Mayflower builders tout snowmaking, resort location in response to snow concerns
The Mayflower Mountain Resort plans to open for skiing in late 2024. While the plan for a new ski area in the Wasatch Back has drawn mixed feedback, its developer promises world-class facilities and conditions.
As neighbors and motorists near the Mayflower Mountain Resort see home and ski trail construction progress, some wonder how much snow the country’s first new ski resort in decades will have once it’s up and running.
Construction is well underway. Apartments are nearing move-in status, home lots are selling, and hotel and skier amenities are on track to open before the slopes, according to Extell Utah, the Mayflower Mountain Resort developer.
Extell Utah Executive Vice President of Development Kurt Krieg said Tuesday that crews have cleared about 300 acres of ski runs so far. The resort plans to offer 4,000 acres of total skiable area.
But as construction has progressed, locals have expressed concerns.
“You drive by all winter long, and there's just not a lot of snow there, ever. So, that's concerning,” said Suellen Winegar, a Utah-born Midway resident. “We can always hope it's going to be good, but anyway, we just are very skeptical and very concerned about the water.”
Winegar lives a half-hour drive from the resort. She said she usually buys a season pass to Park City Mountain but is open to buying a Mayflower pass one day.
According to Extell Vice President of Development Brooke Hontz, Mayflower will have good snow through winter. She attributed that to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reflect a special weather pattern over the resort.
She said over the last 20 years, temperatures recorded at Mayflower were slightly colder than at nearby resorts like Deer Valley, even though that resort’s base area elevation is 500 feet higher. In addition, she said Mayflower will use top-of-the-line snowmaking equipment.
“Over the past 20 years, it's actually a little bit cooler over here on the Mayflower side, which helps us,” Hontz said. “Cooler is obviously better for when you want to make snow or even when snow wants to fall naturally. The data also shows that the temperatures are colder here longer.”
But climate experts say ski resorts in the western U.S. will soon face new challenges, and past data won’t be the best predictor of the future.
“We're seeing that right now, winter is starting later, it's ending earlier,” said Brian McInerney, former senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service. “We're getting rain in November where we used to get snow more frequently. Now, we’re seeing an increase in the amount of rainfall. And also in the spring.”
McInerney said 10 to 40 years from now, most research shows the current average snowpack across most of the West will drop to just half of what it is now.
Some specific impacts of climate change include more high-pressure weather. McInerney said that causes long periods of warm, dry conditions at times when snowfall used to be more consistent.
That could make snowmaking more crucial, especially in early-season months.
Mayflower will draw water from the Jordanelle Reservoir, located just below the resort. Extell owns rights to use 900 acre-feet, or approximately 293,000,000 gallons, of that per year for snowmaking. That’s one-third of 1% of the total capacity of the Jordanelle. Hontz said Extell bought the majority of those water rights with the land for the project.
Mayflower will be about 20% larger than Park City Mountain, not including the Canyons side, according to Park City Mountain spokesperson Sara Huey.
Park City Public Utilities Director Clint McAffee said that portion of Park City Mountain diverts 550 acre-feet for snowmaking on the Park City side. So, Mayflower will have about 40% more water than that area of Park City Mountain to use for snowmaking.
Meanwhile, Mayflower will be twice the size of Deer Valley, its next-door neighbor, but will only have about 25% more water rights, according to Deer Valley spokesperson Emily Summers.
McInerney said with or without water and snow machines, the increasingly warmer temperatures will force Utah ski resorts to make unprecedented decisions sooner rather than later. That especially applies to Mayflower, which is at 6,500 feet of elevation at the base area.
“If you are starting a new ski area and your base elevation is anywhere around the [7,000-foot] mark, 7,500,” McInerney said, “it's going to be problematic to have snow at your base area, trying to get any kind of base area set up for, you know, the Christmas holiday. It's becoming more and more problematic as we speak, and it's only going to get worse until roughly about 2070, 2080. The ski industry is going to have to do something different because we won't have snow. It just won't work that way.”
Within 60 to 80 years, he said meteorologists predict Park City weather will shift to become about 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. He said that will change Wasatch Back weather to feel like Salt Lake City year-round.
Last year, Park City Mountain delayed its opening from November 19 to November 28. When it opened, it used a gondola to shuttle visitors to high-elevation areas because the base area was too dry. Solitude also pushed back last season’s opening date.
Hontz acknowledged the Mayflower base area doesn’t get as much natural snow accumulation as resorts in the Cottonwood Canyons because it faces east and is exposed to direct sun much of the day. She also added that most of the resort’s runs will face north and largely avoid direct sunlight.
But, according to Hontz, Mayflower’s bringing in “the most sophisticated” snowmaking equipment in North America. That’s part of why the resort says it will offer a ski experience that will “meet or exceed what is currently provided at any other resort in Utah.”