The 2004-05 ski season was one of those most ski-area operators only have the chance to dream about — early snow, and lots of it, heavy storms and then long periods of good weather, and record crowds.

It was, without question, the best season in the 69-year history of the sport in Utah.

This past summer, Utah's 13 resorts choose not to stand by and watch grass grow on the slopes as they waited for the 2005-06 season.

Instead, they have invested millions of dollars to make things even nicer for the upcoming season.

This includes:

Alta

What was once one of the historic markers on the slopes at Alta is no more. The old Watson Shelter, warming and eating stop for skiers over the years, was removed and a new Watson Shelter is under construction — in a new location.

The new Watson Shelter is being built near the Angle Station of the new Collins high-speed lift, which was dedicated in the winter of 2004-05. Like the original shelter, the new building is being constructed of granite and wood.

The new shelter will be nearly 5,000 square feet, will have three levels and lots of deck space for outdoor eating when weather permits. Within the shelter there will be a ski shop, restroom facilities and modern cafeteria. Along with quick, eat-and-go-skiing meals, there will also be a private dining area.

Beaver Mountain

Along with planning for the upcoming season, crews at Beaver Mountain have also been planning ahead — to 2006-07.

The emphasis this summer was in widening and manicuring existing runs off Marge's triple chair and creating several new runs for skiers.

Crews also began pouring footings for new towers as part of a program to replace Harry's Dream lift the following season.

Other improvements include a new face lift of the base lodge's restrooms and the purchase of a new Snowcat to help grooming this winter.

Brian Head

Brian Head has long been recognized for its focus on terrain parks for both skiers and snowboarders. This summer the resort placed the parks under new management, and with the change came a flood of new ideas.

For the upcoming season the parks will have beginner and intermediate boxes, rails and jumps off the Navajo lift, along with new attractions for everyone from beginners to experts off the Giant Steps lift.

To complement the changes, the resort has also purchased two new Snowcats, each one faster and more powerful, and each loaded with all the new technology in order to groom more acres in a shorter time.

The new 'cats can also cut steeper angles, a real benefit to sculpturing the parks.

Brighton

It seems that with all the snow that fell last year, Snowcats topped the list of new purchases, and Brighton is no exception. The resort purchased two new machines over the summer.

Even with all the snow, the resort is taking no chances and added two new "Pole Cat" tower guns to their snowmaking package.

The resort also joined the new age of avalanche control with a new system that needs no explosives or fuses. The system is controlled by remote from the ski patrol office, which means the avalanche-control team will no longer need to enter the avalanche danger zones while carrying explosives.

A device remains on-slope and releases controlled explosions above the unstable snow surface, which creates a sympathy effect and simultaneous shock wave, thus increasing the efficiency of snow control over traditional methods of hand-thrown charges. Using this method, avalanches can be triggered in all weather conditions and from a safe distance from the blast site.

The Canyons

The big news from The Canyons is the release of a three-year, $400 million expansion plan that is part of the resort's long-range master plan. The improvements, both on and off the slopes, include new lifts, additional terrain, new lodging facilities, a golf course and the development of The Canyons Resort Village.

The expansion plan is a cooperative effort between landowners and the American Skiing Co.

In response to growing interests in terrain parks, the resort is introducing a new one for beginners and first-time skiers and snowboarders.

The new terrain park will be located off the Saddleback Express lift. The park will cater to first-time users and will complement the resort's ski and snowboard schools' terrain park clinics.

The advanced terrain park will still be located off Sun Peak Express.

Deer Valley

As part of an $8 million improvement program, the resort has replaced and extended the Sultan chairlift on Bald Mountain with a high-speed detachable quad.

The new lift was extended 1,000 additional linear feet, which increases its vertical drop to 1,760 feet. Extending the lift opens 75 additional skiable acres that include a new intermediate run and approximately 65 acres of glade skiing.

Responding to the needs of the customer, Deer Valley has increased the size of its Ski Corral at the Silver Lake Lodge. The dropoff point will now be able to hold 2,000 pair of skis for skiers while they rest and relax or grab a bite to eat.

Silver Lake Lodge deck will be increased by 1,200 square feet and the heated Village Plaza will be expanded by 2,200 square feet.

Deer Valley's rental shop and signatures store will take over the existing Royal Plaza Conference Center adjacent to the Silver Lake Lodge to make renting and buying more convenient.

Along with replacing four Snowcats, 12 snowmobiles and 10 snowguns, the resort expanded its snowmaking capabilities around the new Sultan chairlift.

