2018 North America Ski Area Rankings

I have never been an advocate of annual ski area rankings, equating them with the same ah-hah insight as rating the earth’s top four oceans.

Every annual list, regardless of publication, high-fives the usual heavyweights: Whistler, Vail, Aspen, Squaw Valley, Stowe, Killington, Jackson Hole, Steamboat Springs and Sun Valley. Never are there any curveball entrants like Colorado’s Ski Cooper or New Hampshire’s Pats Peak.

As an alternative to the predictable the following is an all-inclusive list of ski area rankings based on long road trips and zero lift ticket kickbacks.

Ski Resort Least Likely to have a Cologne or Car Named After It
Idaho’s Bogus Basin.

Ski Area Whose Trail Names are Least Likely to Attract New Participants
California’s Mammoth Mountain wears the crown with Avalanche, Stump Alley and Lost in the Woods.

Ski Resort Name That Most Resembles a Batman Punch Sound Effect
Splat! Kapow! Banff!

Best Road Leading to a Ski Area
Whitefish Ski Resort’s Big Mountain Road in Whitefish, Montana. Winding and steep, the approach heightens anticipation with every corkscrew turn that you’re about to enter an idyllic ski village where everyone’s breath smells of cheese Danish, every trail possesses first tracks quality, and every apré ski guitar player doesn’t treat Margaritaville or American Pie as musical mandates.

Finishing a close second and third would be Vermont’s Route 125 to the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and New Mexico’s Route 150 which dead ends deep in the Carson National forest at the Taos Ski Valley.

(The road to Arizona’s Mount Lemmon, outside of Tucson, would had grabbed top honors for its mountain vistas and undeveloped tracts of forest, but I couldn’t champion a ski road that invites the possibility of hearing, “Good God! Lookout for that javelina!”)

Ski Town Most Likely to Cause You to Lament 10 Years from Now, “I should had bought a place there in 2017”
Silverton, Colorado. Despite being only slightly more accessible than North Korea it has the look and feel of Telluride but without Oprah and Telluride’s odd compulsion to add the word “fest” to every noun in the English language. Old West storefronts and Victorian homes ornament Silverton with refreshing authenticity. And its ski area, Silverton Mountain, has Etcher-Sketch quality where every carved track is quickly erased by more powder.

The Ski Area You’re Least Likely to Hear, “Dude, I think I have altitude sickness”
Rhode Island’s Yawgoo Valley. This ski area sports a base elevation of 70 feet. To put this in perspective Yawgoo is only 63 feet taller than Shaquille O’Neal.

The Most Liberal Use of the Word “Mountain” in a Ski Resort Name
The entire Midwest snatches top honors. Colorado, the state synonymous with high altitude skiing, features only two areas–Sunlight Mountain and Copper Mountain–that employ mountain in their names. Wisconsin, however, the dairy state that is to alpine adventure as t-shirts are to Trump’s wardrobe, has seven ski areas that liberally use mountain in their names. Michigan has eight. Minnesota four. And even Illinois, the geographic version of a floor tile, whose highest point–1,235 feet–is 2,115 feet lower than Colorado’s lowest point–3,350 feet–has a ski area named Chestnut Mountain.

This type of Midwest geographic chicanery prompts question if the Great Lakes really are great. Maybe they’re not great, but rather just okay.

Most Unpredictable Ski Area
Arizona’s Mount Lemmon north of Tucson. Because of erratic snowfalls it’s the only area in the nation where a one-day lift ticket could conceivably turn out to be a season pass.

The Ski Resort You are Most Likely to Experience Irony
Any ski area located on an Interstate. Last winter while speeding to Vail on Interstate 70 I was issued a ticket for driving too fast. Three hours later I had my lift ticket confiscated for skiing too fast.

The Ski Area You are Least Likely to Hear, “I spent all day looking for you.”
Villa Olivia, northwest of Chicago. It offers 15 acres of skiable terrain, making it the skiing world’s version of miniature golf. If it harbored snowmaking capabilities it would use a snowmaking pistol.

Best Ski Town that Really Isn’t a Ski Town
Missoula, Montana. You can zoom down blue-ribbon mountain runs at the Montana Snow Bowl just 20 minutes north, and then sip Fat Tire drafts at Stockman’s, the Top Hat, or the Missoula Club, all thick with local character, without having to share the bar with some cheap-drunk rube still in his ski boots at 9 p.m. and whose chin is raw from his lift ticket flapping off his chin all day due to it being attached to the front zipper of his parka.

Ski Area You are Most Likely to Hear, “The savings on this half-day lift ticket price makes me feel like I’m stealing.”

Any ski areas or ski towns you care to add? Please share with me.

Rating Outdoor Company Catalogues

Rating outdoor company catalogues under the criteria “Could I camp and/or backpack with the people in their photos?”

REI Catalogue

Most of REI’s shots feature dramatic backcountry settings busy with people hiking, backpacking, tending camp stoves, and running trails. Yet all are strangely impervious to sweat, dirt, and gear imperfection. I hike but 30 feet on a trail and my ankles are splayed with mud, socks are clumped with burrs, and one of my Leki trekking poles is already two-feet shorter than the other.

