Odds are it's going to be a skiers' winter. That is, good, early snow, and enough of it to cover rocks and brush. Not so much, though, that it stops skiing.
Snow two weeks ago was one good sign. Thick, furry coats on the farm animals is another. More scientific is the long range weather forecast that says there will be normal precipitation and below normal temperatures for the next 90 days.Better yet, odds are heavily against another dry winter.
According to William Alder, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service office in Salt Lake City, there have been stretches of three consecutive dry winters, occasions when there have been four, but rarely have there been five.
This would be No. 5 on the dry cycle.
A good sign, too, is that two resorts are open, one teased skiers over a weekend and it's likely more will open by Thanksgiving.
Despite the lean winters, Utah skiing hasn't suffered greatly. Utah resorts have drawn good crowds and in some cases season records. The Utah Travel Council reported that skiers spent $262 million in Utah last year.
And what can skiers expect to see at Utah resorts this winter.
DEER VALLEY - Scheduled opening: Dec. 1 . . . Lift ticket: $39*.
Look for a totally new mountain, here. True. The resort put $6 million into improvements over the summer and that included putting three new chair lifts on the third of its three mountains. It also replaced a fourth lift with one of the new high-speed quads.
It also added a new restaurant - McHenry's - and expanded snowmaking.
PARK CITY - OPEN . . . Lift ticket: $37*.
It was so simple, people are scratching their heads and wondering why no one thought of it sooner: Colder water makes more snow. Simple.
So, Park City built a water tower over the summer that will cool water before it is piped to the snow-making guns. What it will do, says Mark Menlove, communications director, is allow the resort to make 30 percent more snow using the same amount of energy, or make the same snow using 30 percent less energy.
Snowmaking allowed Park City to become the first ski area in Utah to open. Available to skiers right now are three lifts - PayDay, Three Kings and First Time - and three and a half ski runs. Lift rates for now are $16 for adults, $8 for children.
BRIGHTON - OPEN . . . Lift ticket: $15**.
Snowmaking and grooming allowed Brighton to once again be one of the first to open. Last year Brighton had the spotlight for about three weeks. This year some of the buildings around the base have been eliminated. Grooming, too, extended up to the Snake Creek lift which will allow that lift to accommodate skiers earlier this year.
SOLITUDE - Scheduled opening: Friday . . . Lift ticket: $24*.
To the casual onlooker it will look like a building. In reality it's the Moombeam Learning Center, which in ski teaching is new, innovative and creative.
The Center, says ski school director Dean Roberts, is a place for people to come and learn to ski. Emphasis will be on kids and beginners. Included in the building will be a Ski Academy for Kids, complete with an adult-free area and children-size restrooms. Also in the building will be a rental shop, ski school, lockers and video room for ski instruction . . . all designed to make skiers feel comfortable and relaxed.
Ground, too, has been broken on a lodge that will have 58 rooms. The upper area of the Round House, for sit-down dining, was also finished.
PARKWEST - Scheduled Opening: Dec. 7 . . . Lift ticket: $24*.
Extensive time was put into manicuring the slopes this past summer, all with the goal of offering better skiing with minimal snow and great skiing with abundant snow. To help in the snow area, ParkWest also added to its snowmaking capabilities with the latest in snowmaking guns. And, to help in the grooming department, four new snowcats were added to its fleet. A new deck was also added to the Summit House.
SNOWBASIN - Scheduled Opening: Nov. 21 . . . Lift ticket: 21*.
Here, too, summer work centered around getting the slopes in better shape to accept snow. Also, avalanche studies were completed for the likelihood of expanding the area north someday.
Time was also spent in revamping plans for a revised land swap. The resort wanted 1,300, but originally got just over 200. That figure was later changed to over 700. Final word on the exchange should come sometime this winter.
BRIAN HEAD - Scheduled Opening: Nov. 21 . . . Lift ticket: $26*.
The big news here is that Brian Head was pulled from bankruptcy and put back on the open market. What it means, says trustee Rene Meyer, is that the area can better operate as a ski resort. Over the summer rocks and stumps were removed and ski runs widened to "make skiing as enjoyable as possible on low snow conditions," he says. "A big burden was lifted with the bankruptcy. There's a lot more we can do now."
ALTA - Scheduled opening: Soon . . . Lift ticket: $21*.
Plans are to have some runs open by Thanksgiving and, with a little more snow, the whole resort if possible. One thing that has helped, notes Onno Wieringa, general manger, was an expanded summer grooming program. "We've got several runs now that don't need as much snow. That's one area we're concentrating on. We'd like to get one well groomed run off every lift. It's our answer to snowmaking," he says.
SNOWBIRD - Scheduled opening: Nov. 17 . . . Lift ticket: $28***.
The staff was busy over the summer. Considerable work, for example, was put into the trail system. One new trail - Tiger Tail - will run from the top of Gad II to the base of Gad I. Drilling and blasting will make access easier for intermediate skiers to other runs. Also, the problem of skier congestion at lifts around closing time in the lower area was solved.
Also, a new balcony was added to the Mid Gad Restaurant, along with outside food service. The haul cable, which weighed 33 tons, on the Tram was also replaced.
SUNDANCE - Scheduled opening: Dec. 1 . . . Lift ticket: $15**.
Summer work here also centered around making skiing better under limited snow conditions. Experience the past three years necessitated it. Crews cleared and smoothed out, along with other runs, Bishop's Bowl, which is regarded as one of the better intermediate and expert bowls around.
Most shocking, of course, is the fact that Sundance LOWERED its lift rates for weekday skiers. Monday through Friday ski for $15 and on weekends ski for $22. Last year it was $22 all the time.
POWDER MOUNTAIN - Scheduled opening: Nov. 21 . . . Lift ticket: $18*.
In 19 years, this area has only missed a Thanksgiving opener once. It's not planning to make this year No. 2. It will again offer "Cat Skiing" to skiers this year. Cost is $120 a day per skier and includes transportation to and from some of the great untouched powder fields in the area. It also has one of only two half-pipes for snowboarders.
NORDIC VALLEY - Scheduled opening: Nov. 24 . . . Lift ticket: $12*.
Primarily, summer work was concentrated on grooming runs and conditioning lifts. Nordic Valley will be one of the few areas offering night skiing.
BEAVER MOUNTAIN - Scheduled opening: Dec. 1 . . . Lift ticket: $16*.
Here, too, most of the summer work was in upgrading lifts and smoothing out the slopes.
ELK MEADOWS - Scheduled opening: Dec. 15 . . . Lift ticket: Dec. 15*.
And, as most resorts tend to do in the summer, work was centered around improving what is there - lifts, runs, facilities.
* Adult all-day
** Adult all-day on weekdays
*** Adult all-day chairlift only