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Utah ski resort visits hold steady, but analysts expect a hit this season

(Snow making machines putting powder on the slopes of Snowbird. Credit: Yukai Peng, Deseret News, October 2020.)

SALT LAKE CITY — Ski industry analysts believe this season will be quite rough for resorts all over Utah, even though a lot of people want to hit the mountains.  They say the weather isn’t cooperating and COVID-19 is forcing them to limit how many people they allow on the slopes.  Resort managers say they’re doing everything they can to make the season as good as possible.

Snow levels lower than last year

According to hydrologists, snow levels across the state are generally lower than they were at this time last year and most of the state is in some kind of drought category. 

Despite the conditions, Brighton Ski Resort made enough snow on their high-traffic areas to get them through the holidays.

Brighton Ski Resort Director of Communications Jared Winkler said they took advantage of conditions while they could.

“Luckily, earlier in the month, we had some great cold temperature periods that allowed us to do what we needed to do,” he said.

Winkler says other Utah resorts own the rights to their own water, and can make snow any time they want during the season; Brighton managers are crossing their fingers for more snow, as fast as possible. 

Despite the slow start on the snowpack, Winkler says visitation on the slopes is quite good.  The resort has seen “just the right amount” of people, according to Winkler, never becoming too crowded to be a COVID-19 concern.

Utah ski resorts hold out hope for the season

Officials at Snowbird also limit the number of people on their slopes, but they can’t say specifically how big of a reduction they’ve had to make.

“That number of guests we have at the resort really changes daily, depending on what terrain is open, what lifts will be open and if there is avalanche mitigation happening that day,” said Snowbird Director of Communications Sarah Sherman.

She says they’re hoping for more snow, while opening as much of the mountain as they can.

“We were able to open Mineral Basin, which is some of our guests’ favorite terrain,” she said.

Holding out hope for out-of-state travel

However, the number of visits isn’t the only thing industry analysts are looking at.  Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty says the demand for skiing is quite high among the locals, but the out-of-state tourists bring in much more money in a typical season.

“They typically spend about three times more than a local Utahn,” Rafferty said.

Luckily, visits appear to be holding steady.  However, Rafferty says resorts have had to limit things like skiing lessons, ski and snowboard rentals and fine dining experiences.  He believes the industry will take a financial hit, although they can’t be sure how big that hit will be.

“I think things will improve as the season comes along where more terrain opens, which will allow more people to come up and ski,” he said.

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