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Epic snow is stretching Utah’s ski season, but staffing will lead to resort cutbacks

Snowbird, ski patrol at Hidden Peak, courtesy photo, March 21, 2023
courtesy Finn Higgins
Members of the ski patrol perched at Hidden Peak at Snowbird Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, March 21, 2023.

Utah’s record-setting winter has led some resorts to push back their closing dates. But that doesn’t mean skiing or snowboarding will be the same as mid-winter.

Deer Valley set a record for its snowiest winter ever last week with a snow depth of 485 inches. Statewide snowpack is also inching toward an all-time record.

The resort, along with nearby Park City Mountain, announced that it would be extending its seasons by one week. But Deer Valley will also be phasing out some terrain.

“The bonus week, right now, we're just committing to having two of our peaks open,” said resort Senior Communications Manager Emily Summers. “Those would be the areas out of Snow Park and Silver Lake. So Bald Eagle Mountain and Bald Mountain.”

Even though there’s enough snow to ski well into the spring, resorts still have to scale back operations as seasonal employees start to leave.

We have a huge amount of staff that come back every year at Deer Valley, but they have plans, they have other jobs, they have summer positions,” Summers said. “They go back to other places for summer recreation. And so they have start dates and plans to transition between those. So staffing is definitely one of the biggest challenges [to late-season skiing].”

The situation is similar at Park City Mountain.

Our team has a plan to ramp down terrain as conditions change,” said Park City Mountain’s Emily McDonald. “Same thing with staffing. As our footprint shrinks, staffing kind of follows suit. We're just following the same things we do each season.”

Snowbird Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon will continue regular operations until early May. The resort will then offer weekend-only skiing and riding until at least Memorial Day.

“While we do have some folks who are on visas who leave in the spring, we also see a lot of changes in our operations,” said Communications Manager Sarah Sherman.

While Snowbird also has to adjust and gradually scale back when seasonal workers leave, Sherman said the resort is lucky to have a relatively large year-round staff.

“Some of them definitely have summertime jobs that they go to in the springtime,” she said. “Even a lot of our patrol staff stays year-round. Some of them work for the state over the summer. Some of them help with our trail maintenance crews. Some of them go work on different teams. But a lot of our employees do want to stay year-round and we're able to maintain a pretty steady year-round workforce for that.”

Summers said investing in employee benefits and summer operations has led to more staff working at the resort beyond the winter. Resorts have also gotten a boost with recent investments from industry behemoths Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Company that help provide employee housing and push starting wages to the $20/hr mark.

Even then, a record-setting winter can still be hard on resort staff.

My personal saying is when the skiing is exceptional, the living kind of gets hard,” Summers said. “We're doing a lot of snow removal. If you're riding the chairlifts right now, you're kind of scooping in and out of the terminals. That's a lot of work. There's a lot of early mornings, a lot of late nights [and] a lot of commuting time. It's just tiresome in terms of hours and labor. The skiing's phenomenal and that kind of boosts everything once you can get out there. But there's challenges. It's a lot of work.”

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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