Alta • Even in bright sunshine, temperatures were chilly Monday. And only a light dusting of new snow softened hard-packed surfaces.
While those factors may have kept Presidents Day ski crowds from overwhelming the Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts, as in some past years, the parking lots at Alta and Snowbird were nearly full by early afternoon a good sign on an extended weekend crucial for the ski industry.
Added Snowbird spokeswoman Emily Moench: "[We] saw good visitation from both locals and out-of-state visitors, with the highest hotel occupancy of the season."
Their observations mirror ski-season lodging trends.
Occupancy at Utah mountain resorts was 68 percent in January, up from 65 percent the same month a year earlier, according to the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Lodging Report. Another winter-tourism monitor, the Mountain Travel Research Program, said February bookings across the West are up 14.5 percent over last year.
At Alta, 77-year-old Stan Chrest, of Rye, N.H., had no complaints about the weather or the snow. He was nearing the tail end of a two-week trip to Utah with the Hard Luck Kelly Ski Club "We call ourselves an Irish drinking club with a skiing problem" and just enjoying the scenery and carving turns on snow that's "better than anything New Hampshire has."
Chrest said his group has come to Utah for 14 or 15 years now because, with so many resorts in the central Wasatch mountains, club members have plenty of choices. That's helpful in keeping 20 people with differing abilities and tastes happy, noted the retired Air Force atmospheric researcher.
Chris Stanton, an assistant professor in finance at the University of Utah, didn't find many pockets of soft snow in his off-trail forays Monday with U. ophthalmologist Alison Crum. But they were satisfied with what was available.
"It's beautiful for me," said Crum. "Sunshine, blue skies. And I like [the snow] a little more packed with this kind of fluff on top. I expected it to be busier, but it's probably not because it's not a powder day."
For Sean Fyfe, 42, of Sandy, it was a great day to be outside, not working. "It's nice, sunny, a little brisk. The snow is picked over, but it's still nice."
Sierra Hartman, a 10-year-old from Draper, put her 5th Grade Passport to use Monday. The Ski Utah passport allows fifth-graders to ski free twice at each of the state's 14 resorts.
From the Sugarloaf chair, Sierra marveled at the speed of a distant skier hurtling down Alta's Backside. "Wow, mom, look at that guy flying down," she said, adding, "I like to go fast. I like the trees. And I love bumps, but not if they're like big moguls."
"She is a daredevil," mom said proudly.
At Canyons Resort, spokesman Steve Pastorino said the weekend went well "at close to 100 percent capacity in the rooms, but plenty of room on the slopes."
Sunny skies also prevailed through the weekend at Brian Head Resort above Cedar City.
"While the sun was out, the snow stayed great with temperatures near freezing," said spokesman Josh Madsen.