SALT LAKE CITY — After a historic season last year, Utah's 14 ski resorts are poised to start the new ski season as early as next week.
Beginning the day before Thanksgiving, at least three ski areas will officially begin operations for the upcoming 2017-18 winter season, Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, said Tuesday.
Noting that the past two seasons have been record-breaking, with more than 4 million skier days annually, Rafferty said the state's top winter tourism industry is anxiously anticipating another season of "the greatest snow on Earth."
"We're crossing our fingers and looking forward to what we hope to be a third record season in a row," he said. "We've got a ton of momentum, and that's always important in our industry."
The 2016-17 ski season was 197 days long and amassed 4.58 million skier days, despite having a relatively late start, Rafferty said. But industry officials are optimistic that Mother Nature will begin to cooperate in the very near future.
While the resorts prepare for the new season, Rafferty said his organization and industry representatives will spend at least part of the time this winter lobbying the state Legislature to address concerns about a recently passed law lowering the state's legal blood alcohol limit from .08 percent to .05 percent starting in December 2018.
"The (law) that passed last year … is particularly troubling to us in the tourism industry," Rafferty told an audience of media and resort officials gathered in the Ski Utah offices. "Our overall goal is not to see it repealed, but see it tweaked a little bit. We're optimistic that we can see something happen."
Regarding possible adjustments, Rafferty mentioned separate penalties for .05 percent to .07 percent violations and those greater than .08 percent. He noted that both Colorado and New York have lesser penalties for those who have blood alcohol levels below .08 percent.
Rafferty also suggested preventing the law from taking effect until another state joined Utah with a 0.05 percent limit.
"Again, the idea is to not have Utah standing alone with the strictest alcohol policies in the nation. As a destination, Utah struggles with the perception that our nightlife is lacking or nonexistent," he said.
Meanwhile, last year’s ski season demonstrated that early season conditions are not always indicative of what snow conditions will be throughout the season.
In announcing its Thanksgiving Day opening for this year, officials with Park City Mountain Resort noted that after opening on Nov. 26 last season, the resort recorded 455 inches of snow — 100 inches above the 355-inch seasonal average.
And despite the recent unseasonably warm weather, there is still optimism for the upcoming season, said Bill Rock, Park City Mountain Resort's chief operating officer.
“We’ve seen several strong nights of early season snowmaking, and with a favorable weather forecast over the next 10 days, our expert snowmaking team is ready to make snow at every opportunity that weather permits," Rock said in a statement. "We look forward to providing our guests with a great opening day ski and ride experience in time for Thanksgiving.”
Venerable ski-only resort Alta Ski Area is celebrating its 80th season of skiing at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
With opening day approaching, Connie Marshall, Alta's director of marketing and public relations, said the local ski areas are always hopeful for an early start to the season. But recent years have shown that late starts can still prove quite prosperous.
"We've noticed that our winters are a little late getting started due (in part) to climate change," Marshall said. "We've gotten a little more adaptive at projecting our opening day. You just have faith and know the reality that Utah (always) gets snow."
Ski resort opening days
Alta — Nov. 22
Snowbasin — Nov. 22
Snowbird — Nov. 22
Park City — Nov. 23
Deer Valley — Dec. 2
Solitude — Dec. 2
Sundance — Dec. 8
Nordic Valley — Dec. 9
Cherry Peak — Dec. 18
Eagle Point — Dec. 21
NOTE: Opening dates still to be determined at Beaver Mountain, Brian Head, Brighton and Powder Mountain.