Utah's ski czar predicts another record season
New Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty couldn't have scripted a better scenario for his first press conference as boss.
As the head of the marketing arm of the state's 13 active resorts prepared to report Tuesday on the start of the ski season, public relations people for the resorts around Park City and in Salt Lake's Cottonwood canyons were all swapping stories about their challenging drives down to the city through a raging blizzard.
Not that they were complaining.
After all, they know firsthand exactly what Rafferty emphasized: News about snow travels quickly, and having plentiful snow reaps rewards both immediate and long-term.
Take last year, for instance. With deep snow blanketing the mountains in mid-October and Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort truly living up to its name with lifts operating until July 4, Utah's ski industry generated $872 million for the state's economy last season.
Usually, the economic return is below $800 million, prompting Rafferty to observe that "$100 million is what you net when it starts snowing in October and doesn't stop until June."
There is a carry-over effect, as well.
Holiday-period bookings of hotel rooms among the state's ski resorts are up 10 percent to 30 percent from last year, which was a better year than the year before. Solitude is leading the way with a 30 percent increase in bookings in its young village, Rafferty said.
Park City-area hotels and condominiums have thrived every year since the 2002 Winter Olympics, and this winter's reservations appear to be on pace to exceed last winter's total of 209,161 visitor nights, said Park City Chamber & Visitors Bureau spokesman Craig McCarthy.
"The whole business community benefits as a result. The destination visitor who stays overnight spends a lot of money per person in the community - at restaurants, shops and buying skiing and snowboarding gear. They buy groceries, anything that is for sale, essentially."
Rafferty praised Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s administration for increasing the state's emphasis on tourism development. The interest is there, he added, citing a 25 percent increase this winter in visitors to Ski Utah's Web site (http://www.skiutah.com). In November, the Web site had 27 million page views.
Although skiing days nationally were rather flat last season - hovering around 57 million skier days - Rafferty noted that Utah's total rose 12 percent, to 3.9 million.
He is confident that by next summer, a record will be set for the third-straight season.
Why? Even though Utah's mountain slopes were relatively barren heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, Rafferty said a series of snowstorms since have left accumulations that are 120 percent of normal at the 8,000-foot level in Little Cottonwood Canyon and 116 percent of normal halfway up Park City Mountain Resort.
The turn in the weather prompted Rafferty to engage in a little reverie, recalling how as a boy growing up in Salt Lake City, he would worry when it would get into late fall and hadn't snowed.
"What if it didn't snow this year?" he asked his mom.
"Don't worry," she replied. "This is Utah. It's going to snow. This is what it does here."
Skier days last winter, 12 percent more than 2003-04 record
Amount ski industry added to Utah's economy last year
Length of last year's ski season (Nov. 5, 2004, to July 4, 2005)
Ski resorts opening
Friday: All 41 runs, plus .2 miles of groomed cross country ski trails
Tuesday: Located above Logan
Dec. 17: The Ogden Valley resort was formerly known as Nordic Valley