Utah catching up to Vermont in ski biz | VailDaily.com

Utah catching up to Vermont in ski biz

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyVail local Brandon Reid finds some untracked powder last month on Vail mountain. Record snows were good for Colorado skiing, but Utah says it's catching up.

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah’s skiing governor, Jon Huntsman, hit the slopes Saturday as industry officials gave an early assessment of the 2005-06 season, saying the total number of skier visits was fast approaching 4 million.Utah, the No. 4 skiing state, could move up a notch and replace Vermont, which usually tops 4 million skier visits but suffered from a shortage of winter snowfall, with many of its ski areas opening late and closing early this season.Ski areas in Utah’s Wasatch Range, by contrast, have had about 50 feet of snow since October, with three feet falling last week. The mountain snowpack is 171 percent above normal, the National Weather Service reports. The resorts got even more snow last winter, when Snowbird had skiing for 205 days straight.The resorts could match last winter’s record of 3.9 million skier visits, up 12 percent, even with a shorter season, said resort executives and Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah.Snowbird, about 18 miles east of Salt Lake City, had its busiest March for skier visits and lodging, resort spokeswoman Laura Schaffer said.Executives at other Utah resorts said their numbers were up, too, although for competitive reasons the 13 independently owned resorts don’t release figures. Ski Utah compiles and releases a single figure for all resorts at the end of the season.Rafferty said Utah’s final numbers will depend on traffic in the final weeks of the season.Most Utah resorts will close next weekend, except for Snowbasin, which plans to stay open until April 23. Snowbird, a year-round resort, will offer skiing until the end of May.The resorts don’t close for lack of a snowpack but for interest, as skiers switch to playing golf, riding bicycles or mowing lawns. Even as they lose customers, resorts stay open for weeks, just to show they can, said Gary DeSeelhorst, president of Solitude Mountain Resort, which is staying open until April 16.”April will be a bummer financially. There’s no question,” he said.Stealing from Colorado?Overall, Utah resort officials think they’re taking traveling skiers from No. 1 Colorado, which logged 11.81 million skier visits last winter, but industry officials in Colorado say they’re not seeing any losses.”Certainly we’re looking at a record year,” said Molly Cuffe, communications director for Colorado Ski Country USA. “Right now we’re on track to hit 12 million skier visits – we’ve gotten close to that number in the past, but it’s always eluded us.”Half of Vermont’s ski areas closed weeks ago. Mad River Glen ski area, a cooperative owned by skier-shareholders, had its worst winter in a decade and shut down March 13, Mad River’s President Jamie Wimble said.”We are definitely in the red for this year,” Wimble said. On the plus side, “we have no debt and a low overhead.”At Solitude, about 18 miles east of Salt Lake City, skiers were cruising on slopes with 14 feet of packed snow on Saturday.Huntsman said the secret was getting out, thanks in part to the 2002 Winter Olympics – that Utah resorts have good skiing, abundant snowfall and quick access from Salt Lake City’s airport. Eight resorts are within a 45-minute drive of the airport. Huntsman said the ski industry contributes nearly $1 billion to the Utah economy.”How is it that we can have it so well?” he asked.Huntsman rates himself an intermediate skier but was seen racing down the slopes ahead of his bodyguard and other companions. Rafferty said he barely had time to buckle his boots on the first run before Huntsman took off.”He skis like a rocket,” Rafferty said.Vail, Colorado

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