As ski season nears, good vibes abound in Park City
There’s one word thrown out every year in ski towns when the weather begins to dip below freezing and the first snow dusts the mountains: optimism.
This year is no exception, with several leaders of the local ski industry using the word Thursday at the Park City Chamber/Bureau’s Tour Industry Fall Forum. But they didn’t stop there.
"I don’t know since 2002 whether there’s been a more anticipated ski season than this one coming up," said Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, in a nearly identical sentiment to one later offered by Bob Wheaton, president and general manager of Deer Valley Resort.
Much of the excitement surrounding the upcoming season stems from the high-profile merger of Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort into one ski area connected by a gondola. Bill Rock, chief operating officer of the mega resort — which is under the umbrella moniker of Park City Mountain Resort — said the merger represents a "historic year" and that the resort has drawn the attention of the entire ski world.
But Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said there’s more to the fervor than capital improvements. With the contentious lawsuit between PCMR’s previous owner, Powdr Corp., and Vail Resorts in the rear-view mirror, the town’s ski industry is finally ready to charge ahead.
"The other part, I think, is if you think back to a year ago, people were just still kind of licking their wounds from the whole litigation situation," he said. "Now that that’s passed for a year, people are focused and looking forward to the horizon instead of like, ‘Look at the bullet we just dodged.’"
Apart from serving as a quasi kick-off to ski season, the forum was notable because the Chamber/Bureau unveiled its new marketing campaign. The advertisements — which will run in a variety of media and appear in several of the top markets in the country — bill Park City as a place to "discover winter." They focus less on Park City’s on-mountain experience and more on the town’s other assets.
Malone said testing with focus groups this summer revealed that people who have never visited Park City know it has great skiing and is close to an international airport — but they were missing part of the message.
"What they were getting to when they got here, they knew less about," Malone said. "So we’re focusing on what we have here — the authenticity and charm and great lodging and shopping and other activities. That’s not to dismiss what goes on on the hill, but it’s the fact that the magic continues beyond the skiing. That was the one piece that people who have not been here before had little knowledge about.
"It is an opportunity for us and it gives us a new direction to focus on," he added. "You see in our ads that there’s very much a theme that runs through, whether it’s digital, television or print. We’ve honed in on that message."
Despite the anticipation of the ski season, Malone acknowledged there has been some anxiety in town about a slow start to winter lodging reservations. He said it’s likely that, after a string of down snow years, skiers and snowboarders are waiting to see the white stuff fall before they shell out cash for a winter vacation.
The recent dusting in Park City — and other ski towns in the West — may begin to put skiers’ trepidation about this year’s snowfall forecast at ease, however.
"We know that it’s about snow, but it’s also about when we get snow," Malone said. "This whole change in the weather now — and not only just us but Nevada and Tahoe and Colorado getting snow — it’s like a kick off to say to people, ‘It’s OK. It’s going to be a good winter. We’re getting off to a good start, so feel secure in booking that reservation.’"
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