Deer Valley Resort is known for its well-groomed runs and high-end experience. But this season, that’s not what had many skiers buzzing at the end of a day on the slopes.
Parking lots overflowed and many skiers complained of longer-than-normal lift lines as visitation numbers peaked. Resort leaders say multiple factors contributed to the high numbers, but the resort’s inclusion on the new Ikon Pass from Deer Valley’s owner, Alterra Mountain Company, unmistakably played a role. Next year, the resort hopes to better regulate the crowds.
Coleen Reardon, director of marketing for Deer Valley, said the resort was up 12 percent in visitation compared to previous years, which is a significant jump. Still, she said, the resort only hit its cap of 8,500 skiers on the mountain on six days, and all of the days were over the holidays. That stat was on par with previous winters.
Although the resort did not hit its cap later in the season, Reardon said visitation remained high during periods that are generally slower for the resort. March, for example, was one of the resort’s busiest months during the 2018-19 season. Reardon said snowstorms and the timing of spring breaks around the country contributed to the high visitation.
She also said the numbers peaked when Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons closed because of heavy snowfall or intense wind.
The near-constant flood of skiers was evident in the parking troubles the resort encountered, causing a dispute with City Hall earlier this month. The city allows the resort to use Deer Valley Drive for overflow parking from the Snow Park Lodge lots on 10 percent of the days the resort is open during a ski season. This year, the resort exceeded its permitted days, which amount to approximately 12 or 13 days, and has said it used the street for overflow parking 27 times.
After City Hall prohibited the resort from using Deer Valley Drive for parking, the resort briefly encouraged guests to park at the China Bridge garage near Main Street and use public transit to arrive at the resort and also directed skiers to park at Treasure Mountain Junior High on the weekends. Reardon said the change worked well, but the resort plans to work with the city before next winter to find a more efficient and long-term solution.
She said that could include more overflow parking and transit that goes straight to the resort. The resort also wants to have a better plan for snow removal, because Reardon said snow covered up approximately 100 of the resort’s parking spots.
As for the cap on the amount of skiers allowed on the mountain, Reardon said it can be difficult to determine an exact number when counting skiers at the resort. Typically, the resort combines anecdotal information from workers on the mountain, past data from visitation numbers and the quantity of day passes sold in order to count skiers.
This year, the calculation included the amount of Ikon Pass holders who were required to stop at the ticket office to get their passes scanned for the day. Ikon Pass holders have a limited amount of days at the resort. Deer Valley season pass holders are allowed to access the lifts without checking in.
Reardon said without RFID gates that scan every guest’s pass before they get on a ski lift, the exact number of skiers at the resort can get skewed. She said Deer Valley realized the importance of RFID gates, which use radio-frequency to scan ski passes, after seeing the consistently large crowds this season.
The resort plans to install RFID gates in the summer.
“We will be able to better control the numbers on the mountain,” Reardon said. “We don’t have a lot of data right now, but we will next year.”
The gates will also allow the resort to see what areas of the mountain have the most traffic and where the resort should focus its renovation projects.
Reardon said some guests were upset with the crowds, particularly those who have been skiing at Deer Valley for years and are used to short lift lines. But, she said, it is hard to place the blame for the packed mountain on one factor alone. Not only was Deer Valley on the Ikon Pass this year, the resort also had more than 300 inches of snow and the U.S. economy is doing well, she said.
“Being a part of the Ikon Pass, I’m not going to say it wasn’t busier. It sure was, but we felt like the mountain handled it well,” she said.
She said the pass was beneficial because it attracted new guests who had never visited the mountain before.
“We are thrilled about the new guests that are visiting us, they really love us,” she said. “It’s been fun to see the new folks experience Deer Valley and our product.”
She said being part of Alterra Mountain Company allows the resort to make bigger investments in its technology — such as the RFID gates and planned digital signage at the resort’s base — and future improvements to the resort’s infrastructure. She said the resort plans to update its day lodges to add more seating in the near future.
“Being family-owned we didn’t have the resources to really invest in expensive technology,” she said.