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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Construction workers assemble concrete forms at Snowbird on Monday, June 18, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Even in an off winter for snowfall — 60 percent of average — Utah ski resorts carved out a top 10 season for people visiting the slopes, lifting the state's economy with $1.3 billion in spending.

"Our average (snowfall) is over 500 inches, so even when you cut that in half, we get more snow than most ski destinations did if they had an average snowfall year," Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty said.

Aaron Thorup

According to Ski Utah, the 2017-18 season registered as the sixth-best for local ski areas in terms of skier visits. From November through May 13, ski areas racked up 4,145,321 visits for the season, down nearly 10 percent from last season’s all-time record total of more than 4.58 million, but even with Utah’s 10-year average, Rafferty explained.

And that was without much help from Mother Nature. Statewide, Utah snowfall totals were just 60 percent of average, with Wasatch valley temperatures three to five degrees above normal during the ski season, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney said.

Rafferty credits vast improvements in technology that allow skiers to still enjoy their experience even with less natural coverage.

"Today, resorts have spent so much money making infrastructure improvements for snow-making that as long as temperatures are cold enough, they can make a great product," he said.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Construction at Snowbird is pictured on Monday, June 18, 2018.

Across the nation, skier days were down 2.8 percent to 53.3 million from last season’s 54.8 million, Rafferty said. He noted that snowfall was also down in most regions across the U.S.

Notwithstanding the decline in skier visits, total ski- and snowboard-related spending in Utah remained strong at $1.322 billion versus last year’s historic high of $1.431 billion, he said.

He attributed the robust expenditures to spending by out-of-state skiers rising to $337 per day in 2017-2018 from $309 per capita in the 2016-17 season. The state's resident per day spending remained nearly flat at $107 per capita per day compared to $106 in the previous season, he noted.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Construction workers put on a new roof section at Snowbird on Monday, June 18, 2018.

While the season wasn't as prosperous as the record-setting previous year, there was still much to be optimistic about economically, one analyst said.

"Despite low snowfall through our peak powder months, this season still provided an excellent boost to Utah’s economy due to the increase in out-of-state visitor spending," said Vicki Varela, managing director Utah Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding. "This year’s $1.322 billion in skier spending demonstrates that skiers come to Utah for great snow and for the restaurants, urban amenities and vibrant culture that can’t be found in other destinations."

Meanwhile, some resorts have already begun working to upgrade their facilities for the upcoming winter season.

Deer Valley Resort plans to invest $8.1 million in capital improvements for the 2018-19 season. Most notably, the resort will replace the Homestake chairlift with a new detachable, high-speed quad chairlift that is expected to cut ride time in half and increase uphill skier capacity by 400 skiers per hour.

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Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort is renovating its main visitor hub — the Snowbird Center — launching construction on a new restaurant and additional conference space on the west side of The Cliff Lodge, as well as adding two bridges to allow for easier access to The Cliff Lodge, Snowbird Center and the resort's lower village.

“Utah’s ski industry continues to be a strong player in driving the state’s tourism and economy,” Rafferty said. “Multiple factors need to come together to make a successful ski season and, with limited natural snowfall, Utah’s resorts stepped up by investing in snowmaking infrastructure and delivering unparalleled experiences for skiers and riders on and off the slopes.”

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Construction workers assemble concrete forms at Snowbird on Monday, June 18, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
An excavator sits outside the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird on Monday, June 18, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Construction continues at Snowbird on Monday, June 18, 2018.