Story and Photos by Zac Fox
SALT LAKE CITY — For a business model that profits entirely off of cold weather and snow, how do you maintain profitability without either of the two? Ski resorts across Utah have found ways to stay in the green, and retain profits during the greenest months of the year.
Utah is a mecca for year-round outdoor activity. If you’re in the state, look out your window and you’ll see mountains. No? Drive 30 minutes in any direction and you’ll most likely find yourself in one of the many canyons the Wasatch Front offers. Utah’s five national parks and 14 ski resorts are the major driving force of the state’s tourism industry.
According to the 2017 Economic Report to the Governor, there were roughly 4.5 million skier visits to the state in the winter alone. In order to maintain and maximize profitability, resorts in Utah need to maintain the same number of visitors year-round – not just during the winter. Most resorts are already taking a step in the right direction offering some sort of summer events, but few have completely capitalized on the season.
Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada has primarily been a winter ski resort since 1966, offering minimal summer activities like fishing or hiking. It wasn’t until 1999 when they opened mountain biking trails and offered more summer-focused activities. Sixteen years later, the resort reported 1.6 million visitors in the summer, and 1.1 million visitors in the winter, according to an article from the Vancouver Sun in 2015. Similarly, Winter Park in Colorado pivoted to offer summer activities, despite their namesake.
Resorts, like Powder Mountain, are following in the footsteps of Whistler and Winter Park with a shift to a year-round resort. “I think a lot of people saw the success that Winter Park and Whistler were having. Whistler is now making more money on their summer activities than they do in the winter,” explains J.P. Goulet, Marketing Coordinator for Powder Mountain since 2008.
For the past ten years now, Goulet has been leading the charge for a better, more profitable resort. Since 2009, Powder Mountain has been offering more and more summer activities to get people up on the mountain. “We’re a ski resort, but just a resort in general,” says Goulet. “We can offer a bunch [of] activities – people want to get in the mountains and enjoy fresh air.”
Utah resorts have a combined total of over 29,000 skiable acres — roughly the size of 200 Disneyland’s — that cover some of the most beautiful parts of the state. “The biggest asset a resort has is its land,” explains Theresa Foxley, the Chief Executive Officer of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, “maximize the land and you’ll maximize the profits.”
It seems like common sense to make the switch to a year-round resort, especially when you tally the numbers.
“In the summer, there’s a lot more people that are into outdoor activities,” says Goulet. “There’s only about 6 percent of the Utah population that ski’s more than, I think, three days a year.” From a marketing standpoint, the winter audience in Utah is limited to the 6 percent that actually chooses to ski, but the audience for summer activities jumps significantly.
The resorts, themselves, benefit significantly from being open year-round. For Goulet, it’s “obviously to have some revenues in the summer.” However, it goes beyond profits. In order to implement summer activities, resorts like Powder Mountain have to go over feasibility studies for the entire activity to find out how much they’ll spend or make. A resort has to think of everything from the beginning to the end.
“Bike school programs, rental programs, food and beverage, how much it costs for you to run the lift, how much it costs for staff and patrol,” Goulet says. Additionally, the resorts save time and money by retaining staff around the resort, instead of training new staff every year. Overall, the “more people you have on the mountain the better it is,” Goulet says, “it’s pretty great to be able to offer that.”
Operating a ski resort year round provide a massive benefit, and not just for the resort but for the state as well. “Corporations are looking for talent,” says Foxley, “and talent is drawn to places with great amenities.” Most corporations and employees look for the three A’s: availability, affordability, and accessibility.
The three A’s are what brought professional snowboarder, Jack Wiley, to Utah. Wiley is originally from Seattle, Washington, and moved here to attend high school at the Winter Sports School in Park City. “I came here because there are seven world-class resorts in your backyard,” Wiley says. “Denver is not as accessible to resorts as you’d think, but Salt Lake City is.” Today, the development of off-season amenities means Wiley, and others living along the Wasatch Front, can leverage those resorts the rest of the year.