Ski season rakes in $1B
Another record-breaking year in attracting visitors to the slopes has made Utah's ski industry a billion-dollar-a-year business for the first time.
Ski Utah said Monday that 4,258,900 skiers and boarders carved turns at the state's 13 resorts this past winter, the fifth consecutive year of record increases, this time up 4.3 percent from last winter's record of nearly 4.1 million.
With that much additional action, Ski Utah calculated the industry contributed $1.04 billion to Utah's economy. That figure includes all money spent by residents and visitors on their skiing and snowboarding ventures, from gear and food to lodging and entertainment. It does not count airfare.
"As much as skiing is a really fun recreational option for people, it's also an important source of revenue for the state," said Jessica Kunzer, spokeswoman for Ski Utah, marketing arm of the state's active resorts and related businesses.
The industry also provides work for 18,000 people, she added.
One aspect of this season's figure particularly pleased Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty. The 4.3 percent boost in skier visits surpassed the cumulative 2.8 percent increase by other Western ski states - Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico and Montana - all of which also had good snow years.
"Nobody out there could say, 'We didn't have the snow you did.' Everyone was playing on an even field last winter."
That competitiveness also impressed Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, which works closely with Ski Utah and the resorts in promoting skiing.
"For us to move our market share forward was outstanding," she said. "Since our competitors had strong snow, too, we're breaking through the clutter on our advertising of the product Utah has to offer."
Prospects of a record year seemed bleak as Thanksgiving came and went without snow, as did the first week of December. But snowstorms came frequently after that, often packing moderate to big punches.
Once the snow finally started coming in abundance, Rafferty said, skier numbers inched up steadily, then jumped in March and April.
"There was absolutely no doubt it was a beyond-spectacular winter in terms of powder days and quality of skiing," he said, praising the ability of resorts to cope with big dumps and provide "a quality experience. People don't realize how much effort it takes, like employees getting to work early to shovel snow and remove all of the hassles."