Big changes made for Utah’s ski season

Al Hartmann
People take a lift past snowy trees at Solitude Mountain Resort. Several Utah ski resorts are changing to accommodate their patrons. (Associated Press)

Skiers and snowboarders are hitting the slopes and have a front row seat to changes being made at Utah resorts.

Utah is home to 14 ski resorts, 11 of which are within an hour of BYU’s campus. Last year Utah’s ski industry brought in over 4.5 million visitors to Utah and accounted for a large part of the state’s $1 billion tax revenue according to the Utah Tourism Industry Association.

While scientists predict that Utah’s “Greatest Snow on Earth” will disappear by the end of the century, Utah’s resorts are expanding in big ways.

“It’s super exciting. Anybody that is a big mountaineer is pumped to go out and find new terrain,” said Collin Francom, head of marketing for Freeride Academy, BYU’s largest student club of skiers and snowboarders.

Emily Moench, Public Relations Manager at the Utah Office of Tourism, said the development of Utah ski resorts, like Powder Mountain’s plan to add two new ski lifts opening thousands of acres of new terrain, makes the state more able to accommodate skiers.

Jonathan Bigelow, president of BYU’s Freeride Academy, said resort development is a sticky subject for most outdoor enthusiasts, “I love the expansion of skiing but I’ve always liked the hometown feel when skiing,” Bigelow said. “It’s great to see more people on the mountain and have access to more terrain. Change is change and you take the good and the bad.”

Bigelow spoke about the possibility of losing that “hometown” feel with Vail’s takeover of Park City and Canyons Resort.

“Vail is such a big resort name, super commercialized. It’s great we can now access two mountains for $400 as college students, but we risk losing some of that small town culture,” said Bigelow.

Francom also said he had mixed feelings about Park City. “Vail is a very ritzy company. As soon as the name was added, day passes were immediately more expensive.”

Vail has slowly taken over the historic ski town of Park City. The company first acquired Canyons Resort in 2013. Then in the summer of 2015, Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort combined. The acquisition and combination of the resorts created the largest ski and snowboard resort in the United States. Since then, Vail has pumped $50 million of improvements including an eight passenger Quicksilver Gondola connection, a new restaurant, Miners Camp, and the new King Con Express six-pack and Motherlode Express. Vail also sought to trademark Park City earlier this year but quickly abandoned plans when Park City residents rose up in protest.

This season many other ski resorts in Utah are following Park City’s lead and expanding in big ways.

Alta ski area, known for exclusivity as a skier-only mountain, released major expansion plans. In a Master Development Plan Update submitted to the U.S. Forest Service the plans proposed 12 specific projects including a tram to the summit of Mount Bald, a new lift from Sugarbowl to Germania Ridge, upgrading Supreme and Cecret lifts, removal of Albion lift, expansion of Watson’s Shelter and Alf’s Restaurant, parking lot expansions, and making room for larger bus transits.

Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort is already en route to improving its facilities. After switching-up ownership in 2014, Snowbird pumped $35 million into upgrading the resort last season. Now a newly rebuilt Creekside Lodge boasts a larger facility that will house all Snowbird Mountain Ski and Snowboard School lessons. Looking forward, Snowbird will be remodeling its flagship property, the Cliff Lodge.

Sundance Resort, the closest resort to BYU’s campus, is installing a new Arrowhead Life to replace the mountain’s main triple chair. The new lift features a quad chair with newly improved loading and unloading areas. The new lift will increase hill capacity by over 500 people an hour and will help decrease lift lines.

Deer Valley Resort, Solitude Mountain Resort, and Brian Head Resort are focusing on revamping restaurants this season. Solitude renovated their on-site restaurant, Roundhouse, and plans to expand their menu. Brian Head Resort built a brand-new 2,000-square-foot kitchen and barbeque pit to house a Kansas-City style barbecue every Friday and Saturday evening. Deer Valley is broadening their menu at Brass Tag, adding a new chef to frontline the expansion of flavors.

Along with the renovation of Brass Tag, Deer Valley Resort will open the new Stein Eriksen Residences this ski season. The new lodging will provide an “authentic, luxury, alpine-living experience,” said Ski Utah Director of Communications Paul Marshall in a statement. Reservations for the new lodging begin in December.

Other big changes for Utah’s ski industry are the addition of Cherry Peak Ski Resort and the opening of Whisper Ridge Cat Skiing. Located in Cache Valley, Cherry Peak was set to be Utah’s 15th and newest ski resort last year but expansion and permits kept doors closed. However, this year Cherry Peak has opened their slopes along with the rest of Utah’s ski resorts. Whisper Ridge Cat Skiing is a new skiing facility set to open in late December. Located in Paradise, this facility will provide a unique all-inclusive backcountry resort experience on 60,000 acres of private ski terrain. Along with backcountry skiing, the resort boasts 10 mountain top yurts for overnight skiing trips.

“Utah is home to the ‘Greatest Snow on Earth’ and has great accessibility to that snow,” said Moench. “Skiers in Utah have the ability to travel to 10 different ski resorts within an hour of leaving the airport. A lot of major brands are relocating to Utah because business is booming.”

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