SALT LAKE CITY— Thanks in part to an above-average amount of snowfall, visits to Utah's ski resorts topped 5 million for the first time, industry officials announced Tuesday.
Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, said the record number of skier days for 2018-19 — 5,125,441 — surpasses the previous state record set in the 2016-17 season by 12 percent.
“We all sit around and think that we are the most brilliant marketers and have got it all figured out, but the ski industry is not a whole lot unlike snowfarming,” he said. Rafferty said this year’s snowfall was a welcome break for the industry that had suffered a below-average season last year.
At least one resort recorded snow falling on 111 days, Rafferty said, noting the largest stretch of time without snowfall during this year’s ski season was only seven days long.
“I feel sad for the one family who booked that period (to come to Utah), but they actually liked sunshine anyways,” he said.
Rafferty credited the boost in ski tourism, at least in part, to the new Epic, Icon and Mountain Collective ski passes that he said present “a great tool industrywide” to give people “more options and make skiing more affordable.”
Rafferty predicted this year's record visits bode well for next season, noting that most season passes are bought in the spring.
“It provides a really nice tailwind going into next year," he said. "Skiers and snowboarders have short-term memories, and their memories are going to be of incredible powder days from this year.”
Bill Malone, president and CEO or the Park City Chamber of Commerce, agreed that "it was a spectacular ski season." He said that despite starting off slow in December, occupancy evened out in January and increased in February, reaching a considerable spike in March.
Malone noted that skier days are not always proportional to lodging occupancy, which he said greatly impacts state tax revenue.
"If you look at our occupancy for the months of November through April, we were up 2.5 percent (from last season)," he said, adding that "there are certain businesses that cater to just the daytime crowd, (those businesses) probably did a lot better than those that cater to someone who is spending a week's vacation here."
This year’s economic impact numbers are not yet available, however, according to metrics presented at the press conference, last year’s out-of-state skier and snowboarder spending, totalling $1.068 billion, allowed for the creation of over 21,000 jobs and $226.4 million in state and local tax revenue.
Rafferty admitted that meeting the demands of new jobs created presents some difficulty in resort towns like Park City, where the number of permanent residents and available workers are lower than in the Salt Lake Valley. He said the industry is working with Utah lawmakers to increase the allotted number of J-1 visas available to employers wishing to sponsor foreign workers for the season.3 comments on this story
Rafferty said the industry leaders were also working on ways to mitigate impacts of ski tourism such as increased traffic congestion to and from the resorts.
“In many ways these resorts and Ski Utah are custodians of this incredible assets we have and I think our resorts are really taking a hard look at both short-term and long-term solutions to some of these issues,” he said.
Some of those solutions, he said, include working with the Utah Department of Transportation to increase ride-share options and decrease single-occupancy transportation.