Strong Utah ski season expected when lifts launch

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Strong Utah ski season expected when lifts launch
Ann Palermo cleans snow off her car in Long Beach Township on Long Beach Island, N.J., Monday, March 17, 2014. Some parts of the New Jersey shore have 7 inches of fresh snow on the ground from a late-winter storm. By midmorning, skies were clearing and the winter weather warning that had covered the central part of the state was canceled. A warning remained in effect in five southern New Jersey Counties. Totals ranged from about 5 inches in some far-flung Philadelphia suburbs to less than 2 inches in Freehold. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
A young girl tosses snow from an Interstate 76 embankment as she and others play, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Philadelphia. Snow and sleet are falling on the East Coast, from North Carolina to New England, a day after sleet, snow and ice bombarded the Southeast. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A pedestrian crosses South Broad Street in view of City Hall as mixed winter precipitation falls Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Philadelphia. Snow and sleet are falling on the East Coast, from North Carolina to New England, a day after sleet, snow and ice bombarded the Southeast. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Rental cars are covered with snow at Dulles International Airport (IAD), in Sterling, Virginia near Washington, DC February 13, 2014. On Thursday, over a hundred flights were canceled at Dulles International Airport which typically has 750 flights on a normal day. Specialty website FlightAware said airlines canceled at least 3,700 flights on February 12th and had already shelved 5,500 for Thursday, including many flights to and from New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington. The latest brutal freeze to hammer the eastern states of the country since the start of the year has been dubbed 'snowmaggedon,' 'mind-boggling' and 'historic' by major television networks and forecasters. AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 8: Punter Sam Martin #6 of the Detroit Lions punts the ball during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 8, 2013 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 34-20. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images)
A pedestrian pauses to take a photograph, right, of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 3, 2014. Temperatures plummeted across the U.S., bringing snow, grounding flights and closing schools and government offices as a late winter storm zeroed in on Washington, sparing New York City a direct hit. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The U.S. Treasury, right, sits covered in snow in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 3, 2014. Temperatures plummeted across the U.S., bringing snow, grounding flights and closing schools and government offices as a late winter storm zeroed in on Washington, sparing New York City a direct hit. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 13: A worker with the New York City Parks and Recreation Department uses a snowblower along the Promenade during a snow storm February 13, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. In what is turning out to be one of the snowiest winter's in recent memory for New York City and ouch of the East Coast, Thursday's weather is expected to bring a wintery mix of sleet and snow with total accumulation of 6 to 8 inches of snow before ending early Friday morning. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2014 snow plows clear a highway after a winter storm brought Atlanta to standstill. As spring officially begins Thursday, officials across much of the nation are still paying the bills for keeping roads clear during the cold, snowy winter. Atlanta is dipping into a rainy-day fund to cover $13.5 million in cleanup costs. (AP Photo/David Tulis, File)
A snow covered side street shows the effects of an overnight snowstorm Wednesday, March 12, 2014, in Blue Island, Ill. A late winter storm dumped more than 5 inches of snow in the Chicago area, causing power outages and headaches for commuters. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2014, file photo, vehicles travel on a snow-covered Interstate 85 in Greenville, S.C., during the worst winter storm in the state in a decade. Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 asked President Obama to declare 21 of the state's 46 counties a federal disaster area as a result of the storm. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt, File)
Yellow taxicab stuck in snow in New York City winter
Winter 2014. New York City.
Cars covered in snow and ice are parked along what appears to be an abandoned Broadway Street in Paducah, Ky., Monday, March 3, 2014. A winter storm brought ice, sleet and snow to the region hampering travel and business. Area colleges, school and shopping centers have closed. (AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee)
A runner runs along the lake shore in Chicago, Friday, Fen. 21, 2014. Strong winds and icy roads made for a difficult commute this morning as a powerful storm lingered for a second day. The National Weather Service says a wind advisory remains in effect for the city until 3 p.m. Forecasters say gusts could reach 45 miles per hour. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Visitors take pictures of an ice filled Chicago River Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in downtown Chicago. Weeks of subfreezing weather are giving way, at least briefly, to temperatures in the 50s, putting cities on guard for flooding, roof collapses and clogged storm drains. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
This photo released Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 by the Massachusetts State Police shows a car being pulled up by wrecker along Interstate 190 in West Boylston, Mass. A quick-moving storm blew through the winter-weary East Coast and into New England, with several inches of snow falling throughout the region. (AP Photo/Massachusetts State Police, Dustin Fitch)
A pedestrian is under snow covered trees on Boston Common in Boston, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. A speedy winter storm that blew through parts of the Great Lakes and East on Tuesday is expected to leave a trail of warmer weather and rain that should provide a respite for residents weary of weeks of bitter cold but also create the potential for flooding and collapsing roofs in some areas. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
A board displays cancelled flights at Logan International Airport in Boston on Saturday evening, Feb. 15, 2014. Another round of snow made its way into the Northeast on the heels of a storm that brought snow and ice to the East Coast, caused at least 25 deaths and left hundreds of thousands without power. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Sunlight reflects off spotlight on the Philadelphia Museum of Art as people sled down its steps, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Philadelphia. A winter storm stretched from Kentucky to New England and hit hardest along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A pedestrian walks through a snow storm, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Philadelphia. A storm is sweeping across the Mid-Atlantic and New England. The National Weather Service said the storm could bring 8 to 12 inches of snow to Philadelphia and New York City, and more than a foot in Boston. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
BOSTON - FEBRUARY 16: Elsy Velasquez, front, and her crew are just about done servicing homes in Harvard Commons. Velasquez Bros is a family snow shoveling business. Velasquez shoveling the morning after a winter snow storm on Sunday, February 16, 2014. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk through the snow past the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Wind-driven snow whipped through New Yorks streets and piled up in Boston as a fast-moving storm brought near-blizzard conditions to parts of the Northeast, closing roads, grounding flights and shutting schools. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 4: Snow is piled up high in front of Home Depot in the South Bay shopping center after a two day winter storm January 4, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. The storm began mid day Thursday with heavy snows overnight into Friday bringing with it extreme cold. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Buoyed by an improving economy and renewed buzz about Utah's ski scene thanks to Vail Resort's recent purchase of the state's largest resort, ski officials are expecting one of the best seasons in recent memory when lifts turn on later this month.

