Things got a bit better a year ago with snow totals reaching 449 inches and ski visitation climbing 5.4 percent.
Now, with Brighton and Solitude already open and Brian Head scheduled to open Friday, Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty expressed cautious optimism Tuesday at the organization's annual season-opening press conference.
He said the combination of a strong stock market, decent economic recovery and Winter Olympics increasing interest in snow sports should bode well for a Utah ski industry that creates 20,000 jobs and brings $1.3 billion to the state's economy.
Add to that the fact that Park City Mountain Resort is celebrating its 50th season with special events, many ski areas are offering new combination passes, Brian Head made $3.5 million in improvements and Snowbird added a new high-speed quad lift, and optimism abounds.
Rafferty said Utah ski reservations are up 21 percent ahead of last year compared to 15 percent in the Intermountain West.
Judging from the nice crowds that showed up when Brighton became the first Utah resort to open last Thursday, interest is high as well.
"There were a lot of happy kids," said Brighton's Jared Winkler. "There were something like 300 or 400 people on the mountain. A lot of season pass holders came to get their passes printed … We have two lifts and three runs opening. It looks like a nice start to open the season."
The key, as always, remains good snow. On a day where the temperatures in downtown Salt Lake City were in the mid-60s, it didn't seem possible the ski season was beginning. Ski officials were hoping cooler temperatures expected to move into Utah later this week could help with snow-making operations to get the season in gear. The fact the past two snow seasons have been below average seems to have hurt ski numbers.
Rafferty also stressed Utah's 14 resorts' rankings in the SKI magazine reader service rankings, where they received the top rating in 12 of the 20 category divisions and three Park City resorts were in the top 10 overall. By comparison, Colorado's 28 resorts received three top ratings and California's 26 earned only two in the top 20 ratings.
The Ski Utah president said the organization has redesigned its website, SkiUtah.com, and has improved its daily snow report totals.
Ski Utah's Susie English also said that the organization's first annual coat drive to help the homeless and introduce low-income kids to skiing generated more than 200 jackets, about 175 of which will go to the Road Home. The Road Home's Kelly Parker thanked Ski Utah for the donation, which she said will help keep men, women and children warm this winter.
Utah ski resort tentative opening dates
Alta • Nov. 22
Beaver Mountain • Mid-December, snow permitting
Brian Head • Friday
Brighton • Open
Canyons • Nov. 29
Deer Valley • Dec. 7
Eagle Point • Dec. 19
Park City Mountain Resort • Nov. 23
Powder Mountain • Nov. 27
Snowbasin • Nov. 28
Snowbird • Nov. 20
Solitude • Open
Sundance • Dec. 6
Wolf Mountain • Dec. 5
Utah's Olympic qualifying events
Dec. 6-7 • FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Cup, Utah Olympic Park
Dec. 13-14 • FIL Luge World Cup, Utah Olympic Park
Dec. 27-Jan. 1 • U.S. Speed Skating Olympic Team Trials (long track), Utah Olympic Oval
Dec. 29 • U.S. Nordic Combined & Ski Jumping, Utah Olympic Park
Jan. 2-5 • Utah Speed Skating Olympic Team Trials (short track), Utah Olympic Oval
Jan. 4-10 • U.S. Cross Country and Adaptive Championships, Soldier Hollow
Jan. 8-11 • FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup, Deer Valley Resort
Jan. 17-19 • U.S. Sprint Grand Prix, Park City Mountain Resort