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Greatest snow on earth.

Greatest Snow on Earth

Skiing's impact on Utah's economy is nothing to shake a ski pole at. Last season out-of-state skiers spent $400 million for their Utah ski vacations, including airfare, lodging, meals lift tickets and ground transportation. Salt Lake's highest hotel occupancy levels run from January through March, during the peak of the ski season.

Sixty percent of Utah's winter adventure seekers came from out-of-state last season. California alone supplied 30 percent of them. About 5 percent came from foreign countries. Non-resident skiers have a mean household income of $82,000.

These findings are the result of the 1990-91 Utah Skier Survey prepared for the Utah Ski Association by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR). The Utah Ski Association is a non-profit organization whose membership includes alpine and cross-country ski areas, hotels, transportation companies, and retail services affiliated with Utah's ski industry. Ski Utah, operated with the same staff and office, is the agency charged with promoting Utah's ski product.

"The most startling discovery is the large sums of money being spent by out-of-state skiers," said Thayne Robson, director, BEBR. Skiers to Utah spend an average of $145 per day. "It's remarkable to me that skiing is still growing in Utah, at the same time it is relatively flat nationally."

Utah Has the Edge

While skiing in other regions of the country has hit the ice in recent years, Utah last year experienced its best ski season ever, an increase of 10.4 percent over the previous year. Utah's 14 ski areas set a combined record during the 1990-91 season for total number of lift tickets sold (2,751,551), a measurement known as "skier days" (one person skiing part or all of one day).

Five factors point to steady growth for Utah's ski industry, according to Randy Montgomery, executive director of Ski Utah: (1) Opportunities for increased marketshare because of easy access to Utah's slopes and Delta's hub presence and expansion of routes; (2) Even though Denver will soon have a new airport, it will be 30 minutes farther away from Colorado's major ski areas; (3) Utah's snow (manmade and natural) is consistently drier and lighter than that found in other places; (4) Utah's ski areas are accessible from wherever the skier chooses to stay; (5) Skiers can ski less expensively here.

"Utah's mountain ranges sit in the most ideal spot on the globe," exclaimed Chris Allaire, director of public relations, Solitude. "Our mountains suck in storms from three directions, making Utah's ski product second to none. We have ski options to meet all pocketbooks."

Utah's success is also due to the resorts' increased snowmaking capabilities, faster and higher-capacity lifts, and the positive media exposure resulting from Salt Lake's bid for the Winter Olympics and Park City's hosting of America's Opening, the year's first World Cup event.

"During America's Opening the weekend before Thanksgiving, Utah receives two days of live coverage on ESPN and 10 to 12 European television networks, plus coverage in New Zealand and Japan," said Mark Menlove, communications director at Park City Ski Area. "Utah is reaching millions of people when they are deciding where to take their vacations. That translates into significant numbers of bookings."

Brian Head, near Cedar City, attracts 40 percent of its skiers from California. Another 36 percent come from Las Vegas, America's fastest growing city. Its drawing cards are nearby Bryce and Zion national parks that are open in the winter, plenty of new condominiums and one luxury hotel, and no lift lines - even on holidays. Though the resort doesn't have snowmaking, it usually opens the last week of November. Ruby's Inn at the entrance to Bryce makes a brisk business of snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in the winter.

Marketing Utah's Frozen Gold

"The word is out that Utah is an excellent place to ski," said Allaire. "Just go to any ski trade show and see our competition. They have nothing over Utah's ski presentation or product. We have the services, the snow, and the world-class resorts. And we're no longer hearing as much about the myths that the sidewalks in Utah roll up at night."

Evidently the Utah ski experience is worth it. The BEBR study shows that once people ski in Utah, they are likely to return. Of the non-resident skiers last year, 64 percent had previously skied in Utah. Approximately 89 percent of non-resident skiers responded that skiing or vacation was the principal reason for their visit to Utah. Six percent said they were in town for business or convention.

Skiers want to do more than just ski during their vacations. The availability of apres-ski options is important in deciding where they will go. The BEBR study substantiated this: 14 percent intended to visit Temple Square; 6 percent planed to attend a Utah Jazz basketball or Golden Eagles hockey game; another 3 percent were going to attend a performance of the Utah Symphony, Ballet West, or Utah Opera; and 5 percent planned to also participate in cross-country skiing. Other popular winter activities are sleigh rides, snowmobiling, hot-air balloon flights, nightclubs, and ice skating.

