Utah's ski industry overcame a still-sluggish economy and minimal early-season snow to attract more than 4 million skiers and snowboarders in the winter of 2009-10.
The 4,048,153 skiers and boarders who spent days at the state's 13 active resorts last winter represent a 2 percent increase over the previous recession-era winter. The total also was the fourth highest in the state's history.
"The incredible loyalty snow enthusiasts have for our sport continues to be one of the industry's key strengths," said Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty. "We are fortunate to rely on the dedication and passion of our consumer as a barrier against the uncertainty of today's economy."
That devotion benefits the whole state, not just the ski industry, said Danny Richardson, executive director of the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition.
"Skiing affects everybody -- at the retail level, hotels, rental cars, the airlines," he said. "And it's a different traveler than in the summer. Spending on skiing is a high dollar amount. It's a great attraction for the state."
After Utah resorts eclipsed 4 million for the first time in the 2005-06 season, two more record-setting seasons pushed the best season total ever to 4,249,190 skier days, the term used by the National Ski Areas Association to define "one person visiting a ski area for all or any part of a day or night for the purpose of skiing/snowboarding."
Rafferty labeled this season's 2 percent increase a "great success," solidified by the steady growth of visitation numbers from the first of the year to the end of the season.
"It's an optimistic message going into next year," he added. "The snow this year was good but not epic, at least not until the end of April or May. To still post those kinds of numbers is great. We're keeping our fingers crossed that the momentum will continue next year."
To help assure that the masses keep coming, Rafferty said, Utah resorts expect to boost their advertising heading into next season.
That's welcome news to Leigh von der Esch, the Utah Office of Tourism's managing director. Her agency has worked closely in recent years with Ski Utah, local visitors bureaus and individual resorts, coordinating advertising purchases.
In general, the state purchases television ads, largely on national cable channels, while Ski Utah and the resorts focus on print publications.
"We're not going to attribute all of the increase to our advertising, but we have a good working relationship," she said, noting that the latest season results show "we're taking market share. We're moving the needle."
Added Richardson, "It seems that we've more than turned the corner on the recession and that we're headed in the right direction."
At Snowbasin Resort above Ogden, a slow start resulted in a season that spokeswoman Jodi Holmgren characterized as "pretty flat."
"Season pass sales started off really strong, but the snow started slow and people weren't excited about skiing," she said. "But we had a great end of the season with fantastic conditions."
Indeed, storms dropped 152 inches of snow in April and another 58 in May, enabling Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort to tally 603 inches before closing last Sunday. The state average is about 500 inches.
If nothing else, those kinds of numbers will look good when ski promoters use them in ads for next season.
2007-08 » 4,249,190
2006-07 » 4,082,094
2005-06 » 4,062,188
2009-10 » 4,048,153
2008-09 » 3,972,984
2004-05 » 3,895,578
2003-04 » 3,429,141
2000-01 » 3,278,291
1998-99 » 3,144,328
2002-03 » 3,141,212
Source: Ski Utah