Well-timed snow boosts skier visits at Utah resorts

By Mike Gorrell
The Salt Lake Tribune

Utah’s just-completed ski season was not superlative by any measure, but after the miserable winter of 2011-12, the state’s $1 billion-a-year ski industry warmly welcomed a 5.4 percent increase in visitation.

“I feel pretty good about our numbers,” Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty said Tuesday in releasing the season’s skier-day number — 4,031,621 — good enough for sixth on the all-time list.

For one thing, he noted, Utah’s 5.4 percent increase far surpassed the 1.9 percent bump that resorts in other Intermountain states posted last winter. But Rafferty said he also felt Utah’s resorts came out of the winter with a little extra momentum because the snow that fell came at good times.

“The skiing seemed a lot better than last year,” said the head marketer for the state’s 14 active resorts. “When I looked back at the end of the year, the snowfall numbers weren’t all that good. [Alta’s 449 inches were 87 percent of normal, 514.] But the timing of the snowfall was helpful. It came early, which in our business is everything. And the cold temperatures, while they may have kept a few people off the slopes, helped our snowfall to stay put.”

Together, they laid the base for an upbeat year.

“Unlike last winter (2011-12), where we started off pretty well but then gradually declined in snow levels, skier visits and momentum,” he said, “this year we started OK but got better and better as the season progressed. Hopefully, it rolls into next year. I hope to be knocking on the door of a record next season.”It will take a good snow year to accomplish that. Visitation closely mirrors snowfall patterns, with Utahns showing repeatedly that they will ski if conditions are good by local standards, but will stay home if they don’t meet lofty expectations.

Utah’s top ski years
(Season » skier days)
2007/08 » 4,249,190
2010/11 » 4,223,064
2006/07 » 4,082,094
2005/06 » 4,062,188
2009/10 » 4,048,153
2012/13 » 4,031,621
2008/09 » 3,972,984
2004/05 » 3,895,578
2011/12 » 3,826,130
2003/04 » 3,429,141