The Homestead resort in Midway offers the "You Won't Believe This Ski Package," including lodging, meals, rental cars, and ski passes at nearby resorts, and an extra activity such as snowmobiling. Last year it also opened its new cross-country ski course and ski shop.

"Today's skiers are looking for value," said Jim Keane, president of Advance Reservations, the nation's largest ski tour operator. The Park City company sells ski packages to more than 26 destinations throughout the western U.S. and Canada, others to Europe, and summer ski packages to New Zealand and South America. "The actual total cost of the package isn't as important as how much skiers get for their dollar. They want ease of access to the slopes and a certain comfort level in their accommodations. Utah generally has good snow conditions and is known for excellent accessibility to the ski areas," he said.

"Skiers like to hop from resort to resort, rather than ski in the same place day after day. They like Utah's diversity, where every day offers something new," said Allaire. In Utah, confident intermediate skiers can ski five major resorts in a single day with Utah Interconnect, a program coordinated by Ski Utah. Using downhill equipment, guides escort groups through the backcountry connecting Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, Solitude, and Park City ski areas. The full day of skiing includes runs at each of the resorts and lunch.

Without the revenue from non-resident skiers, Utah most likely would not have the existing resort and recreational facilities to enjoy year-round. "Much business that takes place in the state correlates to the availability of skiing," Robson said. "And it might be fair to conclude that we wouldn't have the economic development happening in Park City if it weren't for the ski industry. It is the impetus for most of the residential and commercial development there."

More than 45,000 Utahns are directly employed by the ski industry. Critics say these jobs are mostly part-time and low-paying, seasonal positions. "At Solitude, many of our employees don't want full-time jobs," Allaire explained. "Many of them have other jobs - as park rangers or river guides - in the summer."

Marketing Partners

Delta Air Lines, the official airline of Ski Utah, sponsors the annual Ski the West Fest in Salt Lake City, hosting more than 300 top producing ski-travel agents from around the country. The trade show features nearly 100 ski-industry vendors and exhibitors.

"Ski the West Fest represents a tremendous commitment by Delta to promote Utah," said Fred Rollins, district marketing director for Delta and a member of Ski Utah's executive committee. "The real benefit is that it is held here. The show brings together all marketing entities to sell the Utah ski product," he added.

Delta hosts more than 50 travel agents several times a year, as well as travel-writer groups (in coordination with Ski Utah) for inbound familirization trips (fams). The purpose is to educate the agent about the area and skiing so they can recommend the right vacation for their clients. Fams provide travel writers the opportunity to visualize the vacation package components to the public, to whet their appetites for skiing. "Travel agents and writers can't believe they can stay in Salt Lake and be skiing within half an hour," Rollins commented. Delta spends more than $1 million advertising and promoting Utah skiing on billboards, radio, and television in such cities as Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles. It also promotes the Utah ski experience in its collection of "Delta Dream Vacation" packages. Delta's Salt Lake marketing office sends Utah Ski Planners to all of the airline's marketing offices. "They use them on sales calls to top travel agents and ski-club members. It creates an army of sales people for Utah skiing, at no expense to Utahns," Rollins said.

The Competition Heats Up

Colorado has 28 ski areas - most of them mega-complexes with enormous advertising budgets - and quadruple Utah's ski business. Utah has 14 ski resorts. Colorado has more than 20 percent of America's total skier market, while Utah holds 5 percent. Colorado has a tourism-promotion budget of $12 million, 40 percent of which is allotted for the ski industry. Utah has a year-round promotional budget of $3.6 million, 26 percent of which is spent on winter promotion. Colorado finances its tourism promotion with tax dollars. Utah's travel budget, on the other hand, depends on appropriations from the Utah Legislature. Tourism-industry representatives plan to lobby the Utah Legislature this year for another $2 million in funding. Denver's new airport will prompt Utah ski promoters to accelerate their marketing efforts.

The growth of Utah's ski industry has been hampered by higher costs for labor, taxes, utilities, fuel, insurance, and equipment. According to Montgomery, Utah is one of the few states in the country that requires the payment of sales tax on lift tickets, a factor he believes hurts the industry in Utah.

