It’s not summertime yet for Utah resorts thanks to lingering snow and skiers
Believe it or not, you can still ski or snowboard in Utah. Brighton, Snowbird and Woodward Park City are the last resorts standing, even while most of the state is soaking up the t-shirts and shorts weather.
With the record-setting snowpack still melting, people could be skiing into the summer this year.
“It's pretty safe to assume that we're going to have another record year,” said Ski Utah CEO Nathan Rafferty. “We started so early, we’re skiing so late. It's been a season of epic proportions for sure.”
We're skiing and riding in June! Snowbird will temporarily close after Memorial Day, then reopen for skiing and riding—along with the grand opening of the new Tram rooftop balconies—on June 17-18, conditions permitting. pic.twitter.com/wGXFmmvGrL— Snowbird (@Snowbird) May 19, 2023
While it’s certainly been epic, the late-season turns eat into the vital time resorts use for maintenance — or the important transformation into a summer destination.
In a year where snow was plentiful (pushing back closures), resorts still had to factor in visitation numbers, the number of employees still working as well as spring and summer maintenance schedules when determining the end of their seasons.
Solitude Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon closed on May 21, even though snow still covers the trails. That decision came, in no small part, because there’s a lot of work to be done in the off-season to prepare not only for summer operations but the next winter as well.
“We're looking at four new downhill flow trails,” said Communications Manager Travis Holland. “That's a really great expansion to see on the mountain biking side of things. We're also putting in three new remote avalanche control systems. Those are going in in Fantasy Ridge this summer, and that's just going to be really crucial in getting our avalanche mitigation team more help and getting that Honeycomb Canyon terrain open earlier on.”
Solitude isn’t the only resort taking those factors into consideration, especially with a large amount of snow that could still be covering things like snowmaking lines or other infrastructure.
“[Resorts have] got to start moving that snow so they can get equipment in to make repairs and replace lifts,” Rafferty said. “It makes things interesting, that's for sure.”
And it’s not just maintenance. Weddings and other events are big business, so Holland said “a lot of it is just making sure we're getting ready and we're prepared for what the summer season brings.”
For up-scale Deer Valley in Park City, its status as a destination resort means that after a certain point in the season, visitation sees a significant drop. The resort closed on April 23.
“When you're extending a season and you're pulling guests from other parts of the country, there's a lot less opportunity for last-minute bookings,” said Emily Summers, Deer Valley senior communications manager. “People have kind of moved on from their planned ski vacation. So [extending a season is] really a draw for those that live here that have those season passes.”
Preliminary data from the National Ski Areas Association shows that resorts around the country reported nearly 65 million visits this season — a new record. Even so, the extended season drop in visitation is seen across the industry and is due in large part to people’s changing preferences as the weather warms up and more outdoor opportunities become available.
“It drops off so quickly as people switch gears to springtime stuff,” said Rafferty. "Typically, the skiers that we have at the very end of the season, they're coming up to ski for two hours and they're in and they're out. When you start crunching the numbers, it's a different scenario for sure when you move into April and May."
What that means, Rafferty said, is that resort visitors who would usually be purchasing day tickets, booking hotels, renting equipment or buying meals might be doing none of those things in late spring, especially if they are local pass holders.
Just because people’s preferred activities might change in the spring, that doesn’t mean the appetite for getting into the mountains diminishes. The increasing number of ski areas offering trail access to hikers and bikers or scenic lift rides in the summer caters to that growing demand.
“Many people know Utah for the snow in the winter but people are starting to catch on to how great it is up here in the summer,” said Holland. “It's a lot cooler if you live down the valley and you're looking to escape the heat. It's a really quick, easy, accessible trip for families to make to get up here.”
Even with all the snow still on the mountain, Holland said Solitude is targeting a June 15 start date for summer operations.
Ski Utah is expected to release statewide visitation numbers in the coming months. That’s another effect of the stretched-out ski season. The numbers usually come out in June.