The snow will be deep this spring, but don’t expect to keep skiing it

Utah resorts will begin closing next weekend despite record snowfall.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Skiers make some turns at Alta Ski Resort, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. Alta will close April 23, joining the majority of Utah's 15 ski areas that will be shut down by the end of April despite record base levels and snowfall.

This just might be the best ski season Utah has ever had. Deer Valley Resort last week reported 500 inches of snow for the season, the most in the resort’s nearly four decades in Park City. In the canyons, Brighton Resort broke its all-time record for snowiest season. Alta Ski Area set a new seasonal snowfall record while also piling up its first 200-inch base in more than a decade.

With more snow in the forecast for this weekend, it feels like this winter will never end. The ski season will, though — and sooner than people might want to accept.

Citing, among other factors, waning staff and waning interest from skiers and snowboarders as the weather warms, Utah’s resorts will begin halting operations as soon as next weekend. Within the month, most will be shuttered for skiing and riding, even as their mountains remain buried under thick blankets of snow.

“A lot of people see the optics of it: ‘There’s so much snow, why can’t you stay open?’” said Emily Summers, a spokesperson for Deer Valley Resort, which will close April 23. “But there’s so many factors and that’s weather patterns, warm-ups, increased sunlight on the runs, time to get annual maintenance done … .”

Two resorts, Sundance and Eagle Point, will halt daily operations after next weekend, becoming the first in the state to shutter for the season. Sundance, which recently announced it would be offering a bonus weekend on April 7-8, was particularly concerned about making the turnaround for summer operations, a spokesperson said. The resort plans to begin scenic chairlift rides by Memorial Day weekend.

“We open for our summer season really early, a lot earlier than most,” said vice president of marketing Blain Wilkey. “So that window of time that we have in between winter season, to then do all of this maintenance that’s mandatory that we need to do to begin summer lift operations, is really, really narrow.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A skier makes some turns at Alta Ski Resort, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

As more resorts offer mountain biking, ropes courses or even concerts during the warmer months as a way to bring in year-round business and get through low snow years, the need for time to transition and perform maintenance has carried more weight in determining closing dates. Deer Valley and Park City Mountain, which will both close April 23, also noted that among the factors that went into their decisions.

At Alta, which will close April 23, and Eagle Point, it’s more about the people power.

An Eagle Point spokesperson said the Beaver-area ski hill relies heavily on J-1 visa holders — students mostly from Southern Hemisphere countries who come to the United States temporarily through a work-travel program. They typically leave at the end of March. So even though Eagle Point has gotten almost 50 inches of snow in the past five days and has a 105-inch base, its lifts won’t be running for long.

“Staffing the resort in April is a challenge and our location is not near a major metro market,” resort spokesperson Scott Curry wrote in a text. “Our #1 priority is to provide the best guest experience possible; staffing is critical to that objective.”

It’s not just an issue for remote resorts, though. Park City Mountain and Deer Valley both said they will greatly reduce their terrain and amenities in the final weeks mostly because they don’t have enough seasonal workers, be they domestic or foreign, to offer more. Summers said that during its final week Deer Valley will open six of its 21 lifts for about 40 runs across two mountains, Bald Mountain and Bald Eagle Mountain. Park City, meanwhile, will close down its Canyons Village entirely during its final week. It plans to run five of its 42 lifts, all out of the front of the Mountain Village area, and its food and drink options will be limited to the Legacy Café and Jupiter Java.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Snowboarders are dwarfed by walls of snow, at Brighton Ski Resort, on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023.

Park City Mountain spokesperson Sara Huey said in addition to fewer staffers, the cutbacks to operations are reflective of what tends to be reduced interest in snow sports once the weather warms.

“There are a number of factors that go into this type of decision and it is kind of a balance,” Huey said. “We have a lot of years of data to understand both demand and staffing at a certain point in the spring.”

In a season like this one, though, might interest continue later into the year? And would ski tourists have been willing to book trips into May if resorts had announced back in February, when snowfall records were already being set, that they would be extending their seasons?

Huey said she didn’t know. Park City Mountain announced in early March that it would push its closing date back two weeks, giving the resort its latest closing in 30 years. It was the first in Utah to announce the extension and Huey noted that it put word out as soon as management knew it would be possible.

Several resorts said they were hesitant to make that call too early just in case the storms stopped coming. Even with the snow still falling, though, Wilkey cast doubt that Sundance would continue to draw crowds late into the spring. He noted that even with spring break in full swing and fresh snow on the ground, the resort was drawing fewer people in the recent weeks than it had earlier in the season. After spring break, he acknowledged, people tend to travel less, at least to ski.

“As we get into spring, the skiing demand is not there,” agreed Summers, adding that this is the first year Deer Valley has extended its season. “It’s really kind of like bonus skiing, like opening early for our passholders and locals, but destination skiers really aren’t coming anymore.”

For those tempted to reach those snow-covered slopes under their own power, Summers warned them to stay away. Aside from them being ungroomed and likely of lower quality than the resort typically offers, she highlighted that it’s dangerous, and against the law, for people to enter the property when it is closed.

Besides, there are a few other options.

At least three, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude, have vowed to let skiers and riders slide deep into May. Solitude, which has been tagging its social media posts with #LongestSeasoninUtah, will keep up daily operations through May 7. It will then switch to Friday to Sunday operations tentatively through May 21. Snowbird, which has traditionally gone the latest, including on occasion to July 4, plans to end daily operations on May 14 but will continue weekend lift service indefinitely. Brighton announced Tuesday that it would keep its terrain park and several runs off the Milly lift open through Memorial Day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. The rest of its operations will end April 30.

Snowbird offers scenic tram rides, an alpine slide and tubing in the summer in addition to being home to Oktoberfest. Spokesperson Sarah Sherman said this year the resort, which had a 161-inch base as of Friday, may end up offering both summer activities and skiing at the same time. Its ability to do that, she said, hinges on its employees. Many of them work both seasons, she said, for which they receive year-round health benefits.

Sherman said in a season like this, Snowbird isn’t worried about whether it or Solitude will be the one to stretch the snowpack as far as it can go.

If they’re able to stay open longer than us, that’s awesome,” she said.

“We’re going to stay open as long as we can.”

Update: March 29, 2023, 10:30 a.m. >> This article has been updated to reflect Brighton’s announcement that it will keep its terrain park and several runs open until Memorial Day.

Utah Ski Season Closing Dates

Alta » April 23

Beaver » April 9

Brian Head » April 16

Brighton » Days April 30; nights end Saturday, April 8; terrain park off Milly lift will stay open daily 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Memorial Day

Cherry Peak » April 15

Deer Valley » April 23

Eagle Point » April 2

Nordic Valley » April 9

Park City Mountain » April 23

Powder Mountain » April 16

Snowbasin » April 23

Snowbird » TBD, daily through May 14; weekends starting May 19

Solitude » May 21 (tentative); open daily through May 7, then Friday - Sunday.

Sundance » April 2

Woodward PC » April 16; April 9 for tubing

— Julie Jag

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