Early snow gets Utah ski areas bunny-hopping for season

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 27 2010 12:16 a.m. MDT

Jamie McMillan skis down the mountain on cross country skis after hiking up the slopes at Alta Ski Area on Tuesday. The lifts haven't opened yet.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — You can't blame Utah's ski industry for being excited right now.

Whenever the first snow hits the valley, it seems like a lot of people are ready to start thinking about ski season.

One drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Brighton, where die-hards — like Sandy resident Sean Farley were busy walking up snow-covered hills, snowboarding down them to hit a jump and then doing it all over again — proves it.

"It's a good time," said Farley. "It's awesome. It's good to take, even like that little run."

The little run he kept sliding down was 100 feet long and right next to where a chairlift operator was busy testing the lifts.

"There's been a few kids taking on some grass and rocks, but day after day, it's getting a little deeper and deeper," said Jared Winkler, Brighton Resort's spokesman. "We're super excited. It's looking good."

Brighton made snow Tuesday night for the first time this season.

Before that, everything was covered with natural snow.

Winkler says the early natural snow is important because it gets the word out to the rest of the country that Utah's resorts are about to open.

"It's very important for us to get snow early, because that helps our bookings," said Winkler. "If we don't get snow early on, people kind of hesitate to book around Thanksgiving and their Christmas trip, and kind of wait until they book later in the season."

Last year, northern Utah's resorts got a lot of snow in October, which made everyone in the ski industry excited.

However, no more significant snow fell for almost two months.

That left a lot of slushy, rocky and muddy runs for a lot of resorts that opened early.

This year, with more early October snow, everyone is cautiously optimistic.

"We don't want to jump the gun too soon," said Jessica Kunzer, the spokeswoman for Ski Utah. "I think you'll see the majority of Utah's resorts opening probably a little closer to Thanksgiving."

Brighton and Solitude are planning on being the among first Utah resorts to open Nov. 12.

This past weekend's snowstorm has already helped with bookings at some of the resorts.

"They're seeing bookings slightly ahead of where they were at this time last year," Kunzer said. "But then again, it should be noted that lead times on bookings have become quite a bit shorter than they were a few years ago, due to online bookings and other reservation systems."

Winkler says early bookings at Brighton are about average, but now that the first big snowfall happened, he thinks it'll take a couple of days before people start making solid winter ski plans.

"We think we'll start hearing some phone calls and things like that," said Winkler.

"There are direct correlations between early season snowfall and bookings, so all the more reason why we're so excited about this snowfall," Kunzer said.

Ski Utah has more reasons to be excited about this year's season. There's a new luxury hotel at Deer Valley. And the Canyons has a heated chairlift. There's even a new ski hill, Eagle Point, located in Beaver County.

e-mail: acabrero@desnews.com

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