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WSJ Travel Column: Grade inflation in trail ratings

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
The Wall Street Journal travel column, a few days ago, has a write up on grade inflation in the trail rating system of some western resorts. Subscription required for that link, so highlights below.

Black-Diamond Inflation, (December 24, 2004)

They mention Vail Ski Resort as marking parts of the mountain with two black diamonds emblazoned with the letters "E" and "X," evidently E for Extreme Terrain and X "for EXPERTS ONLY", per the trail map. They even have a nice picture of one of the these signs. Summary result, to several skiers interviewed: loss of bragging rights back at the lodge bar.

There are several other examples of what the ski industry is doing to maintain excitement and high interest level in the industry. Here's a table from the end of the article summarizing what changes they found (HTML tables don't paste well):


Aspen/Snowmass, Aspen, Colo.
$74 / X-Games terrain park open to public / Resort has added a number of new runs in Aspen and Snowmass, including expert areas. This year, it will let the public ride the same half pipe used in ESPN's Winter X-Games after the contest wraps up in February. Don't feel like skiing? New spa opened at the St. Regis Aspen in November.

Deer Valley Resort Park City, Utah
$71 / Two new runs, two new lifts / Deer Valley is one of only a handful of U.S. resorts that still doesn't allow snowboarders (others include Vermont's Mad River Glen, New Mexico's Taos and Utah's Alta). Still, it added a snowboard-style terrain park just for skiers, with jumps and a "Skier Cross" course -- think motocross on skis.

Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
$67 / Half-hour hike to new terrain / Jackson Hole has a reputation for challenging runs, and just opened up its "Crags" area (it's a half-hour hike). But the base area is softening up, adding a Four Seasons Hotel with spa last December. Airport just completed an expansion, with direct flights from seven cities, up from five in 2003.

Squaw Valley
Olympic Valley, Calif.
$62 / Beginner's lift; improvements to kids area / Better known for steep terrain, site of 1960 Winter Olympics is sprucing up its beginner areas -- a new chairlift for its Papoose Learning Area and "magic carpets" -- conveyor belt-style tow devices -- to the children's learning area. Area also renovated four mountain bathrooms and added another.

Stowe Mountain Resort
Stowe, Vt.
$65 / Double-speed "Sunny Spruce" lift / Little Spruce double chair was just replaced by high-speed four-person chair. Resort also added a new beginner trail and is increasing snowmaking by about 40% -- the initial stages of a $300 million mountain facelift that will also include luxury hotels and new restaurants.

Telluride Ski Resort
Telluride, Colo.
$74 / Guided backcountry tours / Resort is offering tours to previously closed terrain -- it requires avalanche safety training -- and adding a new "superpipe" trick-skiing feature with 18-ft. walls. Allred's, the 10,551-ft.-high restaurant previously reserved for members of Telluride Ski & Golf Club, is now open to public for lunch.

Whistler Blackcomb
Whistler, B.C.
C$72 (US$58) / Expanding terrain by 30% / New Flute Bowl area is billed as "backcountry." Translation: You get untracked snow and lots of tree skiing, but the only way to get there is to hike in. Resort is also getting a new "superpipe" for a snowboarding championship to be held there in January (it will open to the public after the contest).
post #2 of 3
the most iroinc fact of the "rating inflation" story is that the majority of WSJ readers are people who work work work and don't do much skiing.

so, the "rating inflation" is really for people who read WSJ.

post #3 of 3
I do think that a number of areas are opening more challenging terrain than they did in the past, primarily in response to the changes in liability laws in ski country. How would you have them differentiate between in-bounds "most difficult" runs and the more challenging "natural" terrain like Mott Canyon at Heavenly, the Crags at JH, or the North Face at the Butte?
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