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Utah’s ski resorts have seen record snow this year — and there’s still a month left on the slopes for some

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Skiers at Snowbird on Thursday April 4, 2019.

Davy Ratchford worked at resorts in Colorado and California before coming to Utah and starting a job at Snowbasin this year. He couldn’t have more perfectly timed the move.

The ski resort, tucked into the mountains east of Ogden, is on track for a near-record season with almost 400 inches of powder. And more is still expected. It’s been so good, in fact, that as the new general manager, Ratchford has decided to keep the slopes open for an extra week.

“It could not have been a better year,” he said Friday.

Ski resorts around the state have shared in the spoils, too, with some getting double and others nearly triple the powder compared to last year — one of the worst for snow in state history. All 13 in Utah have surpassed their averages. Four have broken accumulation records.

For what was largely expected to be a rebound season, it’s turned into a banner year.

At Snowbasin, the extra white has put the resort enough in the green to bump its closing date from April 14 to April 21. “The right thing to do is to stay open and give people another week of skiing,” Ratchford said.

Alta and Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon are both approaching the 600-inch mark for snow, which has only been crossed once by one resort — Brighton — in the past decade.

“It’s been the season we all hoped and prayed for,” said Snowbird spokesman Brian Brown.

Snowbird has reported its closing date as “to be determined” and intends to remain open the longest of all the resorts in the state. Brown said it wouldn’t be unreasonable to still see skiers on the slopes on Memorial Day. And, if the cool conditions last, there could be enough powder left for special runs on the Fourth of July. The last time that happened was in 2011.

This season, the popular ski and summer resort has seen 588 inches of snow, the most of any in the state. Last year, it got 403.

The resort doesn’t have a final count of how many visitors have gone there with the additional powder (15 feet more than 2018), but Brown said there’s definitely been an increase in local skiers using their season passes. Utahns, data shows, prefer powder days to bluebird conditions.

Brown noted, “Ever since December, we had a very frequent series of storms that have come through.” Each time, it’s been followed by a crowd ready to slide down the fresh slopes.

The state’s ski scene is a $1.1 billion-per-year industry. With a drought like last year — which required resorts to do more snowmaking — the numbers can slide significantly and the costs to operate can increase. But with the extra help from the flurries this year, it’s expected to be a boon to the state economy.

“Snow is one of the things that draws people to Utah,” said Caitlin Furin, spokeswoman for Ski Utah, the marketing arm for the state’s resorts. “So-called ‘powder hounds’ book more trips with the snowfall.”

Last year, resorts might not have opened until February without snowmaking machines; this year, many were done with those before January.

While the powder was certainly enticing, another change this year was the rise of multiresort passes, including the Ikon Pass and the Epic Pass. Alta’s visitors have jumped more than 25 percent, for example, in the past 15 years. And the resort is expected to total half a million guests this winter.

“When it snows, people follow,” added Brighton spokesman Jared Winkler; the resort is currently at 575 inches, and “we have our fingers crossed that we’ll hit 600, too.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Ratchford added that there’s been a 35 percent increase in the number of season pass holders at Snowbasin coming to the resort this year, and people are already buying passes for next year with the hope for more great turns courtesy of nature. He hopes they’ll take advantage of the extra week, too, because after years of skiing in Colorado and California, he’s excited to still be on the slopes by Easter himself.

Only two resorts — Eagle Point and Nordic Valley — closed at the end of March. The other 11 will remain open into April, at least. And all will slide into summer events by June with mountain biking and disc golf, stargazing and geology hikes.

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