Summit County ski areas rise and fall on Condé Nast Traveler and Ski Magazine’s best ski area lists

A view of Peak 8 on Breckenridge Ski Resort's opening day on Wednesday, Nov. 9. Skiers and riders flocked to the ski resort after Breckenridge moved the opening day up by two days.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

Every year, ski and snowboard publications — like Condé Nast Traveler and Ski Magazine — release lists for the best ski areas in the U.S. Without fail, all four of Summit County’s ski areas land somewhere within the top-30 to top-40 of the best ski areas in the nation.

Summit’s ski areas made the cut for the list again this year, but several improved their ranking from last year while others made a significant drop. 

One of the local ski resorts to significantly rise in the rankings was Breckenridge Ski Resort, which improved its ranking from last year on both the Condé Nast and Ski Magazine lists.

Breckenridge ranked 25th out of 40 in the Condé Nast 2021 Reader’s Choice Awards and 12th in last year’s Ski Mag’s top 30 resorts in the West list

This year, Breckenridge moved up to 13th place on the Condé Nast list while maintaining its 12th spot on the Ski Magazine list.

Both publications commended Breckenridge Ski Resort for its almost 3,000 acres of terrain while also being extremely close to the town of Breckenridge’s shops and restaurants. 

“There is truly no need for a car when you’re in Breck,” Breckenridge Resort spokesperson Sara Lococo said. “There is literally nowhere else in the world that you can ski from the highest chairlift in North America (the Imperial SuperChair) directly into town for après, so that is a pretty cool thing to put on your bucket list at Breck.”

Over the last few seasons, the resort has also invested in improving the guest experience by updating new chairlifts, improving base areas or expanding terrain. Since 2013, the ski resort has invested in three new chairlifts and three upgraded chairs.

The lift improvements at Breckenridge have had a huge impact at the resort.

“All of our lift projects in recent years at Breck have really focused on areas of the mountain where we can make a big impact on guest flow and circulation, whether it’s getting up and out of the base areas and onto the mountain or navigating across our five peaks.,” Lococo said.

Keystone Ski Resort ranked 15th on the Condé Nast list and 19th on the Ski Magazine list last year. Despite both publications applauding Keystone for being able to tailor terrain to beginners and experts, the resort dropped to 20th in this year’s Condé Nast rankings and 27th in Ski.

Ski even went on to say that Keystone is drastically “underrated” because it is often thought of as a beginner mountain when in reality it offers plenty of moderate-to-expert terrain. 

“For those skiers and riders looking for a little more adventure and challenge at Keystone, North Peak offers guests 1,600 vertical feet of long groomers and steep moguls to get their legs burning,” Keystone spokesperson Maxwell Winter said. “While the Outback — our farthest and highest peak — offers guests rugged natural terrain and glades.”

Neither list offered reasons why the ski resort dropped from last year to this year, but they did point out that Keystone is a great option for those living in the Denver area. 

“As one of the most accessible resorts from Denver, we want a trip from the Front Range to be as easy as possible for our guests and families,” Winter said. “Both our River Run and Mountain House base areas offer free parking within walking distance to our lifts.”

Copper Mountain Resort made a massive jump from last year to this year, moving up from 24th to eighth on the Ski Magazine list.

On the Condé Nast list, Copper was not listed in the rankings this year after being ranked 22nd last year — the list was reduced from the top 40 ski resorts to the top 20 ski areas this year.

Ski Magazine exalted Copper for offering diverse terrain, hosting the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team for training and having a “down-to-earth” vibe, a feeling Copper spokesperson Loryn Roberson understands well.

“This industry is fueled by people extremely passionate for skiing and riding, and the more we lean into that, the stronger the connection is to our guests and employees,” Roberson said. “There is a culture at Copper that is unlike anywhere else, and people come to work at Copper because of the community that exists here.”

A skier takes a few turns during Copper Mountain Resort’s opening day on Monday, Nov. 14.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

Ski Magazine wrote Copper markets itself as “the rebel force to the corporate imperial army down the road”.

Roberson denied the claim that Copper actively markets and presents itself in this way.

“No, we don’t actively try to be different,” Roberson said. “We know who we are, so that is how we show up, and it is who we appeal to. Our focus is on the people who visit our mountain, we don’t have to answer (to) shareholders, so we can make decisions based on what we see every day in our operations and that’s a huge strength for us.”

Copper saw an increase in visitation last season amid an increased interest in outdoor recreation during the pandemic. The resort also drew guests through their robust lineup of festivals, events and professional competitions.

Rounding out the local pack, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area ranked 13th in Ski Magazine after being listed as 18th on last year’s list. The publication pointed to A-Basin’s local vibe, its new Lenawee Express lift and having one of the longest ski seasons in the west.

“I think the ‘local vibe’ is just who we are,” A-Basin spokesperson Katherine Fuller said. “We are a ski area run by skiers and riders, and we are proud of that. We focus on providing challenging, adventurous, terrain in a beautiful high-alpine setting that is accessible and welcoming.”

Last season, A-Basin’s visitation was down. The ski area only hosted about 63% of the visits that it had during its 2018-2019 season. The reduction in visitation was intentional by the ski area in order to reduce lift lines and parking problems for guests.

“Our goal is no longer to cram as many people on the mountain as possible, so growth is about growing and improving the quality of the guest experience,” Fuller said.

Arapahoe Basin was not ranked on last year’s Condé Nast list and also did not make this year’s list.

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