SALT LAKE CITY — For the second year in a row, Utah has set a record for the number of people enjoying the "Greatest Snow on Earth."
Ski Utah Wednesday announced the industry saw a total of 4.58 million skier days this past winter, up 2.85 percent from the previous record of 4.46 million set during the 2015-16 winter season. This year’s number represents an 8.35 percent increase compared to the state’s five-year average of 4.23 million skier days.
The National Ski Areas Association defines "skier days" as one person visiting a ski area for all or any part of a day or night for the purpose of skiing or snowboarding. Nationally, skier days were up 3.7 percent from last season, from 52.8 million to 54.7 million.
"Our ski season this year was 197 days days long, spanning eight months from November to June," said Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty. Last Sunday, Snowbird resort finally stopped spinning the lifts for the year — ending a prosperous 2016-17 season, he added.
“On the heels of a record-breaking year last year, this continued growth shows Utah’s winter sports industry is thriving,” he said. “While there is still room to grow, we could not have asked for better results this year."
He added that credit could be evenly distributed between Utah’s 14 resorts, along with support from the Utah Office of Tourism and "cooperation from Mother Nature."
According to an industry survey, visits varied by region, with a strong rebound in visits from the Northeast, Southeast and Pacific Northwest areas of the country. Declines were seen in the Pacific Southwest, Rocky Mountain and Midwest, the survey stated. Despite a decrease in the Rocky Mountain region, Utah was an outlier with its record numbers.
"Mother Nature is a key influencer in our ski season, and we cannot predict what will happen next year," said Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding. "All we can do is offer up a great experience."
Among the rewards of the record season was notably the overall economic impact, which climbed from $1.17 billion in 2014-15 to $1.43 billion, the report stated. The increase was due in part to the larger volume of visits this season along with the uptick in per-skier spending, which rose from $276 in 2014-15 to $296 this season, Rafftery noted.
“Tourism has emerged as one of the key drivers in Utah’s diverse economy, with travelers spending $8.17 billion in 2015, and contributing $1.15 billion in total state and local taxes,” Varela said. ”State sales tax revenue generated by travelers helps fund a variety of Utah priorities, including education, public safety, health and human services, road construction and maintenance.”
Ski Utah reported that snow totals rose significantly following an initially slow start early in the season. The snowfall winner this year was Brighton Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon, which reported 632 inches of snow this season — with more than 200 inches in the month of January alone.
Among the beneficiaries of the historic season was Snowbasin Resort in Huntsville. Communications manager Megan Collins said this year's snowfall was significantly above the national average and resulted in a banner year for the former Olympic ski venue.
"We actually hit last year's snow total at the end of January," she said. "We definitely saw an increase like everywhere else in Utah and we're excited for that growth."