Utah ski resorts rebound from COVID-19 with record-breaking year

Skiers and snowboarders ride the First Time lift as Park City Mountain Resort in Park City opens for the 2020-21 ski season on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.

Skiers and snowboarders ride the First Time lift as Park City Mountain Resort in Park City opens for the 2020-21 ski season on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's ski resorts were closing in on a record-breaking ski season between fall 2019 and spring 2020 when COVID-19 cut the season short.

It left those in the industry wondering what could have been because that 2019-20 season still wound up producing the fourth-most skier days in state history. With COVID-19 still in full swing at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, Nathan Rafferty, the president of Ski Utah, admits resorts went into this past season just hoping to remain open.

The state's 15 resorts didn't just survive this season, they thrived.

Ski Utah, which represents Utah's resorts collectively, announced Tuesday that there were a tick over 5.3 million skier visits during the 2020-21 season. The statistic, as defined by the National Ski Areas Association, accounts for one person who visited a ski area at any point during a day to ski or snowboard.

The 2020-21 total is a little over 175,000 more than the previous record, which was set during the 2018-19 season. It was also close to a 21% increase in total skier visits from the 2019-20 season that ended in mid-March 2020.

It's safe to say that the past winter blew all expectations away.

What makes it perhaps even more impressive is that resorts didn't break any single-day visit records throughout the season while breaking the yearly record.

"Throughout the season, it became clear that skiing provided a respite from the day-to-day realities of the pandemic and allowed an option for guests to safely socialize outside," Rafferty said in a statement Tuesday. "Our resorts came together to implement a variety of COVID protocols that allowed each of our resorts to not only remain open through the end of the season, but also break our existing Utah skier day record. While 2020-21 looked different in terms of guest experience, it was our best year yet."

The figures released Tuesday show just another aspect of outdoor recreation that experienced growth in popularity during the pandemic. Utah State Parks reported a 33% increase in total visitation in 2020 and Utah's national parks experienced an uptick in visitation after a sluggish summer last year that carried into 2021.

While the 2020-21 ski season is over, the state's resorts are now focused on activities between now and the next ski season. For instance, Snowbird announced Monday it plans to launch its summer season Saturday. In addition, it plans to bring back its Oktoberfest for a 48th year in resort history this August after the resort canceled the tradition in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.

Other resorts, like Sundance Resort, previously announced plans to use the offseason to work on upgrades for the next season.

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