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Ski industry leaders tell Park City: the crowds are coming

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Parker Malatesta
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Tuesday's panel from left to right: Tom Kelly, Nathan Rafferty, Deirdra Walsh, Todd Bennett, Calum Clark, and Steve Metcalf.

Ski Utah's director said he thinks the new parking reservation system at Park City Mountain will reduce a lot of drama.

Crowds last winter broke records throughout Utah, setting a new high for the number of skiers and riders. Local industry leaders told the Park City Chamber’s Fall Tourism Forum on Tuesday they expect that to continue.

Parkite Tom Kelly moderated a panel that included Park City Mountain Vice President and COO Deirdra Walsh, Deer Valley President and COO Todd Bennett, and Ski Utah Director Nathan Rafferty.

Following the end of last season, Ski Utah reported almost 6 million skier visits statewide. It set an all-time record and beat the old high mark set in the previous season by 10%.

Park City Chamber CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff showed a graph displaying that Summit County skier visits set a new high of 2.5 million last season. That’s a combination of Park City Mountain, Deer Valley, and Woodward visitors. Woodward Park City opened in 2019.

Rafferty said Ski Utah recorded $2.4 billion in out of state visitor spending last season, which is also an all-time record.

With all of those people comes an increased need for employees and services to take care of them. Among the topics discussed Tuesday were how to retain and recruit staff, and parking changes coming to town this winter.

Bennett said Deer Valley has worked to acquire more beds for workers this winter, and they’ve also gotten more creative with transportation options from the Salt Lake Valley. The resort also plans to spend $100,000 to encourage employees to use the Richardson Flat park and ride, which Park City will service with buses for the first time.

Walsh said staffing will be a continuing problem, and emphasized that there will never be enough affordable housing.

“I think it’s always been an issue here, and it just was accelerated I think post-pandemic," Walsh said. "Being able to get into the community at all levels has become harder and harder.”

Rafferty said he’s seen more resorts across the state get more aggressive when it comes to securing housing for employees.

“Snowbird — when condos come on the market, they’re buying them back," Rafferty said.

"And they’re turning them into employee housing. Some of our resorts have physical constraints, like up these small canyons, but it’s certainly top of mind for all of our 15 ski areas I’d say.”

Steve Metcalf, vice president of Woodward at POWDR, said Woodward Park City has been fortunate to be the first job of many young people in Summit and Salt Lake counties.

One of the biggest changes heading into this season is the new parking reservation system at Park City Mountain.

Reservations will be required for the Main, First Time, and Silver King parking lots between 8:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Starting Dec. 12, those reservations will cost $25 per day.

Walsh touched on the new policy briefly Tuesday.

“So we want to address, how do we get more vehicles either off the road altogether by taking public transit, or the vehicles that are coming to the mountain, to have the highest occupancy that they can,” Walsh said.

She said the reservation element is an effort to stagger when people arrive at the base. Walsh also emphasized that it’s not a perfect system, and the resort will work to adapt as they see fit.

Rafferty offered some words of encouragement on what is a stark change for many Park City Mountain regulars.

“We’ve seen this movie," Rafferty said. "We saw it last year at Alta, and it has a really happy ending. Nobody loves to pay for something that used to be free, but the reduction in drama.”

Also on the panel was Calum Clark, the chief operating officer of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. He said in the next 12 months the foundation plans to break ground on a new nordic center at Soldier Hollow. It will mark the largest investment there since the 2002 Olympics.

Park City Mountain is scheduled to open for the season on November 18, with Deer Valley slated to open on December 3.

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.