While not a doctor, Nathan Rafferty can spot those suffering from powder fever at a glance. It was both real and contagious, manifested as excessive fatigue coupled with a pang of hunger and a snow forecasting app at your fingertips.
“In years like this you see people around town and they’re just kind of exhausted because they’re looking at the snow report and they’re still thinking it could all be over tomorrow, ‘We’ve got to make it while you can,'” Rafferty said , the President of Ski Utah, the marketing arm of the Utah Ski & Snowboard Association. “That’s one of the things I love most about skiing: the conditions change from day to day and you never know when it’s going to stop. So it’s the battle for the best skiing and that’s what makes it fun.”
More people have contracted powder fever this year than ever before. Ski Utah said in a report Thursday that the number of visitors to the state’s resorts is estimated at 7.1 million for the 2022-23 season. – a 22% increase from last year’s record. However, we won’t know for sure until the season is officially over, and that won’t be for a few weeks. Though currently closed, Snowbird has promised to reopen for Father’s Day weekend and there is high hope among skiers and snowboarders that the season will be extended through July 4th.
It should be noted that visits are different from visitors. A person who goes to the mountains 50 times per season to ski or bike at a ski resort can increase the state’s attendance rate, but still only counts as one visitor. Rafferty said Ski Utah has plans to track individual visitors but is not currently doing so.
Utah has set attendance records in four of the last five seasons. The only exception is the 2019-20 season, which was disrupted by the COVID-19 virus. However, previous jumps were closer to 5-10%. According to the National Ski Areas Association, nationwide visitor numbers increased 6.6% in 2022-23 to a record 64.7 million visitors. The NSAA attributed most of this increase to snowy ski resorts in the West and Rocky Mountain regions, with the latter also including Utah and accounting for more than 40% of visitors.
Why were people making an estimated 1.2 million more trips to Utah’s ski resorts this year? The increased interest is due to a near-perfect combination of factors. These include a long season, record-breaking snowfalls at most ski resorts, and the concern — after several feast-or-hunger seasons — that the flakes might stop falling at any moment.
But the simple answer is: snow.
“The bottom line is that our biggest visitor driver here — we can be great marketers, provide great services at the resorts, all these different things — but ultimately snow drives attendance, especially in Utah,” Rafferty said. “There’s nothing scientific about that.
“Turns out people like powder skiing, and we had powder snow this year.”
More than half of Utah’s 15 resorts recorded their longest season on record. That group includes Brian Head Resort near Cedar City, which opened its Utah season on Nov. 4, and Solitude, which suspended operations last weekend after offering 192 days of lift access. Deer Valley, Brighton, Snowbasin, Nordic Valley and Woodward Park City are also members of this club.
By the end of the season on April 30, the Alta ski area had recorded a record snow depth of 903 inches and almost two weeks off (lift operations ceased on April 21). Not only was it the highest-ever result for a Utah resort, it also surpassed the previous mark, also held by Alta, by more than 150 inches.
But it’s not the statistics that confuse Rafferty. It’s also not like Little Cottonwood Resort hit 229 inches in March, which is 244% above the monthly average. No, he’s more impressed that Alta fell an average of 5.1 inches of snow per day during the ski season, according to Ski Utah’s report.
“This is just crazy,” he said.
The Sundance Resort was buried under 10 feet more snow than it had ever seen before. Cherry Peak near Logan has snowed 60% more this year than at any time in its five-year history. Brighton, Solitude, Snowbird, Snowbasin, Nordic Valley, Woodward Park City, Park City Mountain and Deer Valley also set snowfall records. Most also saw record snow cover.
Rafferty said the state has declared so many official powder days, falling at least 12 inches in a 24-hour period, that it considered a sunshine alert for one of the rare times the clouds actually cleared. Overall, Ski Utah issued 44 powder warnings. The average of a season is 19.
And yet, all season long, skiers and snowboarders worried that the end might be near. Old Man Winter has a history of being inconsistent, sometimes dropping snow piles in November and December, only to hold off for resort of the season. Sometimes skiers and snowboarders pack away their gear in March only to face a snowstorm in April.
Even as the snow continued to fall, the Powderhounds followed the call. If they didn’t, they feared it might be 240 days or more before they got a load of powder again. You had a fever.
When the last big storm hit in late April, Rafferty said, “I think it kind of broke some people.”
But when all is settled, 2022-23 will be a season to remember.
“I think it was really a once-in-a-lifetime season,” Rafferty said. “I’d like to be wrong about that. But there’s something very special about being a part of a season where you’ll be telling your kids and grandkids, “Nothing compares to back in 2022-23.” It’s that year.”
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