Updated story: Park City resorts play big role in Utah’s record-breaking ski season
Strong snowfall boosts skier days to all-time high
Last year, ski resorts in Utah topped a high mark for skier days statewide that had stood for nearly a decade. It didn’t take nearly as long, however, to best that record.
Ski Utah, an association that represents Utah’s 14 ski resorts, announced Wednesday that an all-time high of about 4.58 million skiers and snowboarders shredded down the state’s slopes over the winter, a 2.85 percent jump from the record-setting 2015-2016 season and a 8.35 percent increase over the five-year average.
Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, said in an interview with The Park Record that everyone in the industry was delighted that the resorts built on the momentum of the previous season.
“There’s still a little room for growth, I think, but it was a super ski season,” he said. “The snow helped a ton, and there was still a tailwind from last year’s record season and all the improvements that went in place, especially in Park City.”
Rafferty and resort officials were quick to credit Mother Nature for the success. After a dry and warm November, the powder started falling in December, and didn’t stop. It ultimately proved to be one of the snowiest winters in recent memory, with Brighton Resort reporting a high of 632 inches for the season.
Ski Utah and resort executives worked tirelessly for months to promote Utah’s “Greatest Snow on Earth” in a plethora of marketing campaigns, but in the end, the most effective advertisement was skiers and snowboarders sampling fresh powder for themselves.
“The old line in the ski industry is, ‘It’s the snow, stupid,’” Rafferty said. “We like to think, as marketers, that it’s all about us. But it snowed early and snowed often. We had 200 inches in the month of January alone, and that really sets up the meat of our season.”
The rise in skier days also boosted the economic impact of the state’s ski industry to $1.43 billion from the $1.17 billion recorded in the 2014-2015 season. That amount also reflected the fact skiers were more willing to open their pocketbooks — on average, they spent $20 more dollars ($296 total) per visit.
Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said at a press conference Wednesday that the ski industry has become a major cog in Utah’s tourism industry, which helps power the state’s economy. Tourism, for instance, contributed $1.15 billion in state and local taxes in 2015.
“That’s money for our schools, for public safety, for our roads,” she said. “So thank you for sharing the hills and being such good partners and for the amazing contribution that this industry creates for the Utah economy.”
Ski Utah doesn’t publicly break down skier day or economic data by resort, and neither Deer Valley Resort nor Park City Mountain Resort divulges that information. However, both said they experienced banner seasons alongside the state’s increase.
Emily Summers, a spokeswoman for Deer Valley, said the resort saw bumps in pass sales, skier visits, ski school participation and lodging. It was a benchmark winter — the type resort staffers and skiers, alike, will compare future seasons against.
“This is one we’re going to talk about,” she said. “I talk about 2007/2008, 2010/2011 and now it’s going to be 2016/2017. When we reflect on that, it’s going to be, ‘Do you remember all those powder days? Do you remember the best skiing of our lives?’ This is why we fell in love with the sport.”
Margo Van Ness, a spokeswoman for PCMR, added that people were still flocking to the resort to check out the gondola connecting its two base areas and to discover the other capital improvements that drew so much attention from the ski world a season ago.
“It’s been fun to watch people explore the new mountain and take the gondola back and forth,” she said.
The growth in skier days, though, also brings challenges — notably the number of cars flooding the roads to Park City’s resorts. Rafferty, Van Ness and Summers all said the industry is committed to working with state and local officials to promote things like public transport and ride sharing, and to provide other solutions to the traffic jams that plague the area on powder days.
“We’re focused on that,” Rafferty said. “It’s a challenge for sure. But I’ll take those challenges over, ‘Why isn’t anybody showing up?’”
In May, the long-time owners, Joy and Geir Vik, announced their retirement and passed on the business to the Brian and Dena Merrill, and their son, Dylan, who had been their friends and colleagues for years.
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