- Associated Press - Monday, November 24, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Skiers and snowboarders traveling to Utah this winter will find the same jagged mounting peaks looming just east of Salt Lake City and many familiar trails at the state’s 15 resorts. But they may also notice a few signs of the significant changes that occurred in the offseason.

The most prominent was Vail Resorts Inc.’s purchase of the state’s largest ski area, Park City Mountain Resort. The $182.5 million acquisition resolved a messy legal battle between Vail and Powdr Corp. that threatened to cancel the ski season at the resort.

It also paved the way for the creation of what could be the country’s largest ski area. Vail plans to build a connecting chair lift to link Park City Mountain Resort and the adjacent Canyons Resort it already owns in the 2015-2016 season. This season, skiers can buy one ticket good for both, allowing people to hop-scotch between both, even on the same day.

Vail’s expanding footprint in Utah also means that people who buy the company’s well-known Epic Pass can now ski at two Utah resorts among the 22 global ski areas included in the pass, sold for $769 for adults. An Epic Local Pass that offers access to a smaller list of U.S. resorts is being sold for $589 for adults

“That shines a pretty bright spotlight on Utah,” said Nathan Rafferty, president of the trade group Ski Utah. “We’re on the cusp of Utah ski industry 3.0 with a new and exciting few years coming up for us.”

The Vail purchase wasn’t the only action during the busy summer and fall.

Deer Valley Resort bought Solitude Mountain Resort and will take it over in 2015. Powdr Corp. executive Ian Cumming purchased the majority interest of Solitude Mountain Resort. Nordic Valley Resort near Ogden has new ownership, and upgraded trails.

The state’s first new resort since 1981 is set to open near the Utah-Idaho border. Cherry Peaks Resort will have three lifts for skiers and snowboarders as well as a three-lane tubing hill and ice skating rink. It is about a 90-minute drive from Salt Lake City International Airport, located nearby Beaver Mountain Resort.

Cherry Peaks becomes the 15th resort in Utah. The resort’s $42 lift tickets will be on the low end of the spectrum that ranges from $39-$114 per day.

In southern Utah, Brian Head Resort is unveiling a new high speed quad chair lift that will cut ride time up the mountain in half. At nearby Eagle Point Resort, they have expanding the terrain park and installed a new lift that gives expert skiers and snowboarders access to steep black diamond runs.

Utah officials launched a $1.8 million campaign to market Salt Lake City as “Ski City USA” in an effort to lure skiers away from top destination spots like Colorado and bring attention to four resorts in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. As part of the push, they are promoting the “Super Pass” that is sold for about $74 a day and gives skiers the option of going to Alta, Brighton, Snowbird or Solitude.

Soon after the campaign was announced, Steamboat Ski Resort sued, claiming it violates their Ski Town, U.S.A. trademark. The two sides reached a settlement after Utah marketers agreed to drop ‘USA’ from the advertising campaign and remove the online tagline, “Once you’ve stayed in Ski City, you’ll never stay in another ski town.” Both parties declined to say whether any money changed hands in the settlement.

Meanwhile, Utah ski officials continue to try to build momentum and line up support for the long-term plan of building a series of chairlifts that would link seven ski areas and give the state a European-style experience. Construction hasn’t started yet, but officials continue to map out connection points and work behind the scenes to sketch out transportation issues and how revenue sharing would work.

“It’s been bit of whirlwind,” Rafferty said. “There’s an excitement I haven’t felt in a long time.”

Ski officials in Utah are hopeful that Vail’s investment plans, which include upgraded lifts and renovated restaurants at Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, will lure more skiers to Utah.

“In a lot of ways, it’s kind of a renaissance for the Utah ski scene,” said Andy Miller, Park City Mountain Resort spokesman. “Especially with the kinds of things we could be talking about this time next year.”

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