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Utah Ski Industry Saw Its Fourth-Best Season Ever Despite Early Resort Closures

Deer Valley Ski Resort

Ski Utah announced on Wednesday that despite losing the last couple months of winter to COVID-19, the 2019-20 ski season in Utah was still the fourth-best season on record for skier visits.


Skiing and snowboarding in Utah came to an abrupt end in mid-March when the first resorts in the state began closing due to COVID-19. Ski Utah CEO Nathan Rafferty says the early closures were devastating for the industry with over $232 million in lost revenue. 


Despite the losses, Rafferty says it was still the fourth-best on record in terms of resort visits, with over 4.3 million skiers and snowboarders taking to the slopes in Utah.


“If you’ve got to have your season fall short and stop like that, it’s nice to have a lot of those skier visits in the bank beforehand,” Rafferty said. “While it’s disappointing, we also know what we are capable of and what would have been. Not a whole lot any of us could have done about what happened but it gives me hope for the future, too.”


In addition to the high number of visitors, which was still 2.4% above the 10-year average even with the early closures, Utah ski resorts saw the highest per-capita spend by visitors on record, totaling $1.5 billion in economic impact. 


Utah skier visits were down 14% from the 2018-19 winter, which was a record season in the state.

Despite the encouraging numbers, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the upcoming winter and what skiing and snowboarding could look like in Utah. 


"We're definitely budgeting for probably in the neighborhood of a 40% decline in terms of the fourth quarter, the Christmas season..." – Bill Malone, CEO of Park City Chamber Bureau

Local resorts already have measures in place for their summer operations, like limiting the number of guests at the resort and additional health precautions to ensure the safety of employees and guests.

Park City Chamber Bureau CEO Bill Malone told KPCW that his organization is planning for a significant decrease in tourism during the upcoming winter holiday season, which is also the busiest time of year for the snowsports industry.


“We’re definitely budgeting for probably in the neighborhood of a 40% decline in terms of the fourth quarter, the Christmas season,” Malone said. “Not a fun thing to look at, but we are having to put a plan together and expect that we’re going to try and reach that number.”


Many resorts have already started planning for an unusual winter. Deer Valley has yet to start selling their winter season passes and popular multi-resort passes like Alterra’sIkon and Vail Resorts’ Epic pass programs are offering an increased number of deferral programs, additional insurance, and extended deadlines for their customers.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.
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