BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — The ski and snowboard season has begun at Brighton and Solitude.
Solitude opened just before 9 a.m. Thursday and Brighton followed, with hundreds of skiers and snowboarders on the slopes already. Three lifts are open at each resort.
But the snow that skiers are racing down on is about 80 percent man-made.
"We've got a 20-inch base that's mostly man-made," said Nick Como, Solitude spokesman. "But we're in Utah and Mother Nature is going to kick in here, so this snow making is just to allow us to get open and allow the season pass holders to get up here and get going."
The snowmaking system at Brighton, though, got a big upgrade this year, and that man-made snow is closer to the real thing than ever.
"It's as good as it gets right now, it's awesome right now," said Jared Winkler, Brighton Ski Resort spokesman. "The machine runs are great, but at the end of the day they may get a little harder, but they've been worked for a few days and it's good skiing."
Last year, Utah's record-setting snowfall came within a percentage point of breaking the all-time record. The state's resorts also came very close to setting a record for the number of ski days in the season. One resort, Snowbird, stayed open into July.
This year, enthusiasts are optimistic about snowfall, too. Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, expects records to be broken.
"If we get off to the same early start this year as we did last year, if we had half the snow we had last year, we'd be in really good shape," he said on Tuesday.
This ski season marks the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Games that were held in Utah in 2002. Since then, the state's ski industry has grown by 42 percent.
Utah has 14 ski resorts and averages 500 inches of snow each year. SKI Magazine recognizes it as one of the best places in North America to hit the slopes.
"SKI Magazine rankings came out and there are 20 categories from grooming to service, snow and access. Utah resorts were No. 1 in 10 of the 20 categories," Rafferty said. "The next ski region had four No. 1s. Utah knocked it out of the park."
The magazine ranked Deer Valley No. 1 for the fifth year in a row.
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