Ski resort owners and Utah ski officials think the upcoming ski season could rival the record 4.25 million skier days the industry enjoyed in 2007-2008.
Ski resort owners and Utah ski officials think the upcoming ski season could rival the record 4.25 million skier days the industry enjoyed in 2007-2008.

The Enterprise

Despite “lackluster” snowfall last winter, Utah’s ski resorts still enjoyed a “top 10” year and the upcoming season could be even better, according to the industry’s top local cheerleader.

At a ski season preview news conference last week, Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, said the state’s resorts last year experienced nearly 4 million skier visits and are primed for more.

“I will stop short of telling you what I think is going to happen this ski season or offering any kind of prediction, but what I will tell you is that our goal is to have a record year,” he said. “Our record, ’07-’08, was 4.25 million skier days. If we have even average snowfall this year, I think that is well within reach.”

The number of skier days last winter was down 4.9 percent in Utah from the prior winter, in line with the nation’s 5 percent drop. While Utah was at normal levels of snowfall as of Jan. 1, it slipped after that. Still, Rafferty said, resorts experienced a “great, great season” because of energy-efficient snowmaking capabilities.

How skimpy was the snowfall? Alta received a total of 324 inches, “which around here we cry about a little bit,” Rafferty said, noting that the average year sees 551 inches. Last year’s snowfall was 41 percent of average and the second-lowest amount in the past 24 years.

The last comparable season was 1976-77, which saw a 53 percent drop in skier visits from the previous year because of a lack of snowmaking, he said.

Nonetheless, Rafferty used several statistics to keep the Utah figures in perspective. Even with the lackluster snowfall, the amount at Alta, measured at mid-mountain, between Nov. 1 and April 30 was still the best of any North American resort. “Sometimes not our best is good enough for the rest of the country,” he said.

And “not our best” still attracted nearly 4 million visits.

“Those of us who live and work here, we’re used to and hoping for great snow. Every week, we want to see a foot of new snow. But it was a good reminder that the people that come on their ski vacations to Utah aren’t turned off by 45-degree weather [and] blue sky. Our resorts did an incredible job in getting all the slopes open, and the people aren’t at work and they shop and dine and have fun up in the mountains with their family. So, a good reminder that it’s not always about the snow.”

As for the 2015-16 season, “We’re looking a hair flat going into this coming season in terms of reservations, but we expected this little bit of a lull right before the snow happens,” he said.

Skiers will see lots of new stuff at resorts this season. For example, Vail Resorts has spent $50 million to connect Park City Mountain Resort to Canyons Resort, creating a resort simply called “Park City.” It is the largest resort in the U.S., with 7,300 skiable acres. The centerpiece of the connection is the Quicksilver gondola from the bottom of Silverlode on the Park City side to Flat Iron. On Park City’s “Mountain” side will be a new restaurant, Miners Camp, replacing the Snow Hut, and upgrades to the Summit House. On the former Canyons Resort side, the Red Pine Restaurant is being renovated with 250 additional indoor seats.

Deer Valley Resort has taken over ownership and operations of Solitude Mountain Resort and is remodeling and improving services at the Moonbeam Lodge Restaurant. Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort has made $35 million in upgrades, including adding the Summit Lodge at Hidden Peak, a 23,000-square-foot building with a 10,000-square-foot outdoor deck, all at an elevation of 11,000 feet. Likewise, Powder Mountain has a new restaurant, resorts have added faster lifts, Sundance plans to keep open at least one zip line this winter, and a new resort will open soon near Logan. Cherry Peak will feature three triple chairlifts, a 1.25-mile run and a three-story day lodge.

“Any one of these upgrades would be a marquee upgrade in one single ski season, and we’re seeing all of them … lumped into one year,” Rafferty said.

Rafferty noted that several Utah resorts are consistently at the top or near the top in industry rankings, are offering a variety of packages to teach more people to ski, and this season will feature Brighton Resort enjoying its 80th year in business and Snowbasin its 75th.

“It truly is an exciting year,” he said. “There is an anticipation for this year that I haven’t seen probably since the [2002] Olympic year.”

Utah’s ski industry has an annual economic impact of more than $1 billion and employs 20,000 people.

