Optimism abounds as ski season approaches | ParkRecord.com

Optimism abounds as ski season approaches

With the fresh powder dusting the mountains in Park City and many of the state’s other ski areas signaling the impending winter, Utah ski industry officials are offering a common refrain: Let the good times roll.

Spirits throughout the state are high, and Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, said there is good reason for that. Skier visits are trending up and are expected to continue to climb, Vail Resorts’ increased presence in Utah is giving the state additional exposure, and the amenities resorts are offering is only getting better, he said.

Put those factors together and it’s a recipe for optimism.

"I think the overall health (of the industry) is really good," Rafferty said. "We have a really bright future. The issues we’re dealing with now are mostly how to keep the quality of the experience high with the amount of people we have coming to visit our state. And that’s a really good problem to have."

According to Ski Utah numbers, last season’s 4.16 million skier visits were the third most on record. That represented a 3.6-percent increase from the 2012-2013 season and an 8.8-percent gain from 2011-2012. Rafferty attributed the increase to a number of reasons, but said that clearly the word continues to get out about Utah being a world-class skiing destination.

"I think the product that Utah has to offer is as good as it’s ever been," he said. "We keep adding new value to the ski areas, and certainly I’d say one huge contributing factor is the support we get from the state government and the Utah Office of Tourism. A good chunk of their budget goes toward skiing and that’s a huge help."

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Rafferty expects strong turnout from skiers and snowboarders this season, as well, a hunch that’s supported by early returns. According to DestiMetrics, a Denver-based company that keeps numbers on mountain bookings in the Rocky Mountain Region, there has been a 7.4-percent increase in bookings from November of 2014 to March of 2015 compared to last year in the six states it tracks, which include Utah.

Vail Resorts’ September purchase of Park City Mountain Resort is contributing to Utah gaining steam, Rafferty said. Vail is a key player in the ski industry and now controls two of Park City’s three resorts — Canyons Resort being the other.

Rafferty said Ski Utah representatives that have attended international ski shows recently have reported that Vail’s presence in Utah is a big topic of conversation throughout the industry.

"I think it’s hard to overstate the positive aspect of that," Rafferty said. "Vail Resorts is a leader worldwide in the resort industry. They know how to run and, more importantly, promote resorts. It shines a really bright spotlight on Park City and Utah. I think it generates a lot of buzz and excitement. We’re in for a couple exciting years in Park City."

Vail’s purchase of PCMR is not the only big change shifting Utah’s skiing landscape. Rafferty expects Deer Valley Resort’s recent acquisition of Solitude Mountain Resort — Deer Valley is set to begin operating the resort May 1, 2015 — to further elevate the state’s offerings.

"Deer Valley is a company that understands a good ski product, and they see something in Solitude that they can sprinkle a little of their magic on and really see that resort blossom," Rafferty said. "I think they’re going to do a little spit and polish there and it’s going to be spectacular."

There will also be a new player on the scene, with the opening of Cherry Peak Resort, located near Richmond, which will give Utah its 15th resort.

"It’s exciting," Rafferty said. "It’s not every day that we add a new resort. We don’t see that affecting business in Park City by any stretch, but it may create some new skiers in Utah who at some point may spend some time in Park City."

If there’s anything that could put a slight damper on the enthusiasm, it’s a decrease in snowfall. Several resorts throughout the state were again below annual averages last year, and it has been widely reported that climate change is a cause for concern for the long-term health of the ski industry worldwide.

Rafferty said Ski Utah is not turning a blind eye to the potential effects of climate change but added there isn’t much cause for concern for this season or in the immediate future.

"Ski conditions last year were great," he said. "The numbers say (snow) was down, but that’s splitting hairs, really. The resorts, in Park City especially, do such a great job of making snow. And for the majority of our guests, our resorts are open wall-to-wall. Utah is known as having the greatest snow on Earth, and I think we’ll be able to hold onto that moniker for quite some time."

For information regarding the opening dates of ski resorts and snow conditions, visit skiutah.com.

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