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Resorts fail to attract local skiers

As far as many local skiers are concerned, the 2002-03 season never happened. Their skis never left the storage closet.

It snowed, but total inches have been far less than normal. Runs were well covered for most of the season, thanks to man-made snow, but without those heavy snow days in the valley and waist-deep accumulations in the mountains, locals never tuned into skiing.

Kip Pitou, president of Ski Utah, confirmed that destination business has been way up, but local ticket sales are way down.

"There just haven't been those big storms we need to stimulate the locals," he said. "We did get some storms in February, but it was too late. Especially since January and February were so warm and people were out golfing instead of skiing."

The fact that Utah was able to draw skiers in from other states is, he continued, a direct result of the 2002 Olympics. Early reports from other ski areas around the country show that Colorado, which received heavy snows early in the season, is about the only other state showing strong destination traffic.

Eastern resorts did get lots of snow this year, but cold temperatures and stormy weekends kept many skiers away.

According to Dan Malstrom of Brighton, total snowfall at this point is 384 inches. Connie Marshall of Alta reports total accumulation of 353 inches. Both areas typically receive more than 500 inches annually. Alta went over the century mark — a 100-inch base — for the first time last week.

Consensus among some resort managers is that the weak economy also played a major part in the decision locals made to keep the skis off the feet this year, but they felt the war has had little, if any, effect on business.

"It doesn't seem to have stopped those who had vacations scheduled," said Pitou, "but it may have stopped new business from coming. I don't think the timing of the war has hurt us.

"As we approach the end of the season I do expect our total skier count will be flat, at best. I don't anticipate numbers being up."

Dave Fields, public relations director at Snowbird, in reviewing the season, said lodging numbers have been strong and season ticket sales were high, "but for whatever the reason, locals did not get into the ski or snowboard mode. All things considered, we're happy with the numbers, but we won't be setting any records."

Katie Eldridge, communications director at The Canyons, pointed out that those locals who failed to ski this season, "have assumed it's not good, when, in fact, skiing has been good. It simply hasn't been the stellar powder season locals have come to expect. Even now, conditions are good."

She added that, like Snowbird, The Canyons has been able to fill the lodges with destination skiers.

Craig McCarthy, director of marketing for Brian Head in southern Utah, reported that the resort received 31 inches of new snow last week, which has guaranteed the resort good skiing through the end of the season.

Ethan Greene with the U.S. Forest Service avalanche forecast center said it's not time to total up Utah's snow year.

"We're going to get more snow. In fact, the storm coming in Thursday could be a big one. It's looking that way," he said.

"We actually did get storms in this past winter. They simply weren't very energetic."

The ski season, however, is making its last run. Resorts will begin to close in two weeks — more snow or not.