This winter's heavy snow totals resulted in a record-breaking season for Utah ski resorts, according to a report from Ski Utah, the state's ski and snowboard marketing firm.

The state had a total of nearly 4.26 million skier days during the 2007-08 season, the fifth straight year of all-time high increase. The National Ski Areas Association defines "skier days" as one person visiting a ski area for all or any part of a day or night for the purpose of skiing.

"As the snow piled on, so did the skiers," Ski Utah president Nathan Rafferty said in a prepared statement.

Despite a slow start to the season, Utah's snow totals reached well past 500 inches at many resorts, including 702 inches at Alta — the resort's third-highest total ever. The Utah ski season began Nov. 16 and continued into the spring, with Snowbird remaining open for weekend skiing in early June.

Preliminary estimates suggest ski areas nationwide had their best season on record, with about 60.1 million skier days. Utah's 2007-08 total represents a 4.3 percent increase over the previous record set in the 2006-07 season. Overall, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming had a 2.3 percent increase.

The Utah ski and snowboard industry, which supports nearly 18,000 jobs statewide, generated an estimated $1.04 billion for the state economy during the 2007-08 winter season, the Ski Utah report said.

Jessica Kunzer, Ski Utah marketing and communications director, said that next season, analysts have forecast that many people will likely shorten their vacations due to increasing financial pressure.

"We've been having a pretty steady history of growth, but we do know that the economy has been becoming more of an issue in tourism," she said. "However, Utah's variety and accessibility should act as real strengths in a downturn economy."

Utah has the advantage of offering recreation that is only a short drive from the airport, she said. "You don't have to spend a day or two driving from the airport to your destination. You literally can land and be on a trail skiing the same day."

Kunzer noted that the slowing economy might reduce the number of U.S. visitors who come to Utah, while increasing the number of international visitors.

"There are more international visitors in all forms of tourism across the state," she said. "I'm guessing that we will see an even greater increase now with the nonstop flight between Paris and Salt Lake, and obviously the dollar puts the States on sale for Europeans."

More Europeans are starting to see Utah as an excellent ski destination and a good value because it's less expensive than the Alps or other popular ski resorts in Europe, Kunzer said.

Rafferty said the Utah Office of Tourism has been directing advertising efforts at the international market.


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