"We can do it on the sly here, but we're not admitting anything," joked Matt Burk, a 49-year-old medical respiratory therapist from Salt Lake City.
Anything that keeps Utah skiing low-profile is good, said Burke and his ski buddy, Torg Hickman, a 46-year-old nursing assistant. Both plan to take February off for skiing, burning a year's vacation time.
"This is the best place in the world," crowed Hickman, who has been skiing in Utah for 37 years.
Utah skiers can largely thank a Colorado company for putting downward pressure on ticket and pass rates. Vail Resorts Inc. took over Canyons Resort at Park City and brought a popular multi-resort pass to Utah.
For around $700 — a bargain by industry standards — Vail's EPIC pass gives skiers the run of six Colorado resorts, one in Utah, and three around Lake Tahoe, plus some free skiing at select European resorts.
Vail sold around 350,000 EPIC passes before sales closed Sunday (Nov. 24), up from 300,000 last winter, executives say. With buyers in all 50 states and 80 countries snapping it up, Utah expects to grab more out-of-state skiers because of it.
"The big story is Vail brought the EPIC pass to town. And we're seeing other resorts join forces," Rafferty said. "That's good for Utah skiers."
Brighton and Solitude offered early-season buyers a joint Big Cottonwood Canyon pass for the first time this winter, and they made a connecting trail between resorts easier to navigate.
In addition, Alta and Snowbird teamed up on a pass option with some neighbors over the Wasatch Ridge, Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley. A season-pass holder at any one of the four resorts will now get three days of skiing at each of the others.
You don't need a season pass to find deals. Alta and Snowbird are cutting ticket prices in half for airline passengers who, after registering online, show up with a boarding pass within 24 hours of arrival. Anyone can buy discounted tickets at many ski shops in the Salt Lake valley, generally for $5 less than published rates.
In Utah, lift tickets range from $32 to $108 a day.
For less than $40 a day, several resorts are offering equipment and lessons during January. Park City offers a similar deal all season long with a package of five lessons.
The best deal for Utah skiers is for 5th and 6th graders: They can get three days of skiing at each of Utah's resorts for $30 — that works out to 71 cents a day. It doesn't get cheaper.
"We hear it all the time: 'Skiing's too expensive,'" Rafferty said. "But there are great programs out there."
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