is another important metric. I like MountainVertical's "True-up" measures, although they can be misleading, since one of the benefits to high vertical is the ability to find terrain to match the weather.

 

 

Counterpoint- most high-speed lift installs, even on 3000+ very mountains, cover somewhere between 1500 and 2000 vertical feet (and a whole bunch are less than that). 

 

There are only a scant handful of mountains (Jackson, Aspen Highlands come to mind) where one can ski 3000+ vert of advanced terrain. Most mountains, even world-class destination ones, can only dish out the goods in a fraction of their vertical range.

 

So, given that the extra vert (beyond 1500-200 feet) tends to service terrain I'm not that interested in building my day around, I find my preferences are not really towards mountains with huge verts- "terrain to match the weather" sounds like rain events at the base. 

 

5000 vert makes for bragging rights, but I tend to find higher elevation areas that offer up that sweet spot of 1500-2000, but yet keep the base well into the alpine zones offer consistency and snow quality that I prefer.

 

Loveland comes immediately to mind. 1800 acres, 2,210 vertical, but a base at almost 11,000 feet. Plus about 300* of exposure so one can follow the sun around when things finally transition to Spring.

 

Arapahoe Basin is smaller, but otherwise serves up the same thing- superior snow quality and retention. There is no need to find terrain to match the weather, because (in years that aren't as warm as this one) the snow stays in a Winter snowpack past the point where everyone else in the state (save for Loveland on the other side) has closed).

 

Wolf Creek is too short, ~1400 lift served vert (1600 hiking), and that requires 2 lift rides, but again, the high elevations keep everything in an alpine environment and keep the snow good.

 

In other words, I think for the vast number of resorts out there that aren't Jackson, vertical is totally overrated as a stat.

 

On the flipside, altitude (and really resorts that offer a lot of terrain at high elevations- ridges instead of small peaks) is underrated. 

post #25 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by bounceswoosh View Post
 

What we need here are a few charts and graphs.

and lots of popcorn  :popcorn

 

Who and how are you going to make your exceptions?  

 

Personal favorite 1 1/2's: Snowbasin, Crystal Mt. WA, Alyeska AK. None have much for lodging.

 

How does Altabird fit into this plan, not much lodging there either? 

 

Must buy more popcorn.

post #26 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stranger View Post
 

and lots of popcorn  :popcorn

 

Who and how are you going to make your exceptions?  

 

Personal favorite 1 1/2's: Snowbasin, Crystal Mt. WA, Alyeska AK. None have much for lodging.

 

How does Altabird fit into this plan, not much lodging there either? 

 

Must buy more popcorn.

 

I think I top out at "1 1/2." My favorite areas are the local ones. I like Aspen a lot, but the resort aspect is a detraction, not a bonus for me.

 

On the flipside, I liked my trip to Taos more than any in recent memory- they nailed what I look for.

post #27 of 105

I have my own classification system for western Canada: If there are a minimum of 3 chairlifts and 2,000 vertical then it is a major resort. It also has to operate 7 days/week.

 

So Mt Washington on Vancouver island which sometimes has the most snow in the world (it is often rain soaked) has only 1800' vertical (also 600' is below the lodge beginner and low angle intermediate terrain so the mountain skis like a 1200' mountain) and is therefore not a major resort.

 

Whitewater added the 2000 'vertical Gory Ridge Chair a few seasons ago putting it onto my list of Canada's major ski resorts. There is no on mountain lodging and the place is a throw back to the 1970s but who cares as the town of Nelson is 20 minutes away and is the counter culture capital of Canada so there are some interesting shops and restaurants as well as hippies young and old.

post #28 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by 50kVert View Post
 

A few interesting anomalies pop out. Arizona Snowbowl has a 2300 foot vertical, 2180 foot True-Up Vertical (more True-Up Vertical than Stowe, Alta, Solitude and Deer Valley). Yet Snowbowl is decidedly Tier 3.

 

Sundance (one of the original Tier 3 examples) also has more vert than the others in the list, and tiny Turner Mountain with its one double chairlift has more vert than any of the Utah areas in that list. I think this is a pretty good indicator that Alta and Solitude are really Tier 2 resorts... while Deer Valley is a Tier 2 anomaly with much less continuous vertical than most of their peers (and their total vertical is over 3000).

