What It Takes to Open a Utah Resort

By Sideways Stories Nov 23, 2016
A quick look into some of the things that need to happen for our local resorts to be ready for the season.
What It Takes to Open a Utah Resort

As winter is inevitably approaching here in Utah, we are all getting excited to strap in and finally make some turns and shake off all of the autumnal anticipation. Before we delve into the topic of this post, I want to take a moment to introduce myself.

My name is Pat Harrington, and I am a snowboarder. As a snowboarder, I had the amazing fortune to have grown up in Salt Lake City, which is considered by some to be the center of the snowboarding world. Growing up, my friends and I would ride powder after school, film each other hitting handrails, and would watch some of the sport’s most legendary pros ride at the resort or in the streets, as though it was a totally normal thing. We would go to Milosport Snowboard shop and to rub elbows with our heroes and pick up tips on how to do a trick, or tune our boards the right way.  All these years later, I am still a part of that community, but now I am on the grown-up side of the fence.  To fuel my passion for the sport, I have travelled the world with my snowboard in hand and have been a contributor to some of the most well respected snowboard magazines in the game.

With opening day just days away (see resort opening dates here)—for the 2016–17 season, I will be one of Ski Utah's snowboard bloggers, keeping you updated on the latest snowboard happenings and tidbits from our snowboarding mecca here in Utah. If you’re looking for places to ride, travel tips, restaurant recommendations or profiles of amazing riders, be sure to follow my blog throughout the season.

Now that we have the introductions out of the way, let’s get to the topic at hand. 

What happens at our resorts in order to get them ready to shred? 

Popular thought would suggest that once we get a nice blanket of snow, the runs at these places will just be ready to ride. While snow is obviously the most important part of the equation, the number of things that need to be done before opening day is mind-boggling.


Clearing The Runs:

These days, most resorts are operating as a four-season destination on some level, so there is a constant level of maintenance that is being kept up on.  Once the fall starts to creep in however, winter preparations get into full swing. Everything from the trails to the lodges need to be spruced up before the snow starts flying, and the first order of business are the runs that we all love so much.

If you have ever gone for a hike at your favorite ski resort, I would believe that you have probably scratched your head in wonder about what kind of stuff you speedily ride over once it has been covered with that Wasatch white. Throughout the course of the previous winter, spring and summer, the landscape of these trails is constantly changing. The trails become compromised with hazards such as downed trees and impassable stretches of willows.  With the help of experienced trail crews comprised of wild land firefighters, arborists and mountain professionals, resorts can tactically clear out any undesirable material that would change the flow of your favorite side hit run.

This is horribly thankless work, especially since it is done primarily out of the sight of most. I had the opportunity to tag along with such a crew at Brighton Resort for a week of pre season trail work, and let me tell you, this is some serious business. These trail crews are removing deadly downed trees that could crush them with the utmost confidence and it’s all in the name of having fun throughout the winter. While the work is back breaking, you gain a new respect for the mountain that you spend so much time on in the winter. It is almost as if you are giving back to the landscape that has provided you with so much. So next time you are going through Canis Lupis at Park City Mountain, Wren Hollow at Brighton or down Chips at Snowbird, give a quick thank you to the trail crews that keep those areas clean and proper.


Lift Operations:

Now we know that the trails are clear, let’s focus our attention to lift operations. The expensive machines that shuttle our butts to the top of the mountain need a lot of care. And with the ongoing improvements and expansions that are happening at many Utah ski resorts, new chairlift systems are being installed. The most noteworthy bit of lift maintenance that has gone on this past off-season was the cable replacement of Snowbird’s iconic aerial tram. Since 1971 the same cables have been hauling snowboarders and skiers to the top of hidden peak. After 45 years of good service, it was about time to have them replaced. So, after two months of 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, a 12-man crew assisted by motor vehicles and helicopters were able to successfully replace the main mode of transport for most of Snowbird’s powder hungry locals and visitors.

Powder Mountain, has also gone through the process of installing two new chairlifts this summer and fall, achieving a North American record for ski resort acreage expansion of more than 1,000 acres of new rideable terrain. With the expertise of the Utah-based chairlift manufacturer Skytrac, the amazingly talented crew at Powder Mountain were able to fly in the necessary pieces and parts to the resort and install these machines that most of us would have otherwise thought to have just appeared.


Terrain Park Prep:

For you park junkies out there, there is no real off-season for your local park crews. With the constant push for new and innovative park features, our local terrain park managers are always coming up with the next best rail or feature idea and they are set up well in advance of opening day. Brighton Resort has a rich history of terrain park building and design, so much so that they are fabricating all of their own rails in association with KAB rails and terrain park design. Chad Joice, AKA “Mouse” and his team of dedicated park staff have been recognized as some of the best and most dedicated park builders in the country, which is one reason why so many professional snowboarders call Brighton home.


Snow Making:

Once the temps start to drop is when we all get a bit antsy about getting some snow on the ground. To quell the nerves and anticipation of their adoring public, Utah resorts have developed some of the most state of the art snowmaking equipment in the country. For example, Park City Mountain resort has invested over $50 million into resort improvements, which includes a whopping 480 snowmaking guns that are spread throughout the expansive resort. Even our smaller resorts such as Solitude have a dedicated team of snowmaking professionals that work tirelessly to help supplement their annual average of 500 inches of snow. As the temperatures are dropping in Utah as we speak, the people that we rarely get to see work are doing their thing to get the slopes covered up and shred ready by the end of November.

While we are so focused on winter, it is always good to take a step back and think about what goes into a successful season. When it comes to resort management and preparation, there are dozens, if not hundreds of unsung heroes that dedicate themselves to ensuring that you, the rider has the season of your life. 

So next time you see someone working starting up the chairlift in the morning or clearing out the parking lot after a fresh snowfall, tell them thanks for making your favorite place that much better.