More good news is rolling out of ski country, with Utah announcing today that skier visits clocked in at the highest in the state’s history. The 15 ski resorts reported 5,301,766 visits during the 2020-’21 season, that’s up 3.44 percent from the previous record-holding season of 2018-’19, and almost one million visits more than during the truncated 2019-’20 season.
What’s most notable about this news is not the number itself, or even the considerable percentage increase from the previous record season, but rather that these numbers were achieved in a relatively mediocre snow year, and without breaking any single-day visitation records.
“Record seasons always correlate with good snow years,” says Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty. “This past season was average at best, with most of the snow coming late in the season, yet the resorts still saw consistent visitation throughout the winter.”
Another phenomenon that lines up with the recent findings on the season released by National Ski Areas Association last week: Utah resorts all reported increased weekday visitation, likely due to people working and children schooling remotely. Due to that, Rafferty says, there were fewer weekend spikes, and more visits throughout the week.
“This is the first time we’ve seen a record-breaking season that didn’t also break any single-day records,” Rafferty says. “Which speaks both to the mediocre snow year as well as to people being able to ski on days other than Saturdays and Sundays.”
One thing that set Utah’s ski resorts up for success that differs somewhat from other areas of ski country, such as Colorado, is that the resorts worked directly with their local health authorities rather than dealing with it at the state level. This cut down on bureaucracy and made it easier to get guidance on safety measures and approvals once guidelines were in place.
“Our resorts got green-lighted to operate their businesses from local health authority, not state government,” says Rafferty. “So the Park City guys were talking to Summit County health, Snowbird and Alta worked with Salt Lake County health, and because it was on a smaller scale, they were working together last summer, setting up plans, so by the time ski season rolled around, they were way ahead of the game.”
The rest of Utah’s metrics align well with the NSAA’s findings, including evidence that more lapsed skiers returned to the sport last winter, smaller ski areas posted big-for-them skier numbers due to people seeking out less-crowded experiences during the pandemic, and thanks to masking and distancing measures, the resorts were able to stay open for the entire season.
Says Rafferty: “Considering that we would have thought it was a huge success just to get open and stay open this past winter, to have these really great numbers is just gravy.”