Photo by Mark White(@spindrift65)
In 2021, Winter Wildlands Alliance and Outdoor Alliance teamed up to measure the economic impact of backcountry skiing on the Manti-La Sal National Forest to inform the on-going forest plan revision process. Knowing more about this impact helps us advocate for snowsports enthusiasts and make a case for protecting and encouraging human-powered winter recreation opportunities.
Recently, Outdoor Alliance finalized and published the results of our survey. In addition to backcountry skiers, Outdoor Alliance asked many other types of outdoor recreationists about their experiences in the Manti-La Sal to inform this report and understand more about the economic impact of outdoor recreation.
These studies show that outdoor recreation on the Manti-La Sal generates a tremendous amount of economic activity, while also supporting local jobs and attracting both businesses and residents to Utah. The Manti-La Sal is valuable for many reasons, including the unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities they provide. Access to outdoor recreation also supports a strong local economy, making the regions attractive places for businesses and families to settle.
Summary: Backcountry Skiing Economic Impact in the Manti-La Sal
Based on visitor expenditure data and an annual visitation estimate of 5,000 backcountry skiers, we found that:
- Backcountry skiing attracts over half a million dollars in expenditures for counties in and around the Manti-La Sal National Forest each year.
- Backcountry skiing visitor expenditures support $272,564 in worker wages while supporting an estimated eight jobs in the accommodation, restaurant, and retail sectors.
Forest Service National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) data estimates that the Manti-La Sal received 295,000 visits in 2016. Backcountry skiing accounts for 0.3% (or 885 visits) when examining primary visits only. Based on conversations with the Manti-La Sal National Forest staff, Outdoor Alliance, and Winter Wildlands Alliance, this number potentially undercounts backcountry skiing use today. As evidence, recent infrared trail counters in Geyser Pass reported 700-1,000 users each month in the spring in this single area without examining the rest of the Manti-La Sal. Based on the data available, this study utilizes an estimate of 5,000 visits with the primary purpose of backcountry skiing each year.
By far the most common human-powered backcountry snowsports activity on the Manti-La Sal is backcountry skiing, with 85% of respondents indicating they engage in this activity on the Manti-La Sal. Cross-country skiing (both groomed and ungroomed) are the second and third most common with 23% of respondents engaging in either activity on the Manti-La Sal. Less common activities included snowshoe use (16%), splitboard use (12%), family snow play (9%), fatbiking (5%), and kiteboarding (2%).
Ultimately, this information will help us negotiate use management strategies with the Forest Service in the current Manti-La Sal forest plan revision process to better benefit and plan for snow-related activities.
Summary: General Recreation Economic Impact in the Manti-La Sal
The Manti-La Sal National Forest stretches from central to southeastern Utah and is home to sweeping mesas, sandstone towers, and the snowy peaks of the La Sal Mountain Range. Its 1.4 million acres encompasses some of Utah’s most remote and unique landscapes.
Researchers from Eastern Kentucky university found that outdoor recreation on the Manti-La Sal National Forest in Utah generates $20.4 million in spending each year. The forest receives 295,000 visits a year and also supports 250 full-time jobs, equating to $7.88 million in wages.
More and more, people choose to live in places because of access to outdoor recreation. Utah is no outlier. The allure to Utah is deeply rooted in the Manti-La Sal’s recreational opportunities. This National Forest helps shape Utah’s identity as a healthy, adventure-loving place to work, play, and live. Let’s keep it that way.
We don’t just play on the forest. Recreation dollars power this region. Outdoor recreation needs to be prioritized in the current forest plan revision process.
These reports will help us and Outdoor Alliance illustrate why sustainably managing human-powered recreation deserves to be a top priority for the Forest Service as it completes new management plans for the Manti-La Sal and other National Forests in the coming years.
The Manti-La Sal National Forest signed its current forest plan in 1986. Covering more than 1.2 million acres of public land in the central and southeastern parts of Utah and the far western part of Colorado, the Manti-La Sal National Forest ranges from the Abajo and La Sal mountains in southeastern Utah to the Wasatch Plateau and Sanpitch mountains hundreds of miles away in central Utah. With peaks stretching to 12,721 feet, the Manti-La Sal National Forest includes Utah’s second-highest mountains (the La Sals) and there are amazing opportunities for backcountry skiing, splitboarding, and other snowsports all across the forest.
Forest plan revision addresses the ecological, social, and economic changes over the past 35 years by adapting to new scientific information, rules and laws. Ultimately, a revision better supports the needs of the forest and its surrounding communities today and into the future.
We look forward to keeping you updated throughout this process and appreciate your work as a member of our Alliance. In the meantime, please consider joining as a member to support our year-round work for wild winters and outdoor recreation.