Ski industry is hopeful for season
In years past, the ski industry’s biggest concern at this time of year has usually been when the first snow will fall; but this season the industry has higher mountains to climb. With the economy at a historic low point, the focus has shifted to maintaining strong consumer interest and financial success.
At a recent press conference, Ski Utah president Nathan Rafferty was optimistic about the season. Spurred on by the excitement of an early season snowfall and a few Utah resorts opening early, Rafferty delivered an outlook that doesn’t look nearly as bleak as the nation’s economic status.
Rafferty touched on key factors that he felt would ensure the success of the season. Those points included the support of the state, including specific support from Governor Jon Huntsman, the Utah State Legislature and the Utah Office of Tourism. He highlighted the very visible support of the state tourism office in the form of Utah skiing television commercials. He also mentioned a possible cooperative effort between the tourism office, Ski Utah and convention and visitors’ bureaus across state to do another television ad campaign at the beginning of the year. Other factors that should help the upcoming season include the weather experts’ prognostications that the snow this year should be average or above average.
"Good snow trumps a bad economy," Rafferty said.
He pointed out that last year, although the first substantial snowfall was very late, the ski season had a record year.
In spite of the economy, Rafferty expected that people will still seek skiing and ski vacations, but just make necessary adjustments to maximize their time and value or make other cutbacks in their lodging or dining choices.
The best indicator, though, according to Rafferty, was the rankings that Utah resorts got in the national media. Deer Valley was named the No. 1 ski resort by Ski Magazine and Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) and The Canyons ranked high in many different categories.
Rafferty conceded that lodging bookings heading into the season have been slow but he is hoping for a turnaround. All three Park City resorts reported soft lodging bookings, but the recent snow has generated more interest, especially for later in the season. PCMR communications assistant Paula Altschuler said that the economy is definitely affecting the market, especially lodging.
"We’re hoping it will pick up," she said. "People are definitely scared. The economy it what it is. People are second guessing if it’s the right time for a vacation."
According to Deer Valley Communications director Erin Grady, although bookings for condo lodging have been down, Deer Valley’s higher-end rental homes have been booking at rates comparable to other years.
"These are the last people to be affected," Grady said.
Deer Valley will open for its winter ski season on Dec. 6 with the annual Celebrity Ski Fest. Grady said that although lodging has been slow, the numbers for ski school has remained consistent with past years.
Altschuler said that many people are making adjustments to their vacations, just as Rafferty had suggested. PCMR, which was named in the top five in accessibility among ski resorts in America, should help visitors make alterations. For example if people can only take a short vacation, PCMR is accessible to lodging, restaurants and the mountain within minutes, allowing guests to get the most out of each vacation day.
"The value is not just saving money, but saving time," she said.
The resort is also offering plenty of lodging packages including free nights and multi-day packages. It also has a new high-speed quad lift that should entice visitors and locals alike. PCMR is scheduled to open Nov. 22, weather permitting.
The Canyons resort has also seen soft bookings, but is trying to do its best to counteract it, with 20-percent-off lodging over Thanksgiving and its Economic Bailout Special that consist of the ski free package with a $25 Canyons gift card to use anywhere in the resort for each night stay.
The Canyons public relations director Libby Dowd said that ski school is popular at their resort and a great value. The Canyons will also offer a ski camp led by world champion Brant Moles that teaches skiers how to ski in steep areas. The Canyons is scheduled to open on Thanksgiving Day.
The bad economy should mean stronger local support, with Utahns less likely to leave the area for a ski vacations. Season-pass sales have been above average and Rafferty noted that the recently lowered gas prices should also help people to make repeated trips to the slopes. He also noted that airfares are expected to drop after Thanksgiving, which may encourage more visitors to make the trip.
The three resorts have many options to cater to locals. Deer Valley has a coupon book available until Nov. 30 that offers Parkites many discounts. The Canyons has a similar coupon book and Dowd said that locals should also sign up for the monthly resort newsletter that offers deals and discounts. During the Sundance Film Festival, The Canyons will also offer lodging discounts the first week and a lift ticket/movie ticket package.
"These are the things people look for," Dowd said.
PCMR has a five and 10-punch pass for locals to use all season. The 10-punch pass has other incentives, including discounted dining and rollover days that can be used the following year.
Ski Utah will celebrate the opening of the season wit the Fat Flake Festival on Saturday, Nov.15. The festival will be held at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake and will feature music, giveaways, ice skating and plenty of other free fun. For more information on the event or the ski season in general, visit http://www.skiutah.com.
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