By Amy Fendley For the third time in five years, SKI Magazine has rated Whistler-Blackcomb the number one ski resort in North America. The rankings, based largely on reader input, will appear in SKI’s October issue, which goes on sale Sept. 12. Whistler-Blackcomb was ranked number one in North America for eight straight years by Snow Country magazine, which changed its name to Mountain Sports and Living last year, before the magazine ceased publishing last spring. However, Whistler-Blackcomb hasn’t been number one in SKI’s rankings since 1996. "We didn’t believe we could count on a number one ranking this year," says David Perry, vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler-Blackcomb. "We are very honoured. Although Whistler-Blackcomb has been rated number one by American ski magazines for eight years running, getting the nod from SKI — the most reputable snowsports magazine in the world — is very special. "Of all the rankings, for us this is as big as the first time," Perry continued. "We’d always hung our hats on the number one status, but this really reflects the attitude and pride of what we’re doing here. It couldn’t come at a better time, let’s hope we continue to be at the top of the heap." SKI Magazine sent out 10,000 surveys by geographic region and readers were required to rank the resorts they’ve skied at during the last two years, based on 16 criteria. Whistler-Blackcomb received 11 gold medal honours and three silver medal honours of the 16 categories rated. Most notably, Whistler Blackcomb received top 10, gold medal rankings for apres-ski (No. 2), lodging (No. 2), terrain (No. 3), service (No. 3), on-mountain food (No. 3), lifts (No. 4), off-hill activities (No. 4), dining (No. 5), challenge (No. 7), scenery (No. 8) and value (No. 10). Andy Bigford, editor-in-chief of SKI, says that the magazine’s readers really noticed Whistler-Blackcomb’s tremendous 1999 season. "The resort ranked very high in the important categories including service, lodging, dining, terrain, challenge, and lifts," said Bigford, who commented that Whistler’s value rating of 10th overall in North America, is amazing. "Service is a big part of Whistler’s success," said Bigford. "I was personally struck during the first week of May, by how hyped up the employees were. Last season there was a lot of snow to ski in, and a lot of snow to dig out of, but people were happy, and the people reflect the spirit of Whistler. I hope they can keep it up, a lot of resorts struggle with staffing, let alone finding happy staff." Bigford said the rankings are not just a popularity contest, but are based on certain perceptions from the readership. "Whistler has been climbing steadily in sheer numbers, having grown dramatically in the last six to eight years. When Whistler was rated number one in 1995 and 96, a lot of our readers went there. Where Whistler-Blackcomb finished is just very, very impressive." Barrett Fisher, vice president of marketing and sales for the Whistler Resort Association, says that the number one ranking is exciting news and a "real coup" for Whistler. "It reinforces the fabulous season we had the past year, as it is truly an endorsement from the customer on the rating Whistler truly deserves. In our minds we believe that Whistler is always number one, and now that belief had been reinforced. The customer has come here and chosen us." Whistler-Blackcomb has invested more than $20 million of improvements including the installation of two new high-speed lifts and a new on-mountain 300-seat restaurant, Jack’s Junction, for the coming season. The next resort ranking comes from Skiing Magazine, which will publish its editor’s choices in the November issue, to be released mid-October. The mountains open for the 1999-2000 winter season on Nov. 24.