Ski Utah Pres. & CEO: preliminary season data shows more local skiing

PARK CITY, Utah — Ski Utah President and CEO Nathan Rafferty told TownLift in an interview that visitation for the 2021-22 season was “pretty similar” to the year prior, in which a new record was set with over 5.3 million skier days.

Data is still coming in for the season, which doesn’t officially end until Snowbird closes. Based on preliminary numbers, “we actually saw more local skiing than destination guests than when we had done this survey two years ago,” Rafferty said.

He said there’s been a big surge in local skiing recently and that traffic issues are not simply related to an uptick in destination guests. He noted that large markets like New York did see a bounce back in visitation this season but their largest international market, Australia, was still shut off due to Covid restrictions.

Park City Mountain recently announced that they will be instituting paid reservation system next season. Rafferty said that as a “traffic mitigation tool,” paid parking is “really helpful.”

“We’re really catching up with a lot of the industry. It’s a rare occurrence that you don’t pay for parking at the bigger ski areas in Colorado or California,” he said.

Next year, 20% of Ski Utah’s ad budget will be dedicated to ‘responsible travel.’

“What that looks like is, instead of saying come ski the Greatest Snow On Earth, we say when you do come ski the Greatest Snow On Earth, here’s how to do it.” — Ski Utah President & CEO Nathan Rafferty

Rafferty said the goal is to push people towards calmer points in the season, and encourage public transit use and pre-booking reservations.

He also praised resort workers amid a season that saw numerous challenges — streaky snow, the omicron surge in December, and labor shortages.

“Feels like these last two years have been two decades,” Rafferty said, referring to the pandemic’s impact on the state’s wintersports industry.

“Very, very challenging circumstances to run resorts in, and I am beyond proud of the efforts that resorts have made, including and especially all the employees that worked so hard this winter… a lot of them were working double shifts because they were covering for people.”

On a recent trip to Washington D.C., he talked to Utah representatives about the need for increasing J1 visas, which are critical for staffing resorts during peak season.

He highlighted Sen. Mitt Romney and Reps. John Curtis and Blake Moore for their efforts relating to climate change. “It wasn’t that long ago, I’d say five years ago, I couldn’t even mention the words ‘climate change’ when I was visiting our delegation.”

Ski Utah also piloted a program called ‘Discover Winter’ this season, which seeks to diversify the slopes by introducing primarily immigrants to the sport and culture of skiing, with additional support from various ski shops and private donations.

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