Resorts ramp up for season opener
Saturday at 8:30 a.m. the Flight of The Canyons, The Canyons Resort’s gondola, will begin to shuttle anxious skiers and riders to slopes. It will be the only Park City Area resort to open during this snow-challenged weekend others will continue to blast their mountains with manufactured flakes to pick up Mother Nature’s slack. The Canyons will run three lifts Saddleback Express, High Meadow and Sweet Pea with access to at least four runs and several terrain park features, according to The Canyons’ spokeswoman Katie Eldridge. Eldridge reports an 18-inch base and 30 inches of snow from storms. The resort has reduced lift ticket prices to reflect the limited terrain available to customers. Park City Mountain Resort, announced that it will delay its Nov. 19 opening to the day before Thanksgiving to bulk its current 14-inch base. “Last year, if you can remember, we postponed our opening for two weeks it’s nothing we can control,” PCMR spokeswoman Krista Parry recalled. “It’s important for us to open when we can provide a quality product.” The resort anticipates only a fraction of its runs will be available opening day, which means that those November ski vacationers who booked snow-guaranteed package deals with Park City Mountain Reservation have been notified they are eligible for a refund. “We do have a few vacations booked next week, and in the past a few people have taken advantage of the offer,” Parry explained. According to Parry, the snow guarantee refund is activated when one or more of the resorts main chairlifts Payday, Silverlode, First Time or Bonanza lifts is not open two days prior to the vacationers’ arrival. The guarantee does not apply to temporary lift closings, however. It only applies to lifts that have not been able to start running because there isn’t enough snow on the ground. Parry said that the resort’s 10 new snow fans have helped the resort produce 47 percent more snow. On Nov. 23, PCMR plans to open Payday, Treasure Hollow, Home Run and the Turtle Trail off of First time Lift, and like The Canyons, PCMR will not be charging full price for lift tickets. Deer Valley Resort, which plays it safe by setting a later opening date, anticipates it will open as scheduled on Dec. 3. It seems the resort learned its lesson in 1981, its very first opening day, according to Mountain Operations Director Chuck English. That year, the resort didn’t open until the day after Christmas, he recalls. “We decided many years ago that it was better to come in the first week in December, because it gives our employees a chance to get oriented and trained,” he said. English does not see opening on a set date as a competitive advantage, but he notes that dependability does help out lodges and hotels, some of which have snow guarantees. Vacationers who book package vacations with Deer Valley likewise have a cancellation policy. If certain key detachable lifts are not open 72 hours out from a reservation, and there will be a refund. A later opening can prove to be an advantage in some cases, but it also means that Deer Valley risks missing a good few weeks of customers, English admits. “I think it’s important that the message gets out that ski areas are open early in Utah,” he said. “And unfortunately, if there’s good snow, we’re still going to be opening in December regardless, so financially, you might say we’re leaving money on the table by not getting open sooner.” English explains that resorts can begin to operate their snowmaking equipment only temperatures dip to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow can continue to be made in the low 30s, depending on humidity. Necessary coverage depends on the pitch of the slope, English says. A more gentle run needs less snow, but Deer Valley likes to open with a 24-inch snowpack before a run opens, he explained. “You just have to be adjustable and flexible as far as what [runs and lifts] you open,” he concluded. This early, the lack of snow is not necessarily a crisis, according Park City Chamber/Bureau Executive Director Bill Malone. Malone reports that bookings for the next weeks are five-percent below last year’s, but he argues that that’s just a small percentage of a small number. Average nightly bookings for this coming week are projected to be somewhere around 25 percent. “There are a few vacationers during Thanksgiving, but typically we don’t sell a whole lot of vacations over Thanksgiving weekend,” he said. “It’s still too early [for the snow] to have much of an impact in terms of booking patterns. It’s when you get into December that snow has more of an impact.”
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.