Silver lining found in winter guest numbers | ParkRecord.com

Silver lining found in winter guest numbers

Gina Barker, The Park Record

Numbers were down for Park City’s three resorts – Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort – but even with a drop in lift ticket sales, the resorts remain optimistic. Resort business in Park City went down 5.7 percent from last season, a less severe drop compared to the statewide loss of all 14 resorts, which fell 9.46 percent, according to numbers collected by Ski Utah, the non-profit trade organization that promotes the Utah resorts.

"When you look out there in a competitive environment, our conditions were as good if not better than everyone we compete with in the country," said Bill Malone, the president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. "The amount of resources that were devoted to snow making in our community is a big part of what saved us."

Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort echoed Malone’s sentiment about the season.

Colorado skier numbers fell below Utah’s resort average, hitting a two-decade low and falling to 9.8 percent, according to a Denver Post article. Other reports projected losses in the double digits. In a press release from Colorado Ski Country USA released earlier this week, visits fell 11.4 percent for the 22 Colorado-based resorts the organization represents. In a five-year average report by Ski Country that analyzed skier visits, the resorts were down 11.9 percent.

"It’s amazing how snow drives visitation," said Krista Parry of Park City Mountain Resort. "It was extremely late snowfall. January is a huge booking month, where people are booking their March vacations, but people are looking at the snow. No one had much snowfall at that point.

"We estimate 60 percent less snow than our average snowfall, and we made 43 percent snow more than last year."

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Overall, Park City has pulled better numbers than the state average. This season was the first in three years that the three resorts saw a decline in skier visits, the last loss was in the 2008-09 winter season where the three resorts saw 12.09 percent fewer people on the slopes from the season before, according to Ski Utah numbers. "Our snow-making service was substantially different than most, especially in the early part of the season," said Bob Wheaton, president of the Deer Valley Resort Company. "It didn’t’ take too long for the word to get out that the skiing at Deer Valley was pretty good. Maybe Deer Valley wasn’t their first choice, but once they skied here they kept coming back."

Deer Valley typically makes good use of the snowmaking equipment, Wheaton said. In a normal year, the resort turns 180,000 to 200,000 gallons into water of snow. For the 2011-12 season, the resort used a number closer to 300,000 gallons of water.

"It really took a tremendous amount of effort," Wheaton said.

The Park City Chamber/Bureau spent more money than any other year in advertising using funds from last year’s transient room taxes. With international and national campaigns, including a television campaign in markets such as Los Angeles and New York City, Malone said he can see the impact.

"A fair amount of the transient room tax is coming from some of the new properties that have come on the markets in the past few years," Malone said, referring to properties such as Montage Deer Valley and the Waldorf Astoria. "We’re seeing the benefit from that in terms of tax collections. I think generally we’re anticipating, spending more money this next year on marketing, more on summer and winter advertising than we’ve ever spent."

International numbers were also a driving force in Park City’s skier visitation. International business went up by 39 percent from last year, including strong pockets of visitors from Australia, Mexico, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

"While we were overall down in visitation and skier days, our international business continues to grow at an incredible rate," Malone added. "Our international business has grown every year over last seven or eight years."

Looking to next year, the three resorts are ready to keep snowmaking levels high, a response to the positive feedback from out-of-town guests during the winter season. Mike Goar, the Canyons Resort Managing Director, said he doesn’t expect to see any lag. In fact, he’s anticipating the opposite.

"We’re really optimistic going into next year because of the strong response we had from guests all winter long," Goar said. "In Park City, we get spoiled without a few good days of powder skiing, but so many guests are looking for good runs and open terrain."

Skier Days – Park City Area and State of Utah

Year Skier Days Park City Area* Percent Change Skier Days Utah Percent Change 1989-90 861,242 -2.90% 2,491,230 -3.20% 1999-00 1,158,911 -3.90% 2,976,796 -5.60% 2005-06 1,715,536 6.70% 4,062,188 4.30% 2006-07 1,746,333 1.80% 4,082,094 0.49% 2007-08 1,871,540 7.20% 4,258,900 4.30% 2008-09 1,645,233 -12.09% 3,972,984 -6.50% 2009-10 1,734,025 5.40% 4,048,153 1.90% 2010-11 1,866,317 7.60% 4,200,000 3.80% 2011-12 1,759,658 -5.70% 3,802,536 -9.46%

*Includes Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort, and Canyons.

Source: Calculated by Ski Utah & Park City Chamber Bureau. Percentages are rounded up.