In addition to great powder snow and a long winter, Utah’s ski industry is blessed by the lingering buzz of the 2002 Winter Olympics, plus a major nearby airport that makes getting to Salt Lake City easy from other parts of the country.
The Olympics brought international acclaim, dozens of new and faster lifts and thousands of more hectares of skiable terrain. Traffic on the slopes was up by 37 per cent in the six years after the Olympics, before the economy soured, making Utah skiing a $1 billion industry.
“That was our coming-out party,” said Nathan Rafferty, president of the trade group Ski Utah. “We were always in the shadows of other resorts, like Colorado’s. But hosting the Olympics put us on the map.”
The most noticeable Olympic legacy has been nonstop development, most recently at Solitude Mountain Resort, which just added its fourth new chair lift since the 2002 Games.
Off the slopes, this season’s biggest improvement is a new set of state liquor laws. The reforms broke up a private club system that made getting inside a bar without a membership a hassle. Utah still strictly regulates drinking venues, a quota system limits their numbers, and regular strength draft beer is banned, thanks to the influence of the teetotalling Mormon church.
But lawmakers are starting to ease up, in part to make the state a more attractive destination to younger snowboarders and skiers.