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About Utah: Different folks like Utah's different slopes

If you're cruising around the solid oak restaurant tables, the brass bathroom fixtures and the guys who carry your skis to your complimentary storage locker at Deer Valley this winter, do not be surprised if you see copies of Ski magazine as ubiquitous as Stein Eriksen photographs.

Also, do not be surprised if copies of Skiing magazine are rare.

Ski and Skiing are America's leading publications about all things skiing, exposing themselves to 1.8 million and 1.3 million readers, respectively, every month. Each is filled with photographs and stories of mountains full of powder and people who ski in them and never fall — and then talk about it afterward at a locals hangout called something like "Crazy Johnny's." Each presents skiing as the elixir of life, second only maybe to air.

But there is one glaring difference: their annual rankings of North America's top places to ski.

Take this year's rankings, for instance . . . or, if you happen to be Deer Valley, take one of them.

In Ski's resort rankings, Deer Valley is No. 1, the absolute finest place to ski from Mexico to the Arctic Circle. But in Skiing's rankings, Deer Valley is unranked. It does not exist. It gets as many votes as Utah State in the college football polls.

Conversely, two more Utah resorts, Alta and Snowbird, rank a combined No. 2 in Skiing's list (and No. 1 in America, since Canada's Whistler/Blackcomb is overall No. 1).

But in Ski's rankings, where the two resorts are listed separately, they are also-rans. Snowbird comes in at No. 20 and Alta at No. 29.

In the magazine's respective rankings — Ski lists a top 30 and Skiing a top 25 — no less than 18 resorts are ranked in only one of the lists. (Seven of Utah's 12 resorts, by the way, are ranked in one poll or both; they include, with Ski and Skiing rankings in parentheses: Park City (5, 16), Snowbird (2, 20), The Canyons (14, 24), Alta (2, 29), Snowbasin (NR, 23), Solitude (30, NR) and Deer Valley (1, NR)).

But there is a rhyme to the unreason. It lies in the subjective determination as to just what, exactly, makes a great ski resort. To Ski magazine, with a more mature reader demographic, the criteria is different than for Skiing magazine, with typically a younger audience.

As Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, summed it up: "Ski magazine looks at things like grooming, service, food, and what your kids can do, in addition to the mountain. Skiing magazine takes away the spa treatments and the restaurants and looks at what's left. More or less."

"The surveys and rankings reflect the readership and the readership is different," said Greg Ditrinco, executive editor of Ski magazine. "It's a reflection of who our readers are. They tell us what they like and then they see the survey and say, 'Yeah, they're right.' "

That explains how a no-frills, steep-and-deep mountain like Kirkwood, Calif., can rank No. 11 on Skiing's survey but miss out on Ski's list entirely and a full-service, mint-on-your-pillow resort like Sun Valley, Idaho, can rank 10th in Ski but fail to be mentioned in Skiing.

But in the end, no resort can claim a greater disparity than Deer Valley, where, even though the mountain is the vertical equal of the best Utah has to offer, people who ski it tend to talk about it afterward at a hangout with linen tablecloths where you need reservations.

Glitz in, glitz out.

"Let's just say we're No. 1," says the resort's director of communications, Christa Graff, "and leave it at that."


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.