Snow (finally) returns to Utah ski resorts to the relief of many


Nearly a week ago, the mountains of northern Utah were dry, green, and brown, an odd feeling for December in a place said to be world-famous for its snow.

By Saturday, however, the central Wasatch was covered in the chill of winter. Many ski resorts are in full swing, welcoming a wide range of skiers – locals and tourists alike.

Snowfall and frigid temperatures just before the holiday gave Utah’s multibillion-dollar ski industry a sigh of relief.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People hit the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort as clear skies and some recent fresh snow drew crowds on Saturday, December 18, 2021.

Nathan Rafferty, president of Utah Skiing, the marketing department of the industry. “No matter how long you have lived here, you will feel anxious. Is there enough snow this year? That could change quickly and it did. It’s a winter wonderland. ”

By Saturday afternoon, Solitude Mountain Resort, with 31 inches during the last blizzard, has extended more than half the terrain and all but the Honeycomb Return elevator is in operation, according to spokeswoman Sara Huey.

But there are still two wildcards that come up during Utah’s ski season: The nation’s labor shortage and the variant-driven COVID rise. However, there doesn’t appear to be an operational disruption at this time, according to a resort representative.

“We did a pretty good job in human resources. We raised our minimum wage to $15 per hour. That’s very helpful,” said Huey, who is expecting a full house at the Big Cottonwood Canyon resort on Saturday. “A ski resort always has jobs posted for servers, shuttle drivers, that sort of thing. We are at more than the bare minimum for operations. “

While the resorts in front of Wasatch in Cottonwood Canyon have most of their terrain open to 5 feet of snow, the resorts in the back are not so lucky. Terrain options in Deer Valley and Park City are still limited due to low cover, but that is expected to change with more snow this week.

On Saturday, Park City Mountain Resort opened only 33 of its 356 runs and none of its terrain parks, running 17 of its 42 lifts. In contrast, Alta operated all 5 of its elevators with 84 of its 116 elevators in operation.

“The priority for resorts is to expand the terrain,” says Rafferty. “They will run short in other areas to keep the mountain open.”

Park City’s skiable terrain is vast – some 7,300 acres stretch from Jupiter Bowl north to Murdock Peak – 9% of which still rivals other ski resorts in Utah. At Solitude, at least 40 of its 82 named runs are open.

“Honeycomb, Highway to Heaven, Evergreen Peaks, the areas around the edge of our boundary, it’s going to depend on snow cover,” Huey said. “When the snow arrives, it will also depend on the risk of avalanches. When the snow falls, it depends on the ability of [ski patrol] reliably reduce that risk to [that] we can open those areas for skiing within limits. “

And while last week’s storm was a welcome break in dry weather, much of the state remains in a state of extreme drought. Snow in Utah is still only about three-quarters of the average for this time of year, according to the Natural Resources Conservancy.

The winter of 2020-21 produced one of the thinnest snow and ice sheets on record, severely draining Utah’s reservoirs and steeping the mountains, but skiers fill the resorts. more nourishing than ever. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, or maybe because of it, last winter saw record 5.3 million skiers in Utah, according to Ski Utah.

To contain the pandemic, the state should expect more of the same this year.

“The travel trend we’ve seen, people are eager to go on ski vacations this year,” said Alison Palmintere, communications director for Ski Utah. “We have controllable resorts from other states. We’re delighted that our borders are open, and we’re also excited to welcome back some international visitors. ”

Meanwhile, enhanced bookings are strong, according to Rafferty.

“It is misleading compared to last year. It was a last minute booking. People weren’t sure what to expect,” Rafferty said. “Everyone [this year] more comfortable when boarding a plane to travel. That’s good for the economy. The skiers who go there spend more than three times more than the local skiers, renting skis, eating out. ”

With return of snowfall, increased risk of avalanches, described as “significant” on Wasatch by Utah Avalanche Center.

“Today there is an accident written all over it,” wrote forecaster Drew Hardesty in Saturday’s forecast. The human-activated slides that are hundreds of feet across and 2 to 4 feet deep are “likely” on slopes facing northwest to east, according to the forecast.

In fact, a Friday slide completely buried a skier in the Big Cottonwood Canyon Silver Fork. His two companions were able to rescue him unharmed after 10 miserable minutes in the snow, reporting center. Snow (finally) returns to Utah ski resorts to the relief of many

Yasmin Harisha

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