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Jeffrey D. Allred, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty speaks during a Ski Utah ski and snowboard press conference on Tuesday.

SALT LAKE CITY — Even with economic uncertainty throughout the world, there is reason for Utah's 14 ski resorts to be optimistic about the upcoming ski season.

First of all, hotel bookings for the next six months nationwide are up 8.4 percent compared with the same period (October-March) last year. Bookings for January up 18 percent and February are 10.3 percent, according to MTrip.

"These are really good numbers," said Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah. "Leisure travel is faring better than business travel, and we have a lot of consumers dedicated to our sport."

The Utah ski season officially kicks off on Thursday with Brighton and Solitude resorts opening with 36 inches of snow, said Rafferty at a press conference Tuesday morning.

It also doesn't hurt that Utah is coming off what Rafferty called "a banner year."

Last year Utah received 90 inches of snow in November and 130 inches in December. The early snow led to a lot of out-of-state visitors and was the beginning of a long, prosperous season for local resorts.

How prosperous?

"It was the second best on record," said Rafferty.

Take for instance, Snowbird's season. The resort closed on July 4 after a 202-day season with 65 feet of snow.

In addition to impressive snow totals, Utah resorts earned a number of consumer satisfaction awards.

"What's impressive is the awards (Utah resorts) received from skiers themselves," said Rafferty. "Utah cleaned up."

Four of Utah's 14 resorts were listed among the top 20 resorts, including Deer Valley, which earned the best overall resort award for the fifth consecutive season. Park City was ranked No. 6 and voted the best family resort.

Six of Utah's resorts were listed as the top 10 in great snow, and four Utah resorts were in the top 10 for value.

"This is a huge deal," said Rafferty of the recognitions.

And finally, Rafferty pointed to the 10th Anniversary of 2002 Winter Olympics.

"It really put us on the map," said Rafferty. "Since the 2002 Olympics, Utah has had a 42 percent increase in skier-day visits. Direct expenditures from skiers and snowboarders has increased 67 percent from $704 million in 2002-03 to $1.2 billion in 2010-11. That's a big, big boost. We are certainly reaping the rewards as far as visitors."

In fact, if it weren't for the tax revenue provided by the tourism surrounding the ski industry, each Utah household would pay $973.75 in additional taxes each year.

"It's a great reason to welcome these visitors, regardless of the industry," said Rafferty. "Tourism builds an awareness for our state."

Rafferty also talked about some of the deals available to local skiers like the fifth- and sixth-grade ski and snowboard programs, as well as Park City's StartNow program and Snowbasin's Learn to Earn program. Also, Alta offers free skiing after 3 p.m. on its beginners lift.

Information about these programs, as well as other deals and special offers, are available at www.skiutah.com.

email: adonaldson@desnews.com