Ski season ends with a bang for Park City lodging industry
Around the middle of the ski season in early February, Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, pored over the numbers and came away with a tinge of concern.
Visitation had been strong up to that point, buoyed by plentiful snowfall early in the season, but the projected booking numbers from March through the close of the season appeared thin. Malone worried that the unusually warm weather on the East Coast meant people there might be less likely to book late-winter ski vacations. He wondered whether the numbers would get stronger as the dates neared.
As it turned out, the sultry East Coast winter likely did put a damper on the amount of people visiting Park City. But the numbers got stronger anyway.
Malone said droves of spring break vacationers and people visiting from Latin American countries led to a successful March — particularly the second half of the month.
"We’ve been up pretty much every day compared to last year," Malone said. "And it’s a sizeable increase over last year this week, ending with Easter. We’re seeing occupancies in the mid 70 (percent) this week, which is pretty good for this late in the season."
Nonetheless, the situation likely could have been even better if the East Coast’s winter had been normal. Malone said that has hurt ski towns throughout the West, though the exact ramifications are difficult to pin down.
"When you get a big part of the country that just doesn’t have a winter, it’s hard for people to get the motivation going," he said. "I would assume that has to affect us in some regard. There’s got to be a lot of people out there that just didn’t bring the skis out or the snowboards out for the whole winter and kind of wrote this winter off."
Malone is hopeful the effects don’t linger into future seasons. He said some in the ski industry worry that a multi-year period of abnormal weather in an area of the country could dampen enthusiasm for winter sports among people who live there.
"Do people drop the sport, or are there young people that just have never been skiing because they missed it during that timeframe of growing up for a couple of years?" he said.
That Park City was able to have a successful ski season despite the East Coast’s warm winter is a testament to the product it provides for visitors — both the on-mountain experience and aspects such as lodging and dining, Malone said.
"We offer a pretty exceptional ski vacation, both from a resort standpoint and a community standpoint," he said. "The word is getting out more and more, and the more we work on that to inform people about what we have, I think more of our success is built upon, ‘Once you try it, you really like it.’ We have very few people who come here who do not have a good time. We’re becoming a real competitor to places like Aspen and Vail and Whistler."
The timing of heavy snowfall throughout the early stages of the season also helped. Malone said when it snows is sometimes as important as how much it snows. Visitors who came through the holidays and January saw several big storms and likely went home and spread the word to coworkers and family members.
"When we get snow at the right times, it creates a lot of confidence and people pull the trigger on booking a vacation," he said. "That was the case with us this year."
But just because this ski season is winding down doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to do for Malone’s office, which is tasked with promoting Park City worldwide as a prime ski destination. As well as making preparations to begin touting the town’s summer offerings, the Chamber/Bureau is already gathering footage and photography to distribute in next winter’s advertising.
Additionally, the Chamber/Bureau is set to hit countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where winter is approaching, hard in the coming months at various trade shows. Malone expects Australia, which already is one of the Utah skiing industry’s most steady pipelines, to begin sending even more people to Park City due to Vail Resorts’ acquisition last year of Perisher, the country’s largest resort.
The majority of the Chamber/Bureau’s marketing presence in Australia is through entities such as travel agents and ski clubs, though digital advertising efforts there are expanding.
"They’re getting ready to start their ski season," Malone said, "and it’s a great time to sell our product."
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Another ski season is in the books, and much to the relief of the restaurant industry, the outlook, like the weather, is looking sunny.