If you were asked to give a quick rundown on what Whistler and Val Gardena have in common, apart from both being ski resorts of note, you might soon find yourself struggling.
Val Gardena, in the Italian Dolomites, embraces a delightful collection of charming and historic communities in a valley famed for woodcarving and the scrupulous preservation of its own ancient language, Ladin.
Whistler, virtually overlooking Canada’s west coast, is a big, purpose-built, modern resort that is now part of Vail’s master plan (the American giant has just snapped up its former Canadian rival) to take over the world.
But despite being apparent polar opposites in style, substance and aspiration they could be said to be joined at the hip in the affections of those who responded to a mighty survey by the Ski Club of Great Britain to determine, respectively, the top European and North American resorts which received the highest consumer recommendation from UK skiers. What they have in common is that they both came top. The highest consumer recommendation title is a bit of a mouthful. I assume they mean the resorts people like best.
And coincidentally, Val Gardena and Whistler, despite their vastly different characters, are both among my personal top five favourite ski destinations in the world and I spend a lot of time in both. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit odd being so fond of both resorts – the one authentic and understated, the other manufactured and undeniably somewhat brash (I think you know which is which).
But both have qualities that without doubt put them in the front rank of global ski resorts.
What’s so great about Whistler?
Whistler-Blackcomb is North America’s biggest ski area. It is big in every way – the scale of the scenery, its high bowls and glacier skiing, its network of piste skiing over two mountains, and the village itself.
The variety of its skiing, with a lot of runs above the tree-line and impressive vertical, give it an Alpine feel. And the town, with plenty of apres-ski bars right at the base areas (there are three bases, Whistler, Blackcomb and Creekside), has something of a European atmosphere too. It has a vast range of accommodation, from self-catering studios to five-star hotels. And, in my view, some of the best restaurants you’ll find anywhere, including Bear Foot Bistro, Araxi and Rimrock.
Some hardcore skiers and boarders eschew Whistler as being too soft, having too much luxury and fine dining. For me, great skiing and plenty of luxury at the end of the day is the perfect combination. Bring it on.
Val Gardena for Europe
Val Gardena has its own unique combination that helps make it a resort of heady allure – it is both Italian and Austrian in character and history. It is in Italy but was for many years in Austria and it retains Tirolean charm. More locals here speak German than Italian – with an increasing number speaking Ladin.
It comprises the quite lovely villages of Selva (also known as Wolkenstein), Santa Cristina (or St Christina) and the town of Ortisei (also known as St Ulrich). Heading away into infinity and beyond from these gorgeous places are the peaks and plateaux of the Dolomiti Superski area, with hundreds and hundreds of lifts and including the famed Sella Ronda circuit. But each village also has its own ‘home’ skiing on the doorstep. All in all, fabulous beyond words – and as a further bonus, having some of the finest and most spectacularly located mountain restaurants in the world.
So there you have it, and you might disagree. Whistler is North America’s best, and Val Gardena is Europe’s. Out of interest, Breckenridge and Sun Peaks were second and third to Whistler, and Val d’Isere and Saalbach-Hinterglemm completed the top three in Europe.
Val Gardena tourist official Christina Demetz told me the award was ‘particularly pleasing and dear to our hearts because we know that the most important praise a resort can receive is from the guests who come to visit’.
I’m not sure at the moment who to ask at Whistler what they think about it. Most of the influential people I know there are slightly more worried just now about their future, since Vail executives swept into town, rather than what Brits think about the place.
Crunching the numbers
Those of you of an analytical bent might be mildly interested to know how the results were arrived at. It’s really quite straightforward, although you might want to take notes.
It was based on the Net Promoter Score, or NPS® – the fundamental perspective that customers can be divided into three categories: Promoters, Passives and Detractors. Customers respond on a 0-to-10 point rating scale. You take the percentage of customers who are Promoters and subtract the percentage who are Detractors – your NPS can range from -100 to +100. A two hundred point scale. Do try to keep up, I don’t want to have to go through all this with you again. I mean, what could be simpler?
It was all devised by an outfit called Spike Marketing, who ‘combine all our expertise with powerful data analytics and the latest technological developments to uncover opportunity insights and deliver proven customer programmes’. Basic stuff.
The survey generated 17,270 responses. Impressive. Intriguingly, the Ski Club says that of these, 14,838 were skiers and snowboarders. But 2,432 were not. I’m really interested in the 2,432 people who neither ski nor snowboard but nevertheless have very strong views on the merits of Val Gardena and Whistler for skiing and snowboarding.