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Ski Utah CEO excited for almost “pre-pandemic” resort experiences this winter

Ski Utah
Ski Utah President & CEO Nathan Rafferty

After last season set new records for skier visits in Utah, Ski Utah President & CEO Nathan Rafferty says he expects this season to feel almost like it did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although snow has been late to arrive in the Wasatch Back this year, local resorts are chomping at the bit to get this season underway.

Warmer temperatures and little natural snowfall have put a damper on resorts’ efforts to make all-important early season snow, and Park City Mountain Resort announced last Friday it had postponed its opening day indefinitely. On Tuesday, Solitude Mountain Resort followed suit, pushing its first day back to next Tuesday, November 23rd.

Ski Utah President & CEO Nathan Rafferty says colder temperatures expected this week will aid snowmaking operations, and adds that many Utah resorts are experiencing similar struggles.

“Pretty much everybody’s in the same boat," he says. "I think a lot of people are taking a hard look this week and seeing if they can get something open for this weekend. What I’d say is stay tuned.”

As of this report, only Alta Ski Area in Little Cottonwood Canyon is expected to open this week. Its opening day is scheduled for Saturday, November 20th.

Deer Valley Resort plans to open for the season on December 4th.

Some of last season’s COVID-19 precautions have been relaxed for this winter. At PCMR, the reservation system is gone. At both PCMR and Deer Valley, masks are no longer required outdoors, and lifts will be able to load at full capacity. However, Deer Valley is requiring masks on the Jordanelle Gondola. Rafferty says he expects the on-mountain experience this season to feel almost back to normal.

“Maybe the thing I’m most excited about is loading chairlifts to full capacity," says Rafferty. "I think as you ski outdoors, it’s gonna be almost exactly like pre-pandemic conditions, so I’m excited about that. Certainly, indoors is, across the board, in terms of resorts and their different protocols, most of them are asking people to wear masks indoors. I would tuck a mask in your pocket and make sure you really know before you go, whatever resort you visit, make sure you brush up on whatever their protocols are going to be.”

Both PCMR and Deer Valley will be requiring masks indoors.

Utah set a record of 5.3 million skier visits during the 2020-2021 winter. Circumstances have changed since one year ago, though, with many people returning to in-person work and more options for other activities now available. Rafferty says this could limit the amount of time people have for skiing and snowboarding, especially midweek.

“It will be interesting to see." Rafferty says. "So many people, a lot of locals skied way more than they normally would have, because they had less issues with their time. Are they gonna go back to real life and back to piano recitals and go into movies and all the things that drag you away from being able to go skiing? There will be a little bit of that, and it will be interesting to see, but I have no doubt we’re gonna have a fantastic year.”

Whether or not people have the same passion they showed last winter for getting out onto the slopes remains to be seen -- as does how much snow everyone will get to enjoy.