I've been travelling around the western U.S. this winter checking out resorts and trying to figure out which are the best. In a few weeks I'm going to have to announce my choices. This may sound fairly easy, but it's not. My quest to decide which resorts are the best has been consistently plagued by one extremely difficult question.
What's better, a big resort, or a small one?
Big and small resorts both have their intrinsic benefits and drawbacks. Big resorts have more variety of terrain. They also have bigger names and tend to draw bigger crowds that enthusiastically eat up all the fresh snow. they are exciting and fancy, but somewhat impersonal feeling.
Small resorts, in contrast, have less terrain, but they also don't draw as large of crowds. They may not have aerial trams to shuttle riders up the hill as fast as possible, but, on the other hand, it's been my experience that fresh tracks are easier to find on small hills. They also ten to have more character and a feeling of community, which I like.
Take, for example, Heavenly and Sierra-at-Tahoe. These hills are only 16 miles apart, but couldn't be more different. Heavenly is one of the biggest resorts in the country, it certainly has one of the biggest names, and has lots of swanky facilities. Sierra-at-Tahoe, on the other hand, has the same number of terrain parks, receives 140 inches more snow than Heavenly annually, and, since it's not a destination resort, it's much less expensive, has short lift lines, and has that down-home feeling that I like.
This comparison can be made just about anywhere.
This makes picking the best resort difficult. I prefer the small resorts. That, however, is only a preference. If I actually name a series of small resorts as the best in the country, people will think I'm crazy.
What it comes down to is whether most people, like me, prefer small resorts. If they do, then I'll feel justified making such a list.
What do you prefer? A big resort or a small one?