Opening dates for Utah’s resorts are Nov. 20 for Alta and Brian Head; Nov. 21 for Park City, Snowbird and Solitude; Nov. 25 for Powder Mountain and Snowbasin; Dec. 4 for Sundance; Dec. 5 for Deer Valley; Dec. 19 for Nordic Valley; and Dec. 20 for Eagle Point. Opening dates for Beaver Mountain, Brighton and Cherry Peak have not been set.

At a ski season preview news conference last week, Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, said the state’s resorts last year experienced nearly 4 million skier visits and are primed for more.

“I will stop short of telling you what I think is going to happen this ski season or offering any kind of prediction, but what I will tell you is that our goal is to have a record year,” he said. “Our record, ’07-’08, was 4.25 million skier days. If we have even average snowfall this year, I think that is well within reach.”

The number of skier days last winter was down 4.9 percent in Utah from the prior winter, in line with the nation’s 5 percent drop. While Utah was at normal levels of snowfall as of Jan. 1, it slipped after that. Still, Rafferty said, resorts experienced a “great, great season” because of energy-efficient snowmaking capabilities.

How skimpy was the snowfall? Alta received a total of 324 inches, “which around here we cry about a little bit,” Rafferty said, noting that the average year sees 551 inches. Last year’s snowfall was 41 percent of average and the second-lowest amount in the past 24 years.

The last comparable season was 1976-77, which saw a 53 percent drop in skier visits from the previous year because of a lack of snowmaking, he said.

Nonetheless, Rafferty used several statistics to keep the Utah figures in perspective. Even with the lackluster snowfall, the amount at Alta, measured at mid-mountain, between Nov. 1 and April 30 was still the best of any North American resort. “Sometimes not our best is good enough for the rest of the country,” he said.

And “not our best” still attracted nearly 4 million visits.

“Those of us who live and work here, we’re used to and hoping for great snow. Every week, we want to see a foot of new snow. But it was a good reminder that the people that come on their ski vacations to Utah aren’t turned off by 45-degree weather [and] blue sky. Our resorts did an incredible job in getting all the slopes open, and the people aren’t at work and they shop and dine and have fun up in the mountains with their family. So, a good reminder that it’s not always about the snow.”

As for the 2015-16 season, “We’re looking a hair flat going into this coming season in terms of reservations, but we expected this little bit of a lull right before the snow happens,” he said.

Skiers will see lots of new stuff at resorts this season. For example, Vail Resorts has spent $50 million to connect Park City Mountain Resort to Canyons Resort, creating a resort simply called “Park City.” It is the largest resort in the U.S., with 7,300 skiable acres. The centerpiece of the connection is the Quicksilver gondola from the bottom of Silverlode on the Park City side to Flat Iron. On Park City’s “Mountain” side will be a new restaurant, Miners Camp, replacing the Snow Hut, and upgrades to the Summit House. On the former Canyons Resort side, the Red Pine Restaurant is being renovated with 250 additional indoor seats.

Deer Valley Resort has taken over ownership and operations of Solitude Mountain Resort and is remodeling and improving services at the Moonbeam Lodge Restaurant. Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort has made $35 million in upgrades, including adding the Summit Lodge at Hidden Peak, a 23,000-square-foot building with a 10,000-square-foot outdoor deck, all at an elevation of 11,000 feet. Likewise, Powder Mountain has a new restaurant, resorts have added faster lifts, Sundance plans to keep open at least one zip line this winter, and a new resort will open soon near Logan. Cherry Peak will feature three triple chairlifts, a 1.25-mile run and a three-story day lodge.

“Any one of these upgrades would be a marquee upgrade in one single ski season, and we’re seeing all of them … lumped into one year,” Rafferty said.

Rafferty noted that several Utah resorts are consistently at the top or near the top in industry rankings, are offering a variety of packages to teach more people to ski, and this season will feature Brighton Resort enjoying its 80th year in business and Snowbasin its 75th.

“It truly is an exciting year,” he said. “There is an anticipation for this year that I haven’t seen probably since the [2002] Olympic year.”

Utah’s ski industry has an annual economic impact of more than $1 billion and employs 20,000 people.

Opening dates for Utah’s resorts are Nov. 20 for Alta and Brian Head; Nov. 21 for Park City, Snowbird and Solitude; Nov. 25 for Powder Mountain and Snowbasin; Dec. 4 for Sundance; Dec. 5 for Deer Valley; Dec. 19 for Nordic Valley; and Dec. 20 for Eagle Point. Opening dates for Beaver Mountain, Brighton and Cherry Peak have not been set.

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