Utah logged 4.4 million skier visits in 2019-20. But the pandemic likely prevented a second straight record season. | ParkRecord.com

Utah logged 4.4 million skier visits in 2019-20. But the pandemic likely prevented a second straight record season.

Deer Valley Resort on opening day in 2019.
Park Record file photo

A pandemic that forced the closure of the mountain resorts with several weeks left in the scheduled ski season didn’t stop Utah from logging one of it’s busiest-ever winters. 

The state’s ski industry saw nearly 4.4 million skier visits during the 2019-20 winter, the fourth most ever, Ski Utah announced Wednesday. 

But the news wasn’t exactly a call for celebration. Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, said in a prepared statement that the premature end to the season was “devastating for our ski resorts and for our community.” The organization said that, despite experiencing the highest per-capita spending on record over the winter, Utah’s ski industry lost $232.4 million due to the early resort closures, according to expert estimates. 

Before the coronavirus hit, prompting resorts to stop their lifts in mid-March, the outlook was rosy. According to Ski Utah, the state was likely headed to another record season after breaking 5 million skier visits for the first time during the 2018-19 winter. 

Instead, skier visits declined 14.3% from the previous season, though they finished 2.4% above the 10-year average. 

“Utah was poised to log a second record season in a row before resort closures began on March 14, one of the busiest check-in days of the season,” Rafferty said. “I am proud of our industry and the difficult but responsible decisions made by Utah resorts to prioritize the safety of their guests and employees. While it’s sure to look different next winter with new safety measures in place, I am optimistic that skiing and riding will be better than ever during the upcoming 2020–21 ski season.”

Ski Utah did not release data about skier visits at individual resorts, though Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort are two of the biggest draws in the state. It is believed that in the 2018-19 season, for instance, PCMR and Deer Valley together tallied roughly 2 million skier days. 

Deer Valley and PCMR, along with Woodward Park City, closed at the end of the second week of March, shortly after the first case in Utah of community spread of the coronavirus was discovered in Park City. The final day of the ski season at both Deer Valley and PCMR was initially scheduled to be April 12. 

The abrupt end to the season rippled through the tourism-reliant Park City economy, as businesses were counting on strong spring break crowds and another month of steady sales. 

The ski resorts suffered greatly, as well. Both PCMR and Deer Valley furloughed hundreds of employees as part of cost-cutting measures their parent companies indicated were necessary due to the financial fallout of the pandemic. The National Ski Areas Association, meanwhile, recently said the pandemic resulted in losses of at least $2 billion for the U.S. ski industry as a whole. 

Nationally, skier trends mirrored those in Utah. In releasing the nationwide skier visitation count last week, the National Ski Areas Association indicated the industry was tracking toward one of its best seasons on record before resorts across the country, like those in Utah, closed early. Instead, skier visits totaled 51.1 million, a dip of nearly 14% from the 2018-19 season. 

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