Of 220 ski resorts in North America, two of the top five are in Utah.
Snowbird ranked No. 3 and Alta Ski Resort is No. 4 for the 2020-21 season, according to an algorithm created by ZRankings.com. Among the factors the algorithm considers are vertical drop, vertical continuity, snow quantity, snow quality, snow consistency, acreage, lift system, ease of access, town ambience and trail makeup as well as ZRankings' own experts' input.
Christopher Stiener, a former Park City resident, founded ZRankings, which has been used for nearly 10 years to help Forbes compile its annual Top 10 Ski Resorts. Steiner said differences in snowfall and snow quality can cause resorts to move up and down the list. Rankings can also change depending reports from experts, not all of which are able to visit each resort every season.
Snow quality and quantity factored highly into Snowbird and Alta’s high rankings.
"The amazing thing about both Alta and Snowbird is they get very high snowfall every winter and have very low deviations. There are very few drought years in that canyon,” compared to, say, resorts in California’s Lake Tahoe area, Steiner said. “In addition, Snowbird and Alta largely face north. That makes for an amazing set of conditions that everybody knows.”
Snowbird received a score of 94.2 out of 100.
“Without Snowbird, there would be no tram in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, which would, by our inexact and cursory calculation, constitute a crime against humanity,” the writeup on the resort said. It added, “Snowbird, by our accounts, has the best terrain in Utah. And only Alta, which borders it to the east, gets more high quality snow.”
Alta ranked fourth with a score of 93.5. It was heralded for having “the best snow not in Alaska” and for its terrain and ambiance.
“For skiers, Alta is holy ground,” its excerpt said, “a necessary pilgrimage that deserves one visit from every enterprising two-planker who ever thought of skiing powder on a bluebird day.”
Wyoming’s Jackson Hole led the rankings with a near-perfect score of 99.0, followed by Telluride in Colorado. Vail Mountain Resort rounded out the top five.
Park City Mountain Resort came in at No. 11, Solitude was No. 16, Brighton was No. 20 and Deer Valley landed at No. 22.
Steiner is an engineering major who helped design alpine venues used in the 2002 Olympics and later had a career as a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune. He created an algorithm he calls “Pure Awesomeness Factor” because he wanted a way to prove to his friends why one resort would be better to ski in January and a different resort would be better in February.
“I wanted to figure out how to explain to others skiers where they should go and when," he said.
He said ZRankings tries to consider every North American resort with more than 200 acres of terrain.
All the Utah resorts that were ranked finished in the top 100. They included: Powder Mountain (No. 38), Snowbasin (No. 41), Sundance (No. 50), Brian Head (No. 53), Beaver Mountain (No. 69), Eagle Point (No. 72).
“Part of that reflects the fact that ski resorts in western North America score better than those in the east because their snow is better,” Steiner said. “They don’t have as many rain events.”
Three small Utah resorts were not ranked: Cherry Peak, Woodward Park City and Nordic Valley.
For those who have to know, the very last resort on the list is Michigan’s Pine Mountain Resort with a score of 26.1. It has three lifts and 500 feet of vertical.
BEST SKI RESORTS IN NORTH AMERICA
Scored out of 100
1. Jackson Hole (Wyo.) — 99.0
2. Telluride (Colo.) — 95.6
3. Snowbird (Utah) — 94.2
4. Alta Ski Area (Utah) — 93.5
5. Vail Ski Resort (Colo.) — 90.8
Also in Utah
11. Park City Mountain Resort — 86.1
16. Solitude Mountain Resort — 84.0
20. Brighton Ski Resort — 82.2
22. Deer Valley Resort — 81.5
38. Powder Mountain Ski Resort — 75.4
41. Snowbasin Ski Resort — 74.3
50. Sundance Ski Resort — 71.3
53. Brian Head Resort — 69.6
69. Beaver Mountain Ski Area — 66.0
72. Eagle Point Ski Resort — 65.2
Unranked: Cherry Peak, Nordic Valley and Woodward Park City