Even though we were told to remain at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah’s ski areas experienced a record-breaking number of 5.3 million visitors throughout the 2020-21 season. Even though there was less traveling, tight restrictions, and disease spreading, the National Ski Areas Association reported that 59 million ski visits were made this season, the fifth-best ever recorded in the States. “A skier visit is counted every time a skiing or snowboarding guest visits a ski area or resort,” and given the extremely high levels of uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, these 5.3M ski visits made in Utah is an impressive number.
The exact reasoning behind why there were so many ski days this year could not be pinpointed; however, there are a few reasons that seem to contribute. Due to the pandemic, millions of individuals were ordered under strict stay-at-home restrictions, and this gradually created a build-up of wanting to leave the house, recreate, and overall socialize. Similarly, many schools and employers offered working from home, which allowed for more flexible schedules, and in turn, more skiing! Finally, and as pointed out by NSAA, people changed their habits throughout the pandemic. Whether it was learning to ski or snowboard, baking bread, or uploading dances to TikTok, individuals and families became attracted to new hobbies, which undoubtedly affected the high number of pandemic skiers.
Heading into the 2020-21 season, the most important priority for ski areas was to remain open safely and provide fantastic skiing to their guests. Unfortunately, as too many of us experienced, ski areas suffered from a shortened 2019-20 season. So, to remain open, ski areas in Utah and across the country enforced new protocol. By utilizing a reservation system, masks in close proximities, social distancing in lift lines, and even closed dining and cafeteria areas, ski areas in Utah were able to remain open for the full season and even positively contributed to the economy. During a low point in the United States, where businesses were closed and people were stuck at home, through enforcing protocol and hosting a full season, ski areas could provide Utahns with seasonal employment and a bit of hope.
5.3 million ski visits is a lot, especially over the course of a global pandemic. Utah got a taste of what the future of riding may hold. It is crucial that ski areas look at what they did correctly and what mistakes they made to provide their increasing number of guests with the best and safest possible experience.