Ski season optimism contagious in Park City | ParkRecord.com

Ski season optimism contagious in Park City

From left Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah; Bob Wheaton, general manager of Deer Valley Resort; and Davy Ratchford, senior director of Park City marketing and strategic alliance for Vail Resorts speak at the Park City Chamber/Bureaus annual fall tourism forum, held Wednesday at Stein Eriksen Lodge. Officials at the event said they were optimistic about the upcoming winter.

When Park City's business owners, ski resort officials and lodging industry executives gathered at the Stein Eriksen Lodge Wednesday to rally for the upcoming winter season, the temperature outside was warm enough to roam Park City in rolled up sleeves.

Despite the unseasonably warm weather, however, officials appeared optimistic Park City can capitalize on the momentum of last year's record-breaking season, which saw more visitors than ever come to Utah for ski vacations.

Among those most hopeful were Bob Wheaton, president and general manager of Deer Valley Resort, and Davy Ratchford, senior director of Park City marketing and strategic alliance for Vail Resorts, which owns Park City Mountain Resort. Both spoke at the annual event, a luncheon put on by the Park City Chamber/Bureau, saying they expect another strong winter.

Wheaton said reservations on the books throughout the winter months at Deer Valley's lodging properties are up, and preseason ticket sales have seen a double-digit bump over last year. He said fresh powder is the only thing missing, and when temperatures become cold enough to make snow, Parkites can expect it to quickly blanket Deer Valley's mountains.

"When the weather does turn, we're going to be ready," he said.

Ratchford echoed many of those sentiments, while also elaborating on one change skiers can expect this season at PCMR. He said skiers this year will have access to an app that tells them lift time waits from anywhere on the mountain, allowing them to more easily plan their day on the slopes.

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The app was created after PCMR pored through hundreds of surveys about the guest experience last year.

"I think this piece is transformational in many ways," he said.

The ski executives also spoke about the cooperation that has developed between the two resorts, with Wheaton saying it's time for Parkites to abandon any nervous or anxious feelings that linger from when Vail Resorts bought PCMR in 2014. He said Vail Resorts has been excellent to work with and described instances where Deer Valley has borrowed parts for a lift from PCMR.

"We could not have wished for a better neighbor and a better partner," he said.

While officials barely broached the topic of the election of Donald Trump at the luncheon, there was chatter about the historic result among attendees. Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Chamber/Bureau, said in an interview after the luncheon that it was too early to determine what effect Trump's win could have on tourism in Park City, from both domestic travelers and internationally, where Trump is widely seen as unpopular. International visitors make up about 8 or 9 percent of Park City's winter tourists each year.

"I don't like to say, 'Here's exactly what's going to happen,' because opinions change and people mellow," he said. "There's a lot of things that are said in the heat of an election that, once the election is over, things kind of come back."

Malone also spoke at the luncheon, updating members on the effort to attract skiers to Park City. He said the Chamber/Bureau's television advertisements, which tout Park City's two resorts and the town's charm, were set to begin running this week and next in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and Chicago.

He also noted the effect the Chamber/Bureau's website, visitparkcity.com, has on potential vacationers. According to data he presented, the majority of people who visited the website, then eventually came to town considered the site an important factor in their choosing Park City. The website helped convince many others to stay for a longer duration of time.

The role the website plays is a major reason the Chamber/Bureau redesigned it earlier this year. Malone said in an interview that the site now gives visitors a compelling reason to come to Park City and shows off the unique experiences they can have in town.

"It's more about telling a story about Park City and has a lot more in the way of local interest and authenticity," he said. "It feels strong in the way it tells stories about businesses here in town and things to do. I wanted to share that information with our members because (the website) is about them."

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