Snow showed up for the holidays, but the huge crowds that were supposed to follow it haven't, not as yet anyway, and they quite possibly won't. Two lean ski seasons may have triggered a change in skiers' habits that could mean an end to holiday traffic jams on the ski slopes.
The skiing is, as one skier described earlier this week, "Great."And, as another offered, " . . . no lift lines."
What better combination could there be for skiers? Enough snow to cover everything but upright trees and lift lines just long enough to allow skiers to catch their breath.
"I think what we're seeing," said Mary Jane Spencer, communications director at Snowbird, "are skiers taking shorter ski trips, but making more than one trip during a ski season. Instead of staying two weeks, they spend three for four days, then come back the next month for another ski vacation."
"Another phenomenon we're seeing is skiers spreading out more. I don't think you'll see the big crowds like you used to. Some day you may be unlucky and hit the wrong area. We've got 20 buses here today, but they'll be off to other resorts tomorrow," added Onno Wieringa, general manager at Alta.
"Because of fears of large crowds locals are afraid to go skiing during the holidays, but they needn't be. I don't think there will be any real crowding this year."
Mark Menlove, communications director at Park City, concurred. Earlier this week, for example, he said there was seldom a wait longer than a couple of minutes at any of the area's lifts . . . "Even at the base where we usually have lines it wasn't bad at all."
All of Utah's 14 areas are open and are reporting an increase in traffic over 1987 figures, but most are down slightly from record highs set in 1984 and 1985.
Last year was not a good one for Utah resorts, nor was the winter before. Last year only two resorts were open for Thanksgiving and the rest struggled to be open by Christmas. Without man-made snow, several wouldn't have. Two season ago only three areas caught the Thanksgiving business and four resorts didn't get open until January.
Most areas are reporting about a 10 percent jump in skier traffic over 1987-88 figures. Those with rooms to rent also commented on higher than usual January bookings. Traditionally, January has not been a strong month. One resort, in fact, used to offer special off-season discount rates during the entire month.
After a shaky start Brian Head is enjoying higher ticket counts and also are reporting strong January bookings. Burt Nichols, area manager, said if things continue as they are "we'll end up ahead of last year." Brian Head was one of only three areas showing an increase in skiers last year. This year the area missed the Thanksgiving crowds for the first time in 24 years and was the last area to open (Dec. 19).
Skiing, to a resort, is getting above average ratings, this despite what area managers rate as merely average snowfall, an opinion that many valley residents might argue.
This year at Alta, November storms did drop a record amount of snow, but December is only slightly better than an average year, noted Wieringa. Total snowfall in November at Alta was 142 inches and thus far in December a total of 109 inches has fallen, 96 within the past week. An long-term average for December is 92 inches.
And, while November did produce a record, it's very unlikely December will. The 109 inches of snow that has fallen thus far is way short of the 221 inches that fell in December of 1983.
Utah isn't the only state getting snow this year, which some feel accounts for some of the short lift lines. Snow depths, however, especially at areas east of Utah, seem drought-like in comparison.
Powder Mountain, east of Ogden, is reporting 112 inches of snow, Alta 91, Snowbird 94, Park City 59 and Sundance, reporting the lowest depth, has 50.
Next door in Colorado, Vail is only reporting 34 inches and Steamboat Springs 36.
Back in New York and Vermont, resort depths range from 10 to 43 inches.