This winter is shaping up to be a ‘solid season’
Reservations on the books are outperforming some months compared to last year
Chionophiles have eagerly awaited the return of winter since the Quinneth Peak snow pile melted 136 days ago, marking the end of a historic run.
It won’t be long before the influx of visitors makes its way into the Park City area with the 2023-24 ski season kicking off on Friday. Resort officials and tourism industry experts this week were brimming with anticipation as they strive to capitalize on the excitement of last winter.
Jennifer Wesselhoff, the president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said it’s shaping up to be a “solid season” after the good powder year, which may have given an early bump to the upcoming winter.
Yet there’s still uncertainty about whether the snow, and the tourism economy, will be anywhere near as plentiful as last year’s record-bursting snowfall.
“I’ll admit that my crystal snow globe is really very blurry,” Wesselhoff said on Thursday during the tourism fall forum hosted by the Chamber/Bureau.
But reservations on the books at lodging properties are up 4% compared to this time last year, with February, March and April looking especially strong. Many bookings over the next 60 days are also outperforming reservations from last season. The weeks before and after Thanksgiving are strong as well as the 10 days before Christmas.
However, Christmas Day and Boxing Day bookings are lagging behind. She speculated this is because of the holiday falling on a Monday as well as changes to school calendars. This is expected to shift trip patterns by pushing the winter break into early January.
Easter Sunday is also earlier this year. Wesselhoff said bookings may be compressed in March with the potential for a deficit in April, depending on snowfall.
The Park City area is outperforming competitors in Aspen and Breckenridge, Colorado, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for reservations on the books in January, February and March. However, it’s behind in other months like November and December.
Daily rates in Park City are stable despite the highs from last winter and the lows associated with a serious softening during the summer — down 10% on average. November has the largest increase at 10%, but most average daily rates have gone up by around 3%.
Wesselhoff noted all tourism-related tax collections are up or level as of October. Sales tax collections are up 4%, restaurant tax collections are up 8%, the Recreation, Arts and Parks tax is up 5% and transient room tax collections are flat.
“Despite the softening of the lodging performance this summer, our overall visitor spending is at record levels,” she said.
There was also historic snowfall last winter with Park City Mountain and Deer Valley Resort reporting over 600 inches and 2.8 million skier days in Park City with 44 powder days (more than 12 inches of snow in 24 hours) in Utah.
Economic data for this winter shows a mixed bag.
Consumer confidence is declining. There’s political unrest and threats of government shutdowns amid an upcoming presidential election. But there are positive signs with inflation rates and the consumer price index evening out and positive job creation.
According to Wesselhoff, 89% of Americans are planning a trip in the next six months with 16% saying they plan to travel within the states. Additionally, almost 55% of people said inflation is impacting their decision to travel.
Staff is trying to attract guests from international markets such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Brazil because they tend to stay longer and spend more money. Their national presence is focused on adventure seekers and luxury travelers from places such as New York, Florida and Texas.
Wesselhoff highlighted the importance of winter in a place where 14,000 jobs rely on the ski season. She touted the Chamber/Bureau’s strong budget and its new marketing campaign, “Winter’s Favorite Town.”
Industry leaders Todd Bennett, the president and COO of Deer Valley; Deirdra Walsh, the vice president and COO of Park City Mountain; Gareth Trayner, the general manager of Woodward Park City; Nathan Rafferty, the president and CEO of Ski Utah; and Calum Clark, the COO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, also shared their insights about the upcoming season during the event.
The group discussed operations and staffing levels, how they’re addressing housing and climate change, what they’re most excited about and the future of the ski industry.
“I’m most excited, I think, to go skiing, to be honest with you,” Bennett said. Walsh joked, “If Todd wants to go skiing, he can do it tomorrow.”
Park City Mountain opened on Friday. Deer Valley is set to open Dec. 2.
Jennifer Wesselhoff, the president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said it’s shaping up to be a “solid season” after a good powder year, which may have given an early bump to the upcoming winter.
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