November 1, 2008

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On the Upward Slope

Utah Ski Industry Stays a Peak Above the Rest

Hilary Ingoldsby Whitesides

November 1, 2008

While other industries struggle to stay standing in their game, a combination of ideal conditions including amazing snow easily accessible to travelers, keeps the Utah ski industry up, running and racing ahead of their competitors, say Utah’s ski industry officials, allowing Utah to maintain its reputation of having “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” And the numbers support the claim. The 2007-2008 winter season was record breaking for the Utah ski industry. “Utah celebrated its fifth consecutive record-breaking year with a total of 4,249,190 skier visits during the 2007-2008 winter season,” says Ski Utah Director of Communications Jessica Kunzer. “This represents a 4.1 percent increase over 2006-2007.” These numbers translate to 18,000 jobs for the state of Utah, generating just more than $1 billion in revenue, according to Kunzer. While contributing to the industry’s success as a whole, the local resorts reap individual benefits. “Skier days grew last year at a record pace resulting in Powder Mountain’s fourth record breaking season in a row,” says Carolyn Daniels, Power Mountain’s director of public relations and groups. Bill Cox, general manager of Wolf Creek Resort relays similar success. “Wolf Creek has experienced double digit increases in each of its three years of operation,” he says. The Time is Ripe Utah’s ski industry grew consistently since Ski Utah started to monitor the numbers in 1955, but exploded over the past few years. The snow has always been world-class so one can’t help but wonder what can be attributed to the growth spurt. Many say that the 2002 Winter Olympics exposed Utah to the rest of the world. In fact, according to Ski Utah, Utah has seen over a 23 percent increase in skier visits since the Olympics. “We all know that the Olympics helped to bring the spotlight to Utah. It was the best instrument to showcase the winter wonderland we live in,” says Patrick Grewe, lift operations supervisor for The Canyons resort in Park City. “Since [the Olympics] the ski industry has been growing and improving here in Utah. It is no longer just the destination of hardcore ski bums coming to get their fix of the greatest snow on earth. It is becoming a destination area for people from all over the world.” According to the 2007-08 Utah Skier/Snowboarder Survey Executive Summary, 647,000 skiers on Utah’s slopes were out-of-state visitors primarily from California, New York, Texas and Illinois. The percentage of international visitors rose last year, for the first time since the mid-1990s, to 5 percent. The majority came from Canada, the UK and Australia. Local skiers and snowboarders accounted for 47 percent of those on Utah’s slopes. It’s not just exposure that has brought more skiers to Utah — it’s what the Utah slopes have to offer. Kunzer, Grewe and Cox agree with Lucy Ridolphi, marketing and public relations manager at Sundance Resort, that the combination of amazing snow and accessibility sets Utah apart from its competitors. “In addition to its famous powder, Utah offers ease and accessibility, along with a variety of terrain and experiences, says Ridolphi. “You can fly into Salt Lake City and be on the slopes within minutes of arriving. In addition, you can experience a different resort every day or just enjoy where you are.” Utah resorts also offer more than 26,000 acres of skiable terrain, Kunzer says, which is just one reason Utah is a great vacation spot for many travelers. “With many Americans taking fewer and shorter vacations, choosing an accessible destination is a great way to maximize leisure time,” she says. “Salt Lake City International Airport has nearly 800 daily flights from more than 100 North American cities. More than half the U.S. population lives within a two-and-a-half hour flight of the state. Once visitors get to Salt Lake City, their traveling is over, as 11 world-class resorts are less than an hour drive away. Less driving means more time for skiing.” And the snow is unparalleled. According to Julie Partian, communications coordinator for Snowbird ski resort, Snowbird averages 500 inches of snow per season, which starts in mid-November and goes strong until Memorial Day. Also, its neighboring resort, Alta, reported its third snowiest season with 702 inches of snow in 2007-08. The Total Experience Finding a whole mountain experience is another reason the ski industry is flourishing here, Grewe says, since the ski industry is progressing into selling the complete vacation package. New lodging, dining and adventure packages encourage visitors to experience all the resorts have to offer. Several resorts stepped it up for the 2008-09 season. “The focus of a ski resort is not to just sell tickets to as many people as possible anymore,” he says. “They are now catering to the need for lodging, dining, child programs, Apres ski activities and events.” Wolf Creek recently added more lodging and packages that include ski lift tickets, club dining, lodging and activities such as sleigh rides, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Powder Mountain added a new Mountain Adventure Center, which will include programs such as Snowcat Powder Safaris, Mountain Adventure Tours and the Snow Sports School. Snowbird, Powder Mountain, Park City, Deer Valley, Brighton and Beaver Mountain are renovating or building new lodges to facilitate more on-mountain relaxation and dining. And you can’t forget the slopes themselves. Resorts such as Solitude, Deer Valley, Snowbasin, Park City and The Canyons are spending millions of dollars to build new high speed chair lifts and repair older ones. New lifts and terrain improvements should increase skiable terrain for every level of skier and improve access to advanced terrain for more experienced skiers. Officials say continued improvements and growth in the industry seem inevitable. “On top of all this, as the license plate says, we have the best snow on earth,” says Grewe. “Thanks to the dry desert to the west of us, the snow gets light and fluffy and then the Great Salt Lake helps to give us that extra punch that gives us light and fluffy snow in copious amounts. This will help the industry to continue to grow for years to come.”
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