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Utah ski season expected to be busy despite pandemic, drought

Utah Ski Resorts.jpg
Posted at 4:57 PM, Dec 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-04 20:06:09-05

SALT LAKE CITY — More than half of Utah’s ski resorts have opened for the season despite a painfully dry snowpack year.

“In terms of this year’s snowpack, we’re at about 65% of normal,” said Jordan Clayton, Utah’s snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We’ve seen the percent normal precipitation since last December well, well below normal. We’re looking at deficits in terms of inches of precipitation; 10 to 15 inches in many mountain locations or more. That’s a lot of water for a state that’s generally dry.”

This could impact snowmaking for specific resorts that have had snowmaking turned up an extra notch with the lack of natural snow.

“Of course we’d love some storms. [These are the] unknowns about running a ski resort, but we also know it can turn really quick,” said Scott Curry, Director of Marketing at Eagle Point Resort in Beaver. “December 18 was always our planned opening, we’re on schedule for that.”

Temperatures have been prime for snowmaking at Cherry Peak Resort in northern Utah.

“If we can put a good strong base with man-made snow and then that Mother Nature we need, that one-two big storm punch, and we’ll be ready to rock and roll,” said Dustin Hansen, Marketing and Operations Director at Cherry Peak Resort in Richmond.

Hansen says they had more than 10 snow-guns running on Friday throughout the day. They have yet to set an opening date for this season.

Eden’s Powder Mountain is in a similar boat, but they haven't set an opening date yet. It’s a challenging time of year since they don’t make snow at PowMow.

“Invariably we get these periods where it seems like we’re dry, dry, dry, dry and then it’s like someone switches on the snow switch and it starts snowing and doesn’t stop,” said Powder Mountain General Manager Mark Schroetel. “We’re not panicking yet. Historically we open right around the 10th to the 15th [of December].”

Another factor this season is whether the pandemic will keep people away. Early visitation from November and December indicates resorts should be seeing more local traffic this year.

“I think we’re much less a fly-to destination this year. We’re much more a drive-to destination,” said Schroetel, noting that out-of-state visitors are more likely to drive to Powder Mountain. Powder Mountain has been limiting its daily visitor capacity for years now.

Dustin Hansen at Cherry Peak agrees but thinks there may be a market for RVs making their rounds during the winter season.

“We are preparing for the busiest winter we’ve ever had,” said Hansen, who is preparing for Cherry Peak’s sixth season. “I think that there is some tourism that’s going to be able to come in and experience Utah in a way they haven’t done in the past.”

Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation noticed a major increase in summer outdoor recreation and believes it will carry over to the winter season.

“The actual skier numbers could be up based on season pass sales, and that could be local or regional travelers that are going to take advantage of that,” said Pitt Grewe, Director for the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation. “The confidence levels for consumers is lower for traveling anywhere, not just Utah, but traveling anywhere and staying overnight, so the focus of those ski resorts this year is catering to the drive-in community.”

Despite studies in other states like Colorado, it appears that so far it’s been business as usual for ski resorts in Utah (except for the obvious precautions in place).

“I think the ski industry will do fine this year. People will continue to ski. It’s a release, it’s an opportunity to get outside and to enjoy nature as we know throughout this whole year. Outdoor recreation has seen a really big increase in usage,” said Grewe.