For the first time in three years, area ski resorts have enough snow to celebrate a "white Thanksgiving" by opening in time for what is traditionally one of the busiest weekends of the season.
Ski industry officials are taking a look at what can be done to prevent a repeat of the two dismal seasons that cost the state millions of dollars in lost revenue.They will likely approach lawmakers at the 1989 Legislature with a request for some sort of tax break for capital investment, to enable more resorts to add expensive snow-making equipment that can ensure an early opening.
Supplementing "The Greatest Snow on Earth" with man-made snow may be the most immediate way of boosting what currently accounts for an estimated $360 million of the state's $2 billion tourist industry.
Other plans may yield more long-term results. No thorough study of what brings skiers to Utah has been done since 1984, although both government and industry sources have since attempted to update the facts and figures collected.
According to the most current document produced by the Utah Ski Association, a private trade organization, skiers spent $157.5 million on food, lodging, lift tickets and other vacation expenses in the state during the 1984-85 season.
The rest of the $340 million in estimated revenue from skiing that season was the result of expenditures for related items such as skis and other equipment, airline tickets and condominium purchases.
How much of that translates into tax revenue is not clear, since State Tax Commission statisticians don't break down the amount of sales, room and other taxes collected by industry.
Ski Association director Bob Bailey said the current value of the ski industry to the state could be as high as $400 million, but there is no data to back up that estimate.
Bailey and state tourism officials usually quote the more conservative figure of $360 million. That's a "pretty educated" estimate, said Jay Woolley, state director of travel development.
The Utah Travel Council plans to ask the Legislature to foot at least part of the bill for a tourism study next year that could cost as much as $100,000.
That study would give tourism officials a profile of all types of visitors to the state, including skiers. The Ski Association has already contributed toward the study, which would be updated annually.
Having current information about the person who chooses a ski vacation in Utah would help both the travel development division and individual resorts make their marketing programs more effective.
The state's advertising campaign included fold-out inserts into several national skier publications. The effectiveness of the ads are measured by direct response, through either telephone calls or the return of a postcard.
Woolley points to the more than 56,000 requests the state has received through October for more information on planning a Utah ski vacation in response to the ad that tells readers, "Our Powder Is Always Dry."
That message continues inside the fold-out, "But Nothing Else About A Utah Ski Vacation Is," a subtle assurance to tourists that Utah is not a so-called "dry" state that does not allow the consumption of alcohol.
The Park City Chamber of Commerce decided to make that message more obvious in an advertising campaign that said it was easy to confuse the resort community with Colorado's ski areas, known for more active night life.
They have received more than 35,000 requests for information as a result of an advertisement that appeared in national ski magazines headlined, "Park City, Colorado."
The advertisement has the word "Colorado" crossed out and the message, "An easy mistake to make," scribbled beside it. Readers are told that Park City is "The town in the state of Utah with a different state of mind."
While Woolley and officials of the Park City Chamber of Commerce agree it is important to tell would-be tourists that alcohol is readily available in Utah for those who want it, they disagree on the degree of importance.
"I don't think the guy sitting in his living room and deciding on his vacation is going to decide whether to come to Utah based on the state's liquor laws," Woolley said.
He said Utah, which competes with a better-funded Colorado marketing campaign, chooses to emphasize "the big picture of what's available in Utah" while still showing alcohol in its advertisements.
Russ Veenema, executive director of the Park City Chamber of Commerce, said the state is heading in the right direction, but Park City's efforts are more aggressive.
"It's image," Veenema said of the need to emphasize the availability of alcohol. "A lot of people aren't going to come on a ski vacation just to get hammered every night. It's just knowing it's there."
Beyond how the state markets skiing is a list of projects that Dave Adams, executive director of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, believes will also help the ski industry.
Adams said topping that list is the effort to bring the 1998 Winter Olympics to the state. He said that would bring more skiers, too, through the worldwide exposure Utah would receive.
He also cited the so-called "Ski Interconnect," which would link the canyon ski resorts through an as-yet-undecided transportation system. The interconnect is still being debated by government officials and is opposed by many environmentalists.