Utahns were recently disappointed to learn that local favorite Park West would not open this year, due to a failed business deal with potential investors. Park West owner Jerry Gilomen reported that, despite this year's shutdown, he is committed to the long-term success of Park West, which will reopen next season.

Locals Ski, Too, Don't They?

The BEBR study revealed that Utah residents comprise less than 40 percent of Utah skier days.

Why don't more Utahns ski? We are young, but a population with relatively modest incomes (Utah's mean household income is $42,000), and skiing is not an inexpensive activity, said Robson. According to him, Utahns participate in larger than expected numbers in traditional sports like basketball, baseball, soccer, and outdoor recreation. "To guarantee the future growth of skiing in our state, we need to look at what can be done to get more Utahns involved."

This year, Ski Utah will implement an in-school fitness program in 20 to 25 pilot schools. The program meets the Board of Education's Healthy Lifestyles core curriculum. "We provide all the instructors, at no cost to the school," said Raelene Davis of Ski Utah. "The program will get the students fit for all sports, not just skiing. It is not a |learn to ski' class," she emphasized. The curriculum for the classroom course will include an optional learn-to-ski day.

For locals, resorts offer substantial preseason discounts and incentives to ride the bus. Snowbird offers a corporate rate (quantities of 20 to 99 lift passes are $32 per pass instead of $39).

"We have a ton of potential customers living in the Salt Lake valley right at our back door," said Allaire. "We're coming up with innovative ideas to invite them up to ski." Solitude's new learning center - a 7,000-square-foot facility at the base of the mountain - is especially designed to help never-ever skiers and children learn to ski or improve their techniques. The resort's Master's Program for skiers age 50 and older includes a full day of skiing, instruction, and lunch. "It's a nice way for people to get together with their peers and learn to ski," Allaire commented. In addition to its downhill runs, Solitude - Utah's only alpine resort that also has a nordic course - devotes as much effort to promoting its cross-country ski facilities. "It's an up-and-coming trend, and it offers the skier another amenity."

Expansion Plans

Two years ago, Salt Lake County Commissioners enacted the first Wasatch Canyon Master Plan, designed to balance environmental and developmental concerns in the canyons adjacent to Salt Lake City.

According to Randy Horiuchi, Salt Lake County Commissioner, the plan's top priority is to solve the problems of water quality and traffic congestion. The canyons receive more than 5 million visits each year, only one-third of which are related to skiing. "The plan allows existing ski resorts to grow at a controlled, planned rate," he said.

Under the plan, those ski areas with existing Forest Service permits can expand within their present boundaries. All parties agree that the Wasatch Front ski areas have the potential to double their current skier capacity.

To help ease traffic congestion in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, the master plan suggested building park-and-ride lots at the mouths of the canyons. Ski resorts, county departments, and Utah Transit Authority have pooled resources to build the lots. Horiuchi believes that some form of mass transit up the canyons will eventually be needed to accommodate the thousands of visitors. At that time, the master plan will probably be updated.

At the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton Ski Resort has undergone perhaps the most changes this year of any of the big seven resorts. After conducting an Environmental Impact Study last summer, the Forest Service approved several changes. The new Crest Express is a high-speed detachable quad lift that climbs one mile up a 1,200-foot vertical rise to the ridgetop above Mount Majestic.

With beginning, intermediate, and advanced runs, Brighton has always been the place where Salt Lakers learn to ski, said Randy Doyle, area manager. "Salt Lake is our bread and butter, and we're living up to that commitment." This year an adult day pass is $21; children age 10 and under ski free with a paying adult. Brighton also plans a new 60-unit motel, and new restaurants and skier-service buildings. The Big Cottonwood Canyon sewer line is in place, and Brighton's facilities are hooked up this year for the first time.

The true test of the success of the Wasatch Canyon Master Plan will come over time, Horiuchi observed. In the meantime, Utah's ski areas have the terrain, facilities, accessibility, learning programs for all ages, and consistent snow patterns to continue attracting out-of-state skiers ... and perhaps even the locals.

PHOTO : Utah's 14 ski areas set a new record last season for lift tickets sold.

PHOTO : Once people ski in Utah, two-thirds come back for more.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:ski industry's economic impact on Utah
Author:Smith, Cheryl
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Perfecting the art of publishing art.
Next Article:Moguls behind the moguls: Utah's ski resort owners.

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