Visits to Utah ski resorts last winter dropped 10 percent from the previous season, thanks to one of the slimmest snowpacks on record.
Ski Utah, marketing arm of the state's 14 active resorts, said Tuesday that 3,802,536 skier days were logged in the winter of 2011-12. While that is still the eighth highest total in the state's history, it marked a significant decline from the previous winter, when especially heavy snowfall attracted 4,223,064 skiers to the slopes, the second best all-time number.
"Utah ski and snowboard resorts did an exceptional job compensating for the lack of early season snow with a record level of snow making," Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty said. "Unfortunately, by the time Mother Nature joined the effort many consumers had already turned their attention away from skiing and snowboarding."
The 10 percent decline also is better than the performance of many other ski states, almost all of which were hurt by dry winter weather. The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has reported that last winter's visitation across the country fell 15 percent from a year earlier.
The absence of early snow hurt resorts hoping for a strong Thanksgiving weekend, and even kept Eagle Point resort outside of Beaver from opening until late January. A sputtering economy didn't help resort efforts to attract visitors once snow finally arrived, Rafferty said.
As always, Alta Ski Area received the most snow of any Utah resort last winter. But the 390.5 inches recorded there was little more than half of the accumulation (723.5 inches) for the 2010-11 season, which culminated with July 4 skiing on a 100-inch mid-mountain base at Snowbird Ski & Summer.
For the last eight years, according to figures on Alta's website, the Little Cottonwood Canyon resort has averaged 604 inches of snow per season. Only the winter of 2006-07 came close to matching this past season in snow stinginess, finishing with 401.5 inches.
During that same span, Ski Utah visitation numbers averaged 4,041,974. The high 4,249,190 occurred in the winter of 2007-08. This past winter, Utah resorts attracted 93,000 fewer skiers and boarders than in the next worst year of the past decade, 2004-05.
While skier-day numbers were down, Rafferty said, "many complementary businesses, such as restaurants and shops, reported steady to strong business, indicating many visitors [still came] and supplemented their vacations with other activities."
The NSAA defines a skier day as one person visiting a ski area for all or any part of a day or night for the purpose of skiing/snowboarding.
A bad snow year caused a 10 percent drop-off in visitation to Utah's 14 ski resorts last winter.
Season Skier Days Rank
2011-12 3,802,536 8
2010-11 4,223,064 2
2009-10 4,048,153 5
2008-09 3,972,984 6
2007-08 4,249,190 1
2006-07 4,082,094 3
2005-06 4,062,188 4
2004-05 3,895,578 7
Source: Ski Utah
A complete history of Utah's skier days is available at http://bit.ly/9bLhWt