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Ray Grass: 2013-14 ski/snowboard season the 3rd-best in Utah state history

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 5 2014 10:30 a.m. MDT

Logan Cookler backcountry skis the "Highway to Heaven" area of the Utah ski inter-connect route in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. Ski Utah and management of the seven major ski resorts in the Central Wasatch Mountains of Utah announce plans for, ONE WasatchÑa concept which explores the idea of connecting the seven central Wasatch ski areas, 18,000 acres, 100 lifts and one pass Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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Skiing and snowboarding seasons are measured by numbers — inches, days and tickets sold.

That said, Utah’s 2013-14 ski/snowboard season was among the best.

When all the numbers are added, it will go down as the third-best in historical records.

And, said Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, it may push Utah into even better numbers “in the next couple of years."

“I’m optimistic. If we get a decent start this winter, with the economy doing well and more people discovering all Utah has to offer, I think we’re on a good run for the future,’’ he added.

In the numbers game, Alta, Utah’s snow measuring stick, received 432 inches of total snowfall, which is shy of the average of 500 inches and far short of the 2010-11 winter, when it received 723 inches.

This past season lasted until Memorial Day at Snowbird, traditionally Utah’s longest-running resort, which accounted for more than 180 days. In past seasons Snowbird has run its lifts through July 4 three times, the last being in 2011.

Dave Fields, Snowbird vice president of operations, echoed responses from other resorts, noting: “We had a good season on every level, whether it involved season passes sales or skier days or hotel stays.

“(The season) started slowly once again, but things really kicked in after the holidays. We had a lot of locals and out-of-staters this past season and we’re hoping for a good start this winter.’’

And in the ticket department, final skier/snowboarder counts added up to 4,161,585 days, which is the third-best on record among Utah’s 14 resorts. The record winter was 2007-08 when the final count was 4,249,190 days, followed by 2010-11 when numbers hit 4,247,510. Last season was the seventh-best — 4,018,812.

“All the numbers are very, very close,’’ said Rafferty. ”Granted, we had an OK start. If we’d had a better start to the winter season there’s no doubt we’d be looking at a record right now.’’

Colorado, the traditional leader in the ski/snowboard industry, did, in fact, have a record ski/snowboard season. Colorado’s 2013-14 skier/snowboarder counts were up 10 percent over 2012-13 numbers to 12.6 million. The season total represented 22 percent of the national skier/snowboarder market. There are 21 ski resorts in Colorado.

Legalizing recreational marijuana use didn’t hurt the Colorado market. A study commissioned by the state and conducted by the Marijuana Policy Group found that tourists purchased as much as 90 percent of retail marijuana in mountain towns.

Utah and Colorado did gain some skier/snowboarder days because of the bad season for California resorts.

“It helped short-term, but when any region has a tough year you don’t know just how many people may stop skiing or snowboarding and ultimately find other things to do in the winter. Having a bad year like California had can take people out of the market,’’ said Rafferty.

The other news coming out of the Utah ski/snowboard industry involves the ongoing battle between Park City Mountain Resort and Talisker Land Holdings, which owns the Canyons, over leased land.

Last month, 3rd District Judge Ryan Harris upheld Talisker’s claim that PCMR failed to meet the deadline for renewing its lease on 2,800 acres within its ski/snowboard boundaries, which Talisker owns, and gave permission for Talisker to evict PCMR.

Talisker retained Vail Resorts out of Colorado to run the Canyons.

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