Park City Mountain Resort

Recognized for having one of the best halfpipes in the country, the resort went further this summer by purchasing a new pipe cutter for its Eagle Superpipe.

This will mean the resort will be able to put 22-foot walls on the halfpipe, making it the largest superpipe in North America. The resort will also add new rails and fun boxes to its four terrain parks.

Last season, Park City introduced grooming on several of its advanced black-diamond runs, which helped to open up more of the mountain and helped to push the resort to No. 5 in the latest skier poll.

And, as with other resorts, Park City added two new Snowcats, including a winch cat, to its fleet. The resort also added 10 snowmaking guns to its on-hill equipment.

Powder Mountain

The resort has expanded its Hidden Lake terrain park and this season will features more challenges for the advanced riders. Located on Hidden Lake trail, the park will contain handrails, tabletops, a spine hit and a quarterpipe. And, to make riding as nice as possible, it will be groomed nightly.

Snowbird

Skiers and boarders will find a new day lodge, the Creekside Lodge, in Gad Valley. The two-story lodge will house the Creekside Cafe, a ticket office, a mountain school office, retail space and locker rooms. It will also feature a 3,000-square-foot deck for skiers and riders.

As visitors access the resort via Entry 1, the first thing they will see is the lodge, then the new two-level, paved parking lot that includes stairs and a green strip in the middle to allow easier access to cars and the slopes.

It has always been Dick Bass's dream, since he became the first person to summit the tallest mountain on each of the world's seven continent, to create a renaissance center for enhancement of body, mind and spirit.

It will come true this year when the resort launches Snowbird Expeditions, a program offering participants hands-on mountaineering instruction and guidance from the world's foremost experts.

David Breashears, a world-famous climber, author and cinematographer, designed these expeditions to combine the intensity of athletic activity, technical climbing instruction, mountaineering skills, world-renowned healthful cuisine and restorative spa treatments. For information visit www.snowbirdx.com.

This past summer the resort also began to renovate its flagship property, the Cliff Lodge, which will include upgrading furnishings, bedding, tile and bathroom fixtures. In addition, most spa level rooms will provide flat-screen televisions and Tempurpedic beds.

Snowbasin

In addition to skiing and snowboarding, the resort is adding six lanes of lift-assisted tubing. Three lanes will be for the beginning tubers, with the remaining three being for those looking for more adventure.

Solitude

The resort replaced the old Moonbeam II lift with a new fixed-grip quad, allowing skiers to get to beginner and intermediate terrain much easier from the parking lot.

The new lift allows for easier unloading and less congestion, too.

There will be a new Moonbeam day lodge. The new lodge was designed to blend in with the existing European-style Solitude Village. The 12,000-square-foot lodge sits adjacent the Moonbeam Center and will hold a new rental shop, lockers, indoor and outdoor food service, an apre

Visitors will not only be able to work on fitness on the hill, but the resort is also offering a year-round fitness center near Sundance's yurt. Services available will include personal and private exercise, yoga and quiet-time areas.

The resort's mountain-top lodge got some fine tuning to enhance its mountain dining. The Bear Claws Cabin offers 360 degree views of the area.

Wolf Mountain

New owners and a new name, that's the big news at Wolf Mountain, formerly Nordic Valley. The resort is now tied in with nearby Wolf Creek Resort.

One of the first undertakings was to repair and improve facilities to include the lodge, parking area and entry.

The new owners also purchased a new Snowcat, which will greatly increase the resort's ability to smooth and manicure runs.

This year the resort is also offering some of the most reasonable ticket packages in the country.

As noted, last year was a record for the resorts. This was the second year in a row total numbers hit a record.

Figures released show a final count of 3,895,578 skier days last year, which is a 12 percent rise over the 2003-04 count of 3,386,141.

Over the past two seasons, Utah's total skier days have risen a total of 17 percent.

It didn't hurt Utah's cause at all that other parts of the country remained dry while Utah was receiving record snowfall. Several Utah resorts received more than 600 inches of snowfall this season. The seasonal average for resorts like Alta and Snowbird is 500 inches.


Utah ski resorts

(tentative opening dates)

Alta: Undecided

Beaver Mtn: Undecided

Brian Head: Nov. 11

Brighton: early Nov.

The Canyons: Nov. 18

Deer Valley: Dec. 3

Park City Mtn. Resort: Nov. 19

Powder Mtn. mid-Nov.

Snowbasin: Nov. 24

Snowbird: Undecided

Solitude: Nov. 18

Comment on this story

Sundance: Dec. 9

Wolf Mtn.: Undecided


E-mail: grass@desnews.com