There is more snow on the slopes and more skiers are using it. There are also more rooms being rented, more skis being sold, more people in parkas and more absences from school and work on bright, sunny days.
Utah skiing is back to normal.To put it in perspective, it means that by eastern standards this year is fantastic; by western measures it's at least as good as everywhere else; by last year's showing it's much, much better; but truthfully, by Utah standards, it's just a good old average ski season.
After two years of sub-par skiing, locals tend to forget just how good skiing can be in Utah. The past two ski seasons were not good. Resorts opened late both years, had below average snowfall and then closed early. The 1985-86 season was good, but it was the 1984-85 year that resort owners remember. It was the record. More than 2.5 million tickets were sold that year.
This year the snow came early, and fell regularly, and good numbers of out-of-town visitors have come in to take advantage of it.
All 15 of Utah's ski areas are showing better business than last year. One report said that as a state, there have been 25 percent more skiers on the slopes this year over last. Last year, skiers will remember, was one of Utah's worst.
This year is more typical of Utah skiing. Most areas report tickets sales running about average for a good year, like the record year of '84-'85.
Even total snowfall, as good as it has been, is only average.
The 40-year average at Alta, Utah's deepest measuring stick, is 326 inches of total snowfall by this date. According to new general manger Onno Wieringa, total snowfall as of this week is 326 inches.
"This is," he said, summing up his season thus far, "an average year for us. But, you've got to remember that for Utah that's great by other standards."
Mary Jane Spencer, director of communications at Snowbird, said ticket sales are about seven percent ahead of last year, "and about where they were on our very best year ('84-'85)."
Mike Goar, vice president of mountain operations at Solitude, said his area was running "about average for a good year, pretty close to what we should be doing in a good year."
Robbie Beck, director of marketing at Park City, said ticket sales are way up over last year, "but last year was one of our worst. I'd say right now we're running a little ahead of a good average year."
There are some other differences between last season and this year. Skiers who skied the last two weeks in February may have noticed it most. That is, at most areas crowds have been steady, but not annoyingly large. Skiers seem to be more spread out this year.
Goar noted that at Solitude there hasn't been "the big peak days that we used to have. Even on Presidents' Day, lines weren't that long. I think the longest was about 15 minutes. It seems to me that the bigger days are smaller this year, and the smaller days are bigger."
Wieringa offered a similar explanation.
"What's really nice is we're not crowded. The people are spread out. We're not getting the big, crowded days. Also, we're having a nice long season. We opened when we should have and will stay open with good snow until the end of April."
Beck said she believes part of this is because of the changing patterns of skiers. Out-of-town skiers, she noted, are coming in for more, but shorter, vacations.
"Instead of one seven-day ski trip, they're coming in twice a season for three- or four-day trips. And, they're taking advantage of discount fares early in the week."
Another difference this year is the snow. It has been, as one avid skier said, "consistently the best I've ever skied."
Because of continued cold temperatures, the snow has been lighter and stayed that way longer. There hasn't been the hard, icy skiing that skiers have had to contend with the past two years.
Also, as Spencer pointed out, local skiers are learning that when inversions settle in over the valley, it's time to go skiing in the hills where its always sunny and almost always warmer.