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Utah skier visits drop 10 percent; bad snow blamed

SHARE Utah skier visits drop 10 percent; bad snow blamed

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah saw a 10 percent dip in skier visits this past season, reaching the lowest number in eight years, Ski Utah officials said Tuesday.

The industry marketing group reported 3.8 million day visits for skiers and snowboarders at Utah's 14 resorts. That's the smallest number since 3.43 million visits were reported in 2003-04.

It's a stark contrast to the 2010-11 season, when heavy snowfall resulted in 4.22 million visits — surpassed only by the 2007-08 season.

Ski Utah officials blamed the recent visitation decline on low snow totals and the wavering economy. Still, Utah fared better than resorts nationally, where visits were down 15 percent on average.

In 2010-11, Utah had 723.5 inches of snow — allowing resorts such as Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort to stay open until July 4. This year, Snowbird closed May 13.

"From a Mother Nature standpoint, it was a really challenging season, especially for locals," said Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah.

Alta Ski Area reported 390.5 inches of snow through April 27 — the lowest total since the 2006-07 season, when 389.5 inches fell. Alta typically receives the most snow in Utah.

Alta received 560 inches in 2009-10, 696 inches in 2008-09 and 701.5 inches in 2007-08.

Rafferty said destination guests "saved the day" this year.

Locals can be fickle and used to great powder days, he said, whereas destination guests have dates in mind for vacation and make the best of what the resorts offer.

Rafferty said restaurants and shops did better than expected, though he had no official revenue reports. He also said Utah Olympic Park, which has a bobsled run, museum and other facilities, had its best year ever.

Despite the bad snow year, Rafferty was optimistic about next season, especially after attending a National Ski Areas Association conference in May.

"Unequivocally, there's no hangover," Rafferty said. "Skiers are optimistic. They know how Mother Nature works."

One bad year does not mean the next one won't be great — as evidenced by snowfall totals just five years ago.