Last hurrah: Majority of ski resorts to close down by mid-April

Published: Thursday, April 6 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Ski patrolman Brent Molsberry skis expert terrain through the tree glades in the Sultan area at Deer Valley on Jan. 15 in Park City. The resort will close April 16.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

It's not for a lack of snow or winterlike conditions that have Utah ski resorts preparing to close. The snowstorm last Saturday was definitely winterlike in nature — cold and snowy. And, with only one exception, Utah resorts are holding a snow base well over the century mark.

But, as always happens, skiers believe it's time to move on and so resorts, with one exception, will be closed by midmonth.

Three resorts — Sundance, Wolf Mountain and Beaver Mountain — have already closed. Scheduled to close on Easter Sunday, April 16, are Brian Head, Brighton, The Canyons, Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, Powder Mountain and Solitude. Alta will close the following day, April 17, which will leave, again as always, Snowbird, which has set a closing date of May 14 for daily operations and May 29 for weekend skiing.

At this point, said Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, "We don't know final numbers, but I'm confident we will come close and could even exceed last year's record. The one measure we have at this point is the number of hits on our Web site, which are up 25 percent over last year."

What this means is Utah could come close to the 4 million skier-day mark. Last year's record was 3.8 million skier days.

That being the case, the 2005-06 season will match closely the 2004-05 season in skier numbers and snowfall.

It will not, however, match up with the weather pattern. Storms last season came mainly from the south, hit infrequently but left a lot of snow with each hit.

This year the storms came mainly from the north, hit more frequently but left less snow.

"This season has been better than last season for us, which I thought impossible," said Dave Field director of marketing at Snowbird.

"We opened earlier last season — Nov. 5. We opened later this year, for Thanksgiving, but when we opened the storms started to come and have kept coming and here it is April and it's still snowing.

"One thing that helped this season is we didn't have any of those 100-inch storms in 100 hours, which can really tie up the canyon and make life difficult here. We've had a lot of 6-, 8-, 12-inch storms that make for great skiing and snowboarding but don't tie up the canyon. A common report we received this year from guests is they couldn't believe how much powder we've received."

Add up all the little storms and the snow total for this season comes very close to last season. By this date last April, Alta was reporting more than 600 inches of total snowfall. This year the resort is reporting 575 inches. Its season average is 500 inches.

For the month of March, Alta received 151 inches, The Canyons 113 inches, Park City Mountain Resort 110, Snowbird 143 and Solitude 165.

Elsewhere around the country, some resorts have had snow and some haven't, which was the same case last year. While Utah was enjoying deep snow last season, slopes in the Northwest were nearly bare all season, Colorado was having an average season, Whistler-Blackcomb in Canada never fully opened and eastern areas were struggling.

This season, snowmaking is being given credit for saving the season for eastern resorts. Many eastern resorts have already closed.

Colorado and California areas enjoyed deep snow this year. Colorado, in fact, like Utah, is looking at the possibility of a record season, which would mean it could record more than 12 million skier days.

In contrast, Snowbowl in Arizona was three months late opening and then was only open for less than two weeks.

In a report last week, the American Skiing Company, which owns The Canyons and Steamboat Springs, reported a 12 percent rise in ski traffic at its western resorts, but a 3 percent drop in business at its eastern resorts.