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Resorts, skiers enjoying this season much more than last

Published January 18, 2013 10:58 am

Resorts and skiers revel in bumper crop of powder after 2011-12's dismal season.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Park City Mountain Resort • Alexa Robinson wasn't sure how to answer the question, so she went with sarcasm.

"There isn't nearly enough noise under your skis here. I miss the screeching, chattering sounds of edges on ice. I really miss that sound," Robinson said when asked about her Utah skiing experience on the final day of 2012.

What a difference a year makes.

Had Robinson — a resident of Marin, Calif., who was skiing with her three boys at Park City Mountain Resort Monday — been in Utah last year at this time, she may not have been missing the sound of icy slopes.

Resorts across the state are reporting a strong showing of skiers and snowboarders for the 2012-13 winter and credit a bountiful deposit of the trademark Utah powder, most of which arrived in December.

"We have had over 6½ feet of the natural stuff in December, which is pretty much exactly 50 percent for all of last season's snowfall," said Andy Miller with Park City Mountain Resort. "We opened the Jupiter Lift 43 days earlier than last season and we have had all the lifts open for a week. That didn't happen until Jan. 27 last year."

Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, said skiing above 8,000 feet was exceptional early in the season and led to an early Nov. 13 opening of Brighton Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Word of the early snow helped get the ski world excited about the winter.

Of course, the same thing happened leading up to the 2011-2012 season.

"It's so important to have snow early on. It helps set the tone and get momentum rolling," Rafferty said. "Last year our momentum stalled, then never really restarted."

The Robinsons could not make a comparison to last year as this was their first skiing trip to Utah, but the Downs family has plenty of years of skiing the Beehive State for comparison. The Downses lived in Utah for 12 years before moving to Nashville, Tenn., this past summer. They returned for holiday skiing.

"We skied more last year while living here, but this season the snow is definitely better," said Warren Downs, who was skiing with his wife Jackie and two boys, Mike and Bryan. "We have skied Snowbasin, Snowbird and Brighton already on this trip and it feels like crowds are smaller than at Christmas time last year."

The Downs boys said their best day was at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, where they found plenty of powder.

Emily Summers at Deer Valley Resort said destination skiers seem a little reluctant to book trips after sparse snow last winter, but reports of steady storms have led to last-minute inquiries.

"We are still booking arrivals as early as next week. People were definitely keeping an eye on our snow situation after last year and booking their vacation much closer to their arrivals," Summers said.

Families typically plan trips based on their experience the winter before and last year was strong for bookings based on the exceptionally snowy winter of 2010-11. Despite the weak winter of 2011-2012, Summers said occupancy at Deer Valley Resort is pacing even to last winter.

Alta Ski Resort officials report that destination skier numbers are down a little from last year, likely due to the less-than-favorable conditions across the state last winter, but locals seem to be trying to make up the difference.

"The enthusiasm of the locals has been off the charts," said Connie Marshall at Alta. "Our snowfall total through December will be about 200 inches, which is right at average."

Alta is celebrating its 75th anniversary as a lift-served resort at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Officials at Sundance Resort say they have been busy with locals and lodging guests and Snowbasin Resort says it is on track for skier visits this season.

Getting those early storms in November certainly helped drive interest initially in the Utah slopes, but Rafferty credits the instant notifications of just how great the snow is via social media with continued positive promotion.

"Really, social media can't be overstated, it plays a huge part," Rafferty said. "They are all bragging about another great day on the slopes in Utah — both locals and destination guests. January is the biggest booking month so the Christmas week of Facebook, Twitter and Instragram is a great help. Social media just tells it like it is and more often than not it's pretty darn good in Utah."

brettp@sltrib.com

Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month

O All 14 Utah ski resorts are offering beginner packages for locals in January as part of national Learn to Ski and Snowboard month. Some rates start as low as $39 for a lesson, rentals and lift ticket. Visit http://www.skiutah.com for more information.