Utah ski resorts keep continue to push ahead despite economic downturn

Published: Thursday, Oct. 13 2011 5:53 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite several years of nationwide economic stagnation, the Beehive State’s ski industry has stood apart as a constant driver of Utah's economy.

Each year, the resorts add something new, spending millions of dollars in the process.

“Our resorts do a super job” said Ski Utah President and CEO Nathan Rafferty. “I would say over the last 2 years there’s has been over a half a billion dollars—that’s billion with a 'B'— in infrastructure improvements.”

All 14 of Utah’s resorts have made some kind of improvement since last season, depending on their budgets.

“It's just like any other business. If you aren't moving forward, you're moving backward, adds Rafferty.

And competition certainly drives it. “You look at our competition in Colorado and California, the northeast, Whistler — all these people are adding infrastructure changes. Whether it's adding snow making equipment, adding another lift, putting in heated seats, better parking, the list goes on and on and on.”

For example, skiers will see this season:

• Heated seats on The Canyons Orange Bubble chairlift.

• Solitude’s Village now has free Wi-Fi

• Brighton has spent $500,000 on additional snow making equipment.

• Deer Valley has added more snow making guns.

• Snowbird has just completed a major remodel of its Cliff Lodge.

• The Canyons, Powder Mountain, Beaver Mountain Wolf Mountain and Sundance have added more skiable acreage.

Connie Marshall at Alta says skiers will be able to avoid the ticket lines and get onto the slopes even quicker this year, with two new mobile phone apps. “One will be for the iPhone and the other for Androids. With that application, you can pull into the parking lot or be at home or whatever and load your day pass onto that.”

Skiers can download their day passes while they’re pulling the skis from the back of the car, she says.

Besides resort improvements, the Utah Office of Tourism is continuing with a major winter season marketing campaign. On Thursday, the board of directors approved a $1.2 million dollar media campaign, which will include a social media component.

Those familiar “human” snowflakes falling from the sky will be seen on television stations in New York and Los Angeles.

Tracie Cayford, deputy director of the Utah Office of Tourism adds that the state is getting additional bonus exposure too. “Ski Magazine has named Deer Valley as the No. 1 resort for the fifth straight year, which is just unprecedented. And Park City Mountain Resort also got kudos for being family friendly. So our resorts are popping upon a global basis.”

Utah’s ski industry is coming off a near record season in terms of snow and skier visits. And with early snows already falling, fingers are crossed for this season.

“If you take a look at our numbers over the last several years, we took a dip but not like your 401(k) did," Rafferty said. "People are passionate about skiing, and they're going to continue to ski.”

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