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Utah's Ski Numbers Down — But Not By Much

Skiing In Utah Took A Hit Due To Less Snow, But Snowmaking Equipment Helped Resorts Sustain Their Business

With less than half the average snowfall this winter, ski attendance has been the lowest in nine years. But the state’s winter sports marketing group, Ski Utah says this isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Between all 14 resorts in Utah, ski attendance hit 3.95 million skier days — which is measured by when a person buys a lift ticket for either the day or night and uses it — this winter.

Ski Utah’s communications director Paul Marshall said while that number is down from average, it is only by 4.9 percent. Overall, he said, it’s been a successful year considering the fact that snowfall has only been 41 percent of the average.

In comparison, he said Utah experienced a similar amount of snowfall in 1977, and ski attendance was down by 53 percent because of inadequate snowmaking equipment.

“What to take from this is that in the year when we had a very low, unfortunate snowfall, and that’s due to mother nature, the mountains’ investment in effective, energy efficient snowmaking paid dividends into keeping skier visits and keeping our 1.3 billion dollar winter industry economy alive,” Marshall said.

But what can we expect in coming years? Utah Climate Center Physicist, Dr. Robert Davies said this winter has been the warmest on record in the Western United States, which is a result of the climate changing.

He said that doesn’t mean every future winter will be like this, and he compared it to when an unusually large wave hits the shore due to tide.

“That doesn’t mean that every time a wave comes up on shore it’s gonna be the highest that the wave ever hit,” Davies said. “It just means that it becomes more likely. So as we move forward, having winters like this become more likely.”

Alta ski resort’s sustainability coordinator and ecologist, Maura Olivos said adaptive management plans for resorts to deal with warmer temperatures are still new for the industry. She said many places, including Alta, don’t have a plan but are in the process of making one.