 

And I agree that Arizona Snowbowl is Tier 3... but that's because of its limited infrastructure (cash flow over the past quarter century went to fund the lawsuits and the expensive snowmaking, leaving other improvements waiting), not because of any weakness in the mountain--if the new ownership can get the new high-speed chairlifts in, I think it'll be a legitimate Tier 2 :)

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by anachronism View Post
 

 

Counterpoint- most high-speed lift installs, even on 3000+ very mountains, cover somewhere between 1500 and 2000 vertical feet (and a whole bunch are less than that). 

 

There are only a scant handful of mountains (Jackson, Aspen Highlands come to mind) where one can ski 3000+ vert of advanced terrain. Most mountains, even world-class destination ones, can only dish out the goods in a fraction of their vertical range.

 

So, given that the extra vert (beyond 1500-200 feet) tends to service terrain I'm not that interested in building my day around, I find my preferences are not really towards mountains with huge verts- "terrain to match the weather" sounds like rain events at the base. 

 

My experiences with matching terrain to weather (at Snowbird, Crested Butte, Snowbasin, and Telluride) haven't included rain--but I'm sure that Killington's 3,033 is a different story :) Plus, I'm a chicken when it comes to serious cold, so I like the chance to stay down lower/out of the fog when weather's less than ideal.

 
Quote:

5000 vert makes for bragging rights, but I tend to find higher elevation areas that offer up that sweet spot of 1500-2000, but yet keep the base well into the alpine zones offer consistency and snow quality that I prefer.

 

Loveland comes immediately to mind. 1800 acres, 2,210 vertical, but a base at almost 11,000 feet. Plus about 300* of exposure so one can follow the sun around when things finally transition to Spring.

 

Arapahoe Basin is smaller, but otherwise serves up the same thing- superior snow quality and retention. There is no need to find terrain to match the weather, because (in years that aren't as warm as this one) the snow stays in a Winter snowpack past the point where everyone else in the state (save for Loveland on the other side) has closed).

 

Wolf Creek is too short, ~1400 lift served vert (1600 hiking), and that requires 2 lift rides, but again, the high elevations keep everything in an alpine environment and keep the snow good.

 

In other words, I think for the vast number of resorts out there that aren't Jackson, vertical is totally overrated as a stat.

 

On the flipside, altitude (and really resorts that offer a lot of terrain at high elevations- ridges instead of small peaks) is underrated. 

 

I'm in pretty much 100% agreement... but consider, too, that vertical does seem to correlate, to some extent, with the conventional wisdom about tiers. Jackson and Aspen (maybe not specifically Aspen Highlands, granted--it's tough to say how to handle kind-of-combined situations like that) are Tier 1 resorts, and A-Basin, Loveland,and Wolf Creek are Tier 2 resorts... at least that seems to be a fairly broad consensus, I think. I think your post makes a great argument for why a good chunk of the Tier 2 resorts (I'd throw in Alta, Brighton, Solitude, and Targhee, too) make better ski destination choices than the Tier 1s.

post #29 of 105
Quote:
Originally Posted by mdf View Post



...twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was

You can get anything you want.....

post #30 of 105

I really like the idea of sampling some fun, family friendly, tier 3s on a ski safari. I think I read someone here did this in Idaho a couple years back. Coming from so cal my options are up CA into OR and perhaps ending at tier 2 Bachelor, up through UT and ending in ID (Brundage?) or ending in WY at tier 2 Targhee, through AZ into SW CO or NM.

 

What are some of your favorite tier 3s along those pathways? I know we had a thread about fav small mountains recently but many were east coast, mid west, and Canada.

 

My thoughts were:

CA - June lake, Bear Valley (Not Big Bear), something in North Tahoe but don't know many of the small places there

 

OR - Mt Ashland but Ive read its steep and icy which wouldn't be good for my fam

 

UT - Brianhead, Sundance, Beaver mtn, what about that new place Cherry peak?

 

ID - the only one I know is Brundage and that may be too far and out of the way for me. Was thinking more about Southern ID after the Beav.

 

WY - don't know any and not sure if the smaller places are too far out of the way. I like the idea of ending at the Ghee

 

SW CO - DMR? tier 2 or 3? It would be hard for me to be so close to Telluride and not stop by. Never been anywhere in SW CO before.

 

NM - I only know Taos and if I drove that far it would be really hard for me not to ski there as well but would like to try a couple of the other places in that area. Ski Apache, Santa fe, Angel fire?

 

thanks for any advice

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