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Ray Grass: A in-depth look at the changing face of Utah’s skiing industry

SHARE Ray Grass: A in-depth look at the changing face of Utah’s skiing industry

Not in the history of Utah skiing have so many changes taken place in a single year. Not in the history of skiing in the United States has so much money been spent, more than $100 million, on improvements within a single state — Utah.

Changes this past year:

— Vail Resorts out of Colorado, which owned and operated the Canyons, bought Park City Mountain Resort, its next-door neighbor. The two have now been linked to make the largest single ski/snowboard area in the country and is now simply called Park City. The company infused more than $50 million in improvements and upgrades.

— Ian Cumming, whose son, John, is CEO of Powdr Corp., which owned Park City Mountain Resort, bought controlling interest in Snowbird. He has spent more than $35 million on buildings, upgrades and improvements.

— Deer Valley, which is consistently ranked among the top two ski areas in the country by SKIING magazine, bought Solitude and took over ownership this past May.

— A new resort, Cherry Peak, located near the Utah-Idaho border, will open this season on Dec. 21, becoming Utah’s 15th ski area if you separate the Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort or the 14th if you combine the two into Park City.

Other changes in recent years:

— Brian Head Resort in southern Utah fell under new ownership, Brian Head Acquisition LLC, out of Missouri and California, in 2012.

— Powder Mountain in northern Utah was purchased by an organization called the Summit in 2014.

— Snowbasin headed in a little different direction in 2012 with the hiring of a new general manager, John Loomis.

— Nordic Valley, also in northern Utah, was purchased in 2012.

“Half of Utah’s ski/snowboard resorts have changed hands within the past five years,’’ pointed out Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah.

“This year saw the single largest expenditure, $50 million, in a single resort in the history of Utah skiing. The total, over $100 million, is the largest total expenditure in ski/snowboard area improvements and represents more money than was spent on ski areas for the (2002) Olympics.’’

Park City: Now one resort, Park City offers skiers and snowboarders 7,300 usable acres.

The center piece of this union is the Quicksilver Gondola, said Margo Van Ness, manager of communications at Park City. The eight-passenger gondola runs from Silverlode in Park City to the Flat Iron lift in the old Canyons. The ride from bottom to top takes 8½ minutes.

“The gondola connects both sides of the mountain and gives skiers and snowboarders a new and very unique experience. Also, the views from the gondola are breathtaking,’’ said Van Ness.

“We’re also finding that the new Park City is something people want to check out. We’ve had a lot of interest shown in the resort the past few months.’’

Funding also went into two lodges — Red Pine and Summit Lodge — and upgrading two lifts — King Con and Motherload — to high-speed quads.

Snowbird: After years of planning, The Summit Lodge atop the 11,000-foot Hidden Peak is in place and open, offering guests fine dining, a retail shop and spectacular 360-degree views. Cost was $15 million.

Over the summer, another $15 million was spent on the complete renovation of the Cliff Lodge.

“The future focus,’’ said Dave Fields, vice president of resort operations, “will be on the guest experience, making Snowbird an amazing place for day guests and destination visitors.

“Plans call for a long-term commitment to updating buildings, focusing on food and beverage and the on-mountain experiences. We’ve also gone to electronic ticketing. You can put your season pass in your pocket at the start of the season and not take it out all year.’’

Deer Valley/Solitude: The first thing new management did was remove the old Summit fixed-grip double chair and replace it with a four-person detachable high-speed quad. The new lift will cut travel time in half and give guests better access to Honeycomb Canyon, which offers some of the best in-bound backcountry skiing/snowboarding in the state.

New owners will also bring their customer-service expertise, which has made Deer Valley one of the top ranked ski areas in the country, to Solitude.

Cherry Peak: Located 15 miles from Logan on the Utah/Idaho border, Cherry Peak is Utah’s newest addition to the ski/snowboard markets. The resort will open this season with two triple chairs and a magic carpet. All three will be open to night skiing. When fully open, it will offer 29 runs and more than 1,200 vertical feet of terrain.

Snowbasin: One of the first moves Loomis made was to lower lift and season pass prices, which made skiing/snowboarding more affordable to individuals.

Resort owners also have plans for the future that include a village with boutique hotel, retail stores, residential dwellings and a new portal to the resort.

Brian Head: Since purchased in 2012, new owners have made a number of changes, including replacing a fixed-grip double lift with a new high-speed quad last year. It also upgraded lodges and will have a zipline in place in the area of the Navajo lift before Christmas.

Powder Mountain: For this season, owners opened an additional 1,000 acres to its snowcat experience. Along with 3,000 acres of lift-served skiing and boarding, it now lists 4,000 acres of backcountry terrain for its Snowcat Powder Expeditions.

On the surface, skiers and snowboarders may not see where all that money went, but improvement are in place and promise to make the skiing/snowboarding experience in Utah that much better.