Bookings at ski resorts are up about 4 percent from the same time last year, said Nathan Rafferty, president of the trade group Ski Utah. After two straight subpar years of snowfall, resorts are optimistic they're due for at least an average year.

"Crossing fingers that Mother Nature helps us out a little bit, we're on tap for an excellent ski season," Rafferty said. "Our goal for this season to have a record year."

The record was set in 2007-08, when the state recorded nearly 4.25 million skier and snowboarder days. Last year, Utah resorts registered 4.16 million, up for the third straight year.

Utah's unemployment rate is at 3.5 percent, well below the national average, fueling optimism that people will be willing to spend money for expensive lift tickets to hit the slopes.

Out-of-state visitors tend to make plans regardless of snowfall totals, but local skiers and snowboarders often need fresh powder days to persuade them to get off the couch and go up the mountain, Rafferty said. The last big snow year was 2010-11, but that came during a down year for the economy.

Most of the state's 15 resorts are expected to open later this month with Solitude, Brighton, Alta, Snowbird and Park City Mountain Resort jostling to be the first.

For the time in decades, Utah will have a new ski resort this year. Cherry Peak Resort opens north of Logan, about four miles south of the Utah-Idaho border. It will have three lifts for skiers and snowboarders as well as a three-lane tubing hill and ice skating rink.

The resort hopes to survive and thrive in the competitive industry by offering something for skiers and non-skiers alike, said Forest Fackrell, general manager. They offer adult lift tickets for $42, among the lowest in the state.

"We want to be the kind of resort where a family can be comfortable there as well hard-core ski enthusiasts," Fackrell said.

While Cherry Peak looks to establish a foothold in the industry as a small resort, the presence of one of the industry's biggest companies will be larger than ever in Utah this year.

Vail Resort's recent acquisition of Park City Mountain Resort, for $182.5 million, resolved a legal battle between the two companies and paved the way for the creation of what could be the country's largest ski area.

The adjacent Canyons Resort, already owned by Vail, and Park City Mountain Resort won't be connected by a ski lift this year - that's planned for the following season - but skiers and snowboarders can buy one pass for the two resorts this season.

Skiers who buy an Epic Pass through Vail, $769 for adults, will also now have two Utah resorts where they can use the pass that's good at 22 resorts around the world. An Epic Local Pass that offers access to a smaller list of U.S. resorts is being sold for $589 for adults.

"A lot of people will be looking at Utah who maybe hadn't thought about Utah before for their vacation," said Andy Miller, Park City Mountain Resort spokesman. "It will get some exposure to Park City and Utah in general."

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