Their models are also immune to emotional swings. Everyone, regardless of the activity, is smiling. I guess I’d smile too if I never had to worry about sweat and dirt.

Could I camp with them? Only if I didn’t have to share a tent. No one in REI’s pictures ever zips shut their tent flaps.

Rating: 2 north stars.

LL Bean Catalogue

The people in LL Bean’s photos resemble the types who: use multiple exclamation points in Facebook posts; own at least one shelf at home decorated with seashells and sand dollars; listen to NPR during fundraising drives; don’t get wet while washing their cars; and harbor an odd fascination with pumpkins, Labrador retrievers, and chatting on wood-planked porches while holding tote bags.

Could I camp with them? Probably not. Roughing it to these people is eating lobster without a bib. Plus, they don’t zip their tents either.

Rating: 1 north star.

Patagonia Catalogue

Patagonia is my Achilles Heel of mail ordering. I identify with the dirtbag authenticity of their photos. Plus, I relate to Yvon Chouinard’s overt environmental commitment.

Could I camp with them? Yes and no. Everyone zips their tents. But some subjects look too diehard reminding me of last year’s backpacking experience with someone who took leave no trace to the infinite-extreme. Instead of backpacking every morning felt as if we were fleeing a crime scene.

Rating: 4 north stars.

Stio Catalogue

This relative newcomer to the outdoor clothing world features photos of true outdoor junkies in true outdoor situations in and around Jackson Hole, Wyoming – mountain crags, knee-deep powder, high alpine lakes. I can relate. Totally.

Could I camp with them? No, but only on the basis of Stio’s maniacal quest to reinvent the color wheel. Teal is called ocean depths. Black is tap shoe. And gray, depending on jacket type, is either smoked pearl or Eifel Tower.

I could not camp, backpack, hike, or even whittle sticks with people who used such color descriptions. It would potentially put me at risk with the law. If I witnessed three armed bank robbers dressed in black flee in a gray SUV and described them to police as three men dressed in tap shoe driving an Eifel Tower SUV with ocean depths wheel rims I’d be arrested as an accessory.

Rating: 2 north stars

Thoughts? Comments? Other catalogues to consider? Please share.

Ski Bum, Dirt Bag & River Rat

I have a friend who is passionate about wine. If asked he could, without hesitation, pair the perfect wine for a soggy, half-eaten berry pomegranate chia-flavored Clif bar found floating in the hull of a freestyle kayak. His wine expertise prompts people to refer to him as an aficionado, a connoisseur, sophisticated.

Conversely, I’m passionate about skiing. If asked, I could, without hesitation, confidently negotiate any double black diamond slope. But my veneration of skiing does not translate into a gush of high-brow platitudes. Instead I’m called a ski bum.

Not an expert. Not an aficionado. But a bum. It makes it sound as if I spend my days panhandling for money at the base of Aspen Mountain, causing people to mutter, “Don’t give him money, he’ll only spend it on lip balm and hot cocoa.”

The late Jim Harrison once observed “A man at play in America has John Calvin tapping him on the shoulder and telling him to please be serious.” This especially applies to anyone whose outdoor gear consists of poles, paddles or packs. Only instead of a tapping on the shoulder admonishment flares in the form of pejoratives.

I also backpack and raft. Consequently, I’m also tagged as a dirt bag and a river rat.

Instead of worthy passions these sound like problems. Or code names for addictions, creating unjustified guilt, raising half-expectations of finding an intervention letter from my girlfriend taped to the refrigerator door:

Your backpacking is ruining us. Last Saturday, unbeknownst to you, I spied you in the basement secretly seam-sealing your tent. Two nights later you claimed you had to stay late at work but returned home reeking of campfire smoke. The next morning, when asked to help my daughter tie her shoes, you tied two taut-line hitches. And last night you took leave-no-trace too far when you insisted we bus and reset our table at Carrabba’s. Can’t you see how being a dirtbag is tearing us apart?

Outside of surfing (beach bum) and maybe hockey (rink rat) all other outdoor activities remain strangely immune. When I queried a friend, who works as a psychologist, about this he suggested that labels sometimes manifest when an activity becomes so encompassing it morphs into a lifestyle choice.

If so then why does my neighbor, who claims falconry as a lifestyle, remain nickname-immune? This, after all, is a person who devotes his days to making pigeons nervous. Yet everyone respectfully refers to him as a falconer. Never once have I heard, “He’s nothing but a predatory bird bum.” Or, “He’s a raptor rat.”

Or fly-fishermen? How have they escaped being besmirched? They not only fit the pole criteria, but in any given day they exceed it by also carrying packs and using paddles while donned in rubber slacks and posing with hooked trout like kids with mall Santas.

These are questions only my wine friend can answer. For, after all, by society’s standards, he is sophisticated

Have any outdoor nicknames to share?