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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Utah's out-of-state skiers increase as Colorado's decline

By Ray Grass
Deseret Morning News

      In the fight to lure visiting skiers to groomed ski runs, sit-down meals and comfy beds, Utah is doing well.
      Much better, it appears, than other states, including its big-brother rival to the east - Colorado.
      In a byline story in the Rocky Mountain News, Chris Walsh reported that over the past seven years Colorado's out-of-state skier counts have "tumbled."
      By comparison, Utah's out-of-state business, over the past four years, has shown an increase - 7 percent.
      Despite a slow travel industry, Utah had its second best season in 2002-2003 - 3.1 million skier days. This was without a strong showing by local skiers who waited for the huge storms that never came last year. More than half of those skier days were taken by out-of-town guests.
      Colorado reported 11.6 million skier days last season, which is up from 11.1 million the previous years. What has resorts concerned is the rise represents special pricing programs for locals, not the higher-spending visitors.
      Walsh cites a number of reasons for Colorado's drop, among them the fact that Colorado lost its huge tourism-advertising budget in 1993, and tougher competition from other ski markets, which would include Utah.
      The Olympics, reported Kip Pitou, president of Ski Utah, helped Utah in the destination market. The Games earned Utah a spot on the supermarket shelf with other major resorts and helped dispel a number of irritating myths about Utah, such as that people can't have fun or can't get a drink in Utah.
      "We're up there with the big boys now and it's up to us to get off the shelf and into the hands of the consumer . . . and I can assure you that other states, including Colorado, will be making a strong push for the same market."
      A survey of 4,400 skiers taken last winter at 12 Utah resorts showed 56 percent were from out of state, compared to survey results from 1999-2000, when 49 percent were visiting.
      Many of those surveyed reported that the Olympics "strongly influenced their decision to visit Utah."
      Other reasons out-of-state winter visitors came to Utah included the quality of skiing and snowboarding, snow conditions and the accessibility of multiple winter resorts to Salt Lake City. Utah has seven world-class resorts within 30 minutes of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
      Walsh reported that Colorado will, in fact, make a big push this year to lure back out-of-state skiers. This will include a $9 million gift from Colorado Tourism, of which $2 million is earmarked for skiing.
      And, he reported that Colorado resorts will target historically strong markets, such as New York, Florida, Texas and California; will try to make resorts more accessible by air; and will offer incentive packages. One resort will pay $100 in gas money to any skier traveling from Texas.
      Utah will be in competition for those very same out-of-state skiers.
      One thing that will help Utah is its continued strong showings in ski-magazine polls.
      Ski Magazine's recent ratings listed Vail No. 1, Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia No. 2 and Deer Valley No. 3.
      Colorado has six resorts ranked in the top 10, while Utah had two - Deer Valley and No. 9 Park City. The Canyons came in at No. 16, Snowbird at No. 23 and Brighton at No. 30.
      Skiing Magazine, in its annual poll of the top 25, ranked Whistler Blackcomb No. 1 and Alta/Snowbird No. 2. Park City was No. 14 and Snowbasin was No. 15 in the survey.
      "Whistler Blackcomb is bigger, but Alta and Snowbird have far better snow - more than 40 feet of eight-percent fluff per season," reported the magazine.
      A snowboard magazine also recently ranked Park City Mountain Resort's terrain parks among the top five in North America.
      The survey last year showed that 35 percent of those who bought lift tickets in Utah were snowboarders. The average at most resorts is 22 percent.
      A good winter, coupled with those good Olympic memories, would be more than enough to lure destination skiers to Utah, and might just be enough to get local skiers on the mountains.

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