Whistler Blackcomb has reclaimed the throne.
SKI Magazine has named Whistler Blackcomb (WB) the No. 1 overall ski resort in North America in its 27th annual reader poll, an honour it also received in 2012 before dropping to No. 6 last year. With roughly 15,000 reader submissions ranking everything from terrain, snow quality, après, lodging and dining, Whistler Blackcomb beat out dozens of other resorts from across the continent.
"We are honoured to receive this recognition from the readers of SKI Magazine," said Dave Brownlie, Whistler Blackcomb president, in a release. "As the longest running and most comprehensive survey of its kind, we know the SKI Magazine rankings influence people's decisions when planning their ski vacations around the world so we are grateful to be recognized as No. 1."
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden offered congratulations to WB for the award, which came after relatively poor winter weather.
"It's arguably the most prestigious award in the ski resort world, so it's fabulous to have it come back to Whistler Blackcomb, particularly in light of the snow conditions last year," she said.
Of the 19 categories assessed, Whistler received top honours in three: terrain/variety; après-ski and off-hill activities, and second in lifts, lodging and dining. Whistler's lowest rankings came in snow quality, which readers ranked 33rd, access (25th) and value (22nd).
The top spot also means futher awareness among potential visitors of the resort as a whole, said Tourism Whistler president Barrett Fisher.
"This type of recognition is a significant endorsement for Whistler and helps to draw positive attention to the resort as a world-class destination," she said in an email. "Tourism Whistler congratulates Whistler Blackcomb and the activity, dining and accommodation businesses who contributed to putting Whistler on top."
The SKI Magazine survey results, widely respected in the industry, will also help dictate the future direction of the resort, explained Whistler Blackcomb's senior VP of marketing, Stuart Rempel.
"What this does is confirm the commitment and vision we have to be the No. 1 resort," he said. "Surveys such as SKI (Magazine's), which is an important one, really help direct our investment as an organization and confirms the direction we're trying to go."
Considering Whistler jumped up five spots in the rankings from last year, Rempel acknowledged the major improvements made to the resort last winter, including the $18-million investment in the new Harmony Express six pack and the Crystal Ridge Express quad, which opened in December, but also noted other, less obvious changes on the mountain.
"A really big focus for us recently as an organization has been around service, our restaurants, our dining experience on the mountain and the après experience," he said.
Whistler Blackcomb was ranked No. 5 in service in the poll.
As SKI Magazine's typical reader is an American destination skier, according to editor Greg Ditrinco, a top ranking is a good indication that the long-haul U.S. visitor is prepared to open the wallet again after 2008's devastating economic downturn, and serves to put "iconic, bucket-list resorts" like Whistler and Jackson Hole, last year's winner, at the forefront of skiers' minds.
"This ranking confirms that the U.S. market is improving," he said. "The fact that (Whistler) went to No. 1 is probably a reflection that the 'staycation' in the U.S. is going away or at least being reduced."
With the winter fast approaching, the Whistler Blackcomb team has several big developments on the horizon that it hopes will keep the resort at the top of the heap, including another $12-million investment on the heels of last year's capital expansion.
The most significant piece of that investment will be the new Whistler Village Gondola cabins that will replace the existing ones, which have been in service since 1988. The diamond-level walk-in cabins are designed to improve the passenger experience with more spacious bench seating that can house up to eight people comfortably, and should also improve loading efficiency.
Among the other upgrades will be the introduction of a new radio-frequency identification system with lift access control gates on most lifts, which are expected to reduce wait times at main access points and minimize unpaid lift access.
The resort will also increase its snow-grooming fleet with the addition of two brand new machines, bringing the total up to 25, that will cover an average of 526 hectares of terrain a night.
Whistler Blackcomb's official opening day is slated for Nov. 27.