Ravell Call, Deseret News
Skiers and snowboarders get off the tram at the top of Hidden Peak at Snowbird this past week. Twice, in 1995 and again in 2004, the resort was able to offer skiing on the Fourth of July.

For the fifth consecutive year, skiers and snowboarders have come to Utah in record numbers. Final count for the 2007-08 ski season is 4,258,900 skier days.

This total is up from last year's record of 4,082,094, which was up from the 2005-06 record of 4,062,188. This past season's jump represents a 4.3 percent increase.

In official terms, a "skier day" is defined as one skier or snowboarder spending one day on the slopes. A skier or snowboarder staying five days would be counted as five skier days.

What some in the industry are wondering is just how high Utah's total would be had there been a good Thanksgiving opening. Snow came late, in early December, and the typically lucrative Thanksgiving holiday season was lost to most resorts.

And although the increase wasn't huge, said Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, "Utah is seeing increases each year ... we've hit records, now, for five consecutive years.

"What makes it even more meaningful is we can't say the increase was because other resorts around the country had bad snow. We had great snow. Alta recorded 702 total inches for the season. But other areas around the country also had great snow years. It's hard to compare numbers when we have great snow and others don't, but this year everyone had great snow."

Other states also showed higher numbers. For example, the Rocky Mountain Region — Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — showed a 2.3 percent increase in skier days.

Also, early guesses are that the entire U.S. ski establishment will have one of the best seasons on record, accounting for more than 60 million skiers.

As noted, Utah's ski season got off to a slow start.

Only four resorts were able to open for the Thanksgiving holiday, and only then because of man-made snow equipment.

Then on Dec. 1 it started to snow. Snowbird received a foot.

By mid-February, resorts were reporting snow depths that were 140 percent above average. Park City Mountain Resort, at that point, had recorded 44 powder days. Alta had received 179 inches of snow in January, which tied an all-time record set in 1996, and by Feb. 1, had 404 inches, which was its final count for all of 2006-07.

"As the snow piled on, so did the skiers," said Rafferty. "Utah's incredible snow, unparalleled accessibility and world class resorts continue to attract new visitors making it a crucial source of revenue for the state."

He said the 2007-08 season contributed an estimated $1.04 billion to Utah's economy.

This figure includes all in-state spending on skiing and snowboarding related purchases such as food, apparel, entertainment and travel, excluding airfare.

Rafferty said that this was the first time the Utah ski industry has surpassed the $1 billion mark.

Reasons for the increase range from the value, or devalue, of the dollar, which brought in skiers from outside the country, to skiers discovering Utah snow.

"We hear it all the time," said Rafferty. "People come to Utah for the first time to ski and tell us they wished they'd come sooner. We get some of the best snow in the world, and our resorts are some of the most accessible in the world.

"Within an hour of landing in Salt Lake City, people can be on the hill skiing at any one of 11 world-class resorts."

Also, the Utah Office of Tourism has helped in the promotion of Utah skiing, which Rafferty said has been "invaluable."

And, several resorts have announced that they will be spending millions on improvements this summer, which will make Utah skiing and snowboarding even more appealing for this coming season.

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