Nearly half-century ago, as Utah was starting to make inroads into the ski world, key talking points were convenience, powder snow and seven resorts with 21 lifts and a few scattered rope tows and T-bars.
And then there were the little hideaway resorts to visit with names like Blue Mountain, Four Seasons, Grizzly Ridge and Little Mountain … all footnotes, now.
Today, there are 14 resorts, three listed among the 10 best in North America by Ski Magazine, with 135 lifts, more than 1,580 runs and still offering the most convenient access and the greatest powder snow in the world.
And the improvements keep coming.
Deer Valley Resort, for example, has invested another $8 million into resort improvements, Sundance Resort put in a new lift, Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort replaced an old lift and Park City Mountain Resort will introduce its new terrain park this winter.
All 14 Utah resorts, in fact, will introduce something new.
Sundance is the only resort to build a completely new lift from base to peak. The new fixed-grip quad lift will improve mountain access and eliminate the need for a bus ride to other lifts from its upper parking area.
This will be the first new lift addition to the Provo Canyon resort in 17 years. The lift will allow access to a variety of slope levels and a terrain park. Ride time will be six minutes and will deliver 1,400 riders to the summit per hour. There will also be a midway stop for quicker access to the terrain park.
"Some guests, especially locals, would park in the upper lot and have to shuttle down to the base. With the new lift those parking in the upper lot will be able to be on the mountain within minutes. It will be a great advantage," said Lucy Ridolphi with Sundance.
Snowmaking has been expanded to benefit the terrain park and adjacent runs.
Snowbird has upgraded its Little Cloud lift from a fixed-grip double to a high-speed quad, which will cut the lift ride from seven minutes to a little over three and a half minutes. This will be especially beneficial to skiers and boarders in the spring when the lift delivers the best access to great spring skiing.
Solitude Mountain Resort also replaced an old lift with a new high-speed detachable, which follows the introduction of two new lifts for the 2011-12 season. The new lift replaces the original Powderhorn double that dates back to the mid-70s. The old double took 12 minutes to offload skiers and boarders. The new lift will do the same in seven minutes.
One benefit of the lift is skiers and snowboarders will be able to stay on upper runs without having to return to the base over beginner runs.
Deer Valley spent nearly $8 million over the summer on improvements including replacing an old lift on Little Baldy Mountain with a new high-speed detachable quad that will be renamed the Mountaineer Express. The replacement will increase uphill capacity by 1,200 skiers per hours and reduce ride time from 12 to about 3 minutes.
"Also, we complete snowmaking update annually," said Emily Summers of Deer Valley. "The issue here was how to get water to the top of Empire Canyon. We installed a booster station this summer that will now make it possible to make snow and open that area much earlier in the season."
Its snowmaking now services more than 70 of its 100 runs.
Deer Valley was rated North America's No. 1 resort five years in a row by Ski Magazine, going back to the 2007-2008 season. This year it was rated No. 2 behind Canada's Whistler Blackcomb. Also in the top ten were Park City Mountain Resort (No. 4) and Canyons (No. 10).
Alta Ski Area, Utah's first resort, will celebrate 75 years of service to skiers this season. As part of the celebration it built a new office building that replaces one of the original buildings.
To keep its terrain parks among the best in the country, Brighton Ski Resort added 20 new features to compliment the selection of old features.
Park City Mountain Resort, also known for its terrain parks, created a new one over the summer — Neff Land — that will offer some very "creative style" features. It will also introduce a freestyle camp incorporating the terrain parks with on-mountain instruction.
The Canyons Resort will have what it calls "the most comprehensive and unique winter sports fantasy camp series ever" that will involve top skiers and boarders, including Olympians.
Snowbasin also expanded its terrain park over the summer.
Skiers and snowboarders will, in fact, notice some of the improvements. Work on improving runs and snowmaking, however, may go unnoticed, but will certainly be appreciated.
Ray Grass is a freelancer, and former Deseret News outdoor editor and ski writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org