Salt Lake Magazine: Resorts United

By Vanessa Conabee

May 3, 2015

The concept of ONE Wasatch, linking seven ski resorts together along the Wasatch Range, isn’t new. People have been weighing in on the pros and cons of dropping lines and putting in lifts for the past 30 years. But Vail Resort’s acquisition of Park City Mountain Resort, followed by Deer Valley’s announcement that it had purchased Solitude, has given the possibility tangible momentum. Nathan Rafferty, President and CEO of Ski Utah, the marketing firm of Utah’s Ski and Snowboard Association, is leading the drive. He gave us his thoughts on the project.

On pushing the seven-resort link

“We’re taking the lead on ONE Wasatch. I facilitate monthly meetings between the GMs of Utah ski resorts and talk with them almost daily. Our job is to educate people and encourage the conversation. Our opposition will say that the reason it hasn’t happened is because it’s a bad idea, or that it’s about water, but the real issue is land use. And also, it’s really complicated. Getting seven resorts to agree on a plan that involves capital projects including $5 to 10 million chairlifts—that’s going to take a lot of negotiating. Our goal isn’t to put as many chairlifts as we can up the Wasatch. It’s introducing a new experience to Utah, where you can ski from PCMR to Mineral Basin, and that’s an opportunity for an entirely different kind of skiing.”

On the winding road to the top

“I grew up in Utah (Salt Lake City) and attended the University of Arizona in Tucson. The idea of skiing as a career hadn’t occurred to me until I spoke to Jody Morrison (now City Recorder) at a Warren Miller ski show. I interned with Ski Utah and worked as a mountain host at PCMR before coming back to Ski Utah as their public relations director, eventually taking over as President and CEO in 2005.”

On off-season fun on a motorcycle 

“Last year I traversed across the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara during the Merzouga Rally, a six-day off-road motorcycle race through Morocco. I’m headed back for round two this October.”

On the famous “powder clause”

“We wrote a ‘powder clause’ into the employee bylaws that states that if more than a foot of snow falls overnight, the staff can play hooky as long as they work half again as many hours as they took off.”

Here comes the world

“We’re going to see a lot of change, and that’s hard for people. Utah is not going to remain a walled-in garden. We’ve seen over half of our 14 resorts change ownership, and that isn’t because the owners are struggling to get out of the business, it’s because everyone wants to be here. The real issue isn’t getting people to visit, it’s how to manage growth, and that’s a good problem. My parents taught me to leave something better than I found it, and if I could do that with our industry, I would view that as a success.”