June 1, 2012

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Dreaming of a White Winter

Local Resorts Made the Best of a Challenging Season

Gaylen Webb

June 1, 2012

Although Alta hit its target opening in November, December saw three slow weeks followed by a frighteningly soft January. “We had 57 inches of snow in January. Typically, we get 90–125 inches. Our bookings in January were making people quite nervous,” she says.

Deer Valley Resort, on the other hand, appears to have been unfazed by Mother Nature. Emily Summers, spokesperson for the resort, says the destination resort had a “really strong” December, January and February. Deer Valley sold out over the Christmas holiday, had a strong Martin Luther King holiday, sold out over President’s Day and had a strong Easter weekend.

Smith says Park City Mountain Resort had a great opening, due to its aggressive snowmaking. “There are definitely people who love the powder, and they may not ski as much, but they just don’t wait for the powder. Our season pass holders were fabulous this year. They were out there all of the time and were commenting on how great the conditions were.”

Despite the lower snow totals, there were actually plenty of bluebird days at most of the resorts this season—days when the skies were clear and snow conditions were good. Such days were not lost on the out-of-state skiers.

“Our destination guests love the blue skies and good temperatures,” says Smith. Approximately 75–80 percent of Park City Mountain Resort’s visitors are from out-of-state. At Alta Ski Area, where visitors are typically split equally between locals and out-of-staters, Marshall says there appeared to be more out-of-state skiers this season.

Jon Christoffersen found that to be true at Brian Head as well. Christoffersen, public relations manager for the resort, says out-of-state skiers generally make up about 40 percent of Brian Head’s visitors, but this season the resort experienced a strong showing from out-of-state skiers, many of them from California. While the Las Vegas market is always strong for Brian Head, California skiers arrived en masse. Christoffersen surmises the California skiers may have been attracted to Brian Head because of poorer ski conditions at Tahoe and many other resorts in the Golden State.

Short Memories
Will the “no snow” message from the past season influence the expectations of skiers and snowboarders concerning the upcoming season? Smith doesn’t think so.

“They will follow the weather patterns like they do every year, and if we start receiving early snow we will definitely have guests. We are probably one of the easiest locations to get to, here in Utah—30 minutes to any one of the resorts—so it is pretty easy for people to come here and I think they will still book next year.”

“Skiers have short memories,” adds Kunzer. “A bad season this year will not necessarily carry over.”

Goar, on the other hand, says the skiers in Utah (locals and visitors) actually have long memories—but not for a no-snow year. Rather, they have long memories “of many consecutive years of The Greatest Snow on Earth. They visit Utah year after year because of the plentiful, dry powder.”

To be sure, only Mother Nature (and the media) can spoil the upcoming season. But even with little snow, if temperatures are cold Utah’s resorts are ready to crank up the snowguns to give Mother Nature a boost. So far, it’s worked out well for the state.

Kunzer says Utah’s ski industry has seen consistent growth (42 percent) since the state hosted the Olympic Winter Games a decade ago, and industry leaders expect that growth to continue. The industry passed the $1 billion mark in 2008-2009 and now generates approximately $1.2 billion annually in direct spending by skiers and snowboarders. The majority of that spending is by out-of-state visitors on such things as transportation, restaurants, shopping and rentals, and does not include airfare to the state.

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