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Survey: skier days strong last season

This last winter season was the second best in history for the sport of skiing but don’t expect much celebrating.

A National Ski Area Association (NSAA) survey released last month reveals that 59.7 million people skied down a run somewhere in America during the 2009-2010 season. That’s only 800,000 less than the best season on record two years ago.

But that’s nationally, local industry experts are quick to point out.

The Rocky Mountain region, of which Park City is part, reported a strong season, but skier days were tied with the 2005-2006 season for third best.

That’s true locally, said Deer Valley Resort President and General Manager Bob Wheaton.

"The 2007-2008 season was our best by quite a ways," he explained. "We had six record years in a row before that."

Todd Burnette, vice president of marketing for The Canyons Resort estimates the Park City resorts together were up about five percent over last year.

For The Canyons, it was the second-best season, he said.

Krista Parry, director of marketing and communications for Park City Mountain Resort, wouldn’t comment on how the year ranked for her company, but she said there was definitely an improvement in consumer confidence that was evident on the slopes.

"We had a strong year and rebounded a little bit," she said.

Utah as a whole saw an estimated two percent more skier days than the previous season, said Ski Utah communications director Jessica Kunzer. Even though final numbers won’t be available until July, she guessed the industry will report mediocre revenues.

"People were still a lot more careful about how they were spending their money," she said. "This was the year of the deal."

That’s been true for Park City lodging and restaurant businesses. Many report this last season was flat over the previous year or only profitable because of much leaner operations.

The NSAA report said it’s harder for the larger resorts in the Rocky Mountain region to profit from ticket sales because of high overhead. It has the lowest ticket-price-to-yield ratio in the country.

Skiers who purchased single day tickets (which averaged about $82.50 for the region) were a slightly lower percentage of the total number of skiers this last season, the report said.

Parry said there was a noticeable shift in how people purchased tickets. With more people booking trips online, they look for value and aren’t necessarily queuing up at ticket booths.

With the increased popularity of season passes during the recession, it may be getting harder to make more money from increased skier days.

Burnette said The Canyons is so expansive season-pass holders don’t compete for space with destination skiers. Last fall his resort reported great season-pass sales and that’s a good thing, he said.

"It’s not an either-or thing," he added. "We saw an increase in all types of visitors."

Being private corporations, none of Park City’s resorts are obligated to report season profits. But lodging and restaurant businesses frequently volunteered this spring that the season was an improvement over last, but wasn’t an "economic recovery."

Wheaton said that’s likely because visitors were being frugal again amidst the recession.

Burnette surmised it has to do with the increase in lodging inventory.

Lower lodging rates equal less revenue; it’s that simple, Kunzer said.

The good news is the resiliency of the sport.

The combination of continued economic troubles and disappointing snowfall could have spelled disaster for the industry. Instead, skiers returned to the slopes once they were more certain of where they stood financially.

"We’re fortunate to be in a business that’s more than a vacation choice," Burnette said. "It’s part of how they describe themselves. No one says, ‘I’m a theme-park person."

They might have spent less on lodging and food, but they still came," he explained.

Parry said her resort did its best to reach out to new participants by offering $25 lift tickets and lessons for beginners. She said nearly 3,000 people took advantage of the offer.

The trend is very encouraging, Wheaton said. Unfortunately, he added, more skier days don’t always translate into more tax dollars for the community because of these reasons.

Unlike the lodging sector, resorts in the Rocky Mountain region appear to have kept prices stable. The lift pass price average was a four-year high for the area, the report said.


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