After two years of less than desirable ski season openers, Utah's ski industry is back to normal. Over the Thanksgiving Holidays, skiers will be able to ride lifts and ski down mountains at eight areas.
After two years of concentrated snowfall that favored only a few areas, two storms last week spread out enough snow that eight areas opened and two more are hoping to before the weekend ends.Two years ago, Alta and Snowbird were able to open for the Thanksgiving crowd. Other areas had to sit back and watch. Snowbasin, in fact, didn't open its lifts that year until mid-January. Last year, again, only two resorts opened. This time storms moved south and hit Brian Head and Elk Meadows. It was mid-December before other areas were able to open.
Areas open for the holidays this year are Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, Solitude, Powder Mountain, Park City, Nordic Valley and Snowbasin. Beaver Mountain and Brian Head are hoping a storm expected in Thursday will deliver enough snow for them to open.
Among the areas now open, consensus is that this year's opener it more "normal." Or, there is enough snow cover for marked and groomed runs, but not yet enough for skiers to run off through the trees without risk.
Some areas, as expected, have more snow than others.
At Snowbasin, for example, last Friday's storm passed over and then bounced back to give the area an extra covering. Enough, said general manager Rainer Kolb, so that all the lifts, even the Porcupine area, are open.
"Typically," said Kolb, "we have to wait a month or so after we open to get enough snow to open Porcupine. This year we have enough snow. Another reason we were able to open is because of the tremendous amount of grooming we did, part of it in preparation for the FIS downhill we have scheduled here in January."
The first area in Utah to open was Brighton. It opened two of its lifts -Majestic and Mary's - on Nov. 16. Brighton was helped along by a new snowmaking system installed over the summer.
The second area to open was Powder Mountain. It opened to night skiing on the 16th. The area opened all three of its lifts to day skiing Wednesday. Day skiing will be from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., night skiing from 4:30 to 10 p.m. The area reported good skiing on a 37-inch base.
Alta opened a little earlier than planned. It announced plans to open Wednesday, but received so many calls early in the week it decided to turn the switches on Tuesday. Alta, which will celebrate its 50th ski season this year, will open all lifts with the exception of Sugarloaf.
According to general manger Onno Wieringa, the area is off "to a roaring start as far as ski cover. We've got more terrain open (for the first day) than I can ever remem-ber."
Last year was only the fifth time in 50 years that Alta failed to open for the Thanksgiving Holidays.
Snowbird opened most of its runs and lifts on Wednesday, then hit high gear on Thursday when it opened all lifts and all marked runs.
Snowbird, too, is reporting better than average opening conditions. Mountain crews reported having more terrain open, and better skiing conditions, than for any opener they can remember this decade. The area is reporting a 40-inch base midmoun-tain.
Park City opened one lift, the gondola and a couple of runs on Sunday, by Wednesday pushed it up to six runs, and will open more as more snow - man-made and natural - falls. The area will open the pro ski racing season with America's Opening over the holidays (Thursday through Sunday).
Solitude also opened all five of its lifts on Wednesday. The only lift not running will be its new lift running from the lower to the upper areas, which is still under construction.
According to Mike Goar, vice president of mountain operations, the area is opening with "a lot better conditions than we opened with last year, a lot better. There's even some good powder on some of the upper runs."
Nordic Valley, under new ownership, opened its two lifts last Friday and is reporting a 34-inch base on its upper runs. The area will be open for night skiing Monday through Wednesday, day and night skiing Thursday through Saturday and day skiing only on Sunday.
The remainder of Utah's areas will open in December - ParkWest on the 8th, Elk Meadows on the 9th, Deer Valley on the 10th, Sundance on the 15th and Blue Mountain near Monticello when snow allows.
For cross country skiers, one area will be open on a limited basis for the holidays. White Pine Touring Center will be renting equipment, but will not have it track set. The nordic center needs one more storm before it can work on setting a 10 kilometer track. Skiers will be able to go out and ski around the golf course on their own.
The Homestead will opened its snowmobile concession on Thursday at Wasatch Mountain State Park, and plans to open its cross country center on Dec. 3.
Terms still have not been reached on opening the Jeremy Ranch nordic center for this season.