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Courtesy of Adam Clark
Jamey Parks skiing Alta

It's a scene oh so common to Utah skiers ... the impression of a face, hat and goggles stuck in a cloud of snow. An instant later, the image of a skier floats up, then vanishes back into the cloud of snow.

That's Utah powder skiing, and there are few places in the world than can offer anything like it.

They may have the steep runs and snow, but nothing like Utah's lighter-than-air powder.

Because of the desert climate, the water content of the snow that falls in Utah is much less than in other parts of the country. Snow at Alta and Snowbird routinely has a 5 percent moisture content, which makes for the light, fluffy flakes Utah has become famous for. There are storms in other parts of the country where the water content is closer to 30 and 40 percent, which results in a heavy, hard base. The average density for Alta/Snowbird snow is around 7 percent.

All of which makes for not only great skiing, but also great movies.

For the second year, Utah is a major sponsor and one of the more popular segments in the Warren Miller ski movie.

This year's performance, "Playground," will open Wednesday in Orem, then move to Salt Lake City on Thursday, Park City on Friday and Ogden on Saturday.

In all, there will be 400 showings in 186 cities in 35 states this year. Moviegoers will see, along with BYU's Water Weenie Squad, skiers enjoying Utah's bottomless powder.

"It's funny," said Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, "but locals are going to see the Utah sequence and wonder. We did not have our massive powder dumps last ski season that we normally get. But, that being said, some of the footage of the powder skiing in Utah is absolutely incredible."

This year, as luck would have it, snow began to fall the very day filming crews arrived and continued, off and on, for the two weeks they were in Utah.

There were, of course, those deep powder days, but just not as many as in past years. Total snowfall last year was close to 400 inches. In the winters of 2004-05 and 2005-06, total snowfall each season exceeded 600 inches.

Utah started negotiations to jump on the Warren Miller movie tour three years ago.

It was late in the season when an agreement was reached, and movie crews came to film in Utah when some resorts around the country were closing.

Still, recalled Rafferty, "it turned out we had to shoot our ski segments in March and April. It can only happen in Utah ... we got some of the most incredible powder skiing shots imaginable. They were great. It proved to be some of the best powder skiing in the whole movie. Like I said, only in Utah."

Involvement in the Miller production was made possible through the increased travel/tourism budget pushed and approved by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and overseen by Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism.

Aside from the 400-plus showings around the country, the movie is picked up and shown in countries around the world. It's shown over and over in restaurants and bars, DVDs are made of this movie, and it will be shown years down the road on cable and satellite stations.

Last year, more than 250,000 people in the United States viewed the Miller movie, and more than 400,000 people worldwide.

"And remember," said Rafferty, "these people are skiers. These are people looking to get charged up for the coming ski season. They come to the movie in their new ski jackets and start hooting and hollering when they see some of the incredible skiing ... and it seemed especially loud when the Utah segment came on screen."

Another benefit to being involved in the program, he added, is that footage shot in Utah is given to Ski Utah to be used in TV ads and to be used on its Web site.

All of which, no doubt, helped contribute to Utah's record ski season for 2006-07.

This year's movie is the 57th made under the Warren Miller banner.

Along with the Utah segment, there will be shots of backcountry snowboarding, the indoor ski center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, along with resort locations in Colorado, Alaska, California, British Columbia, Sweden, Japan and Switzerland.

Shows are Wednesday in Orem at the SCERA Center at 8 p.m.; Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Thursday at 6 and 9 p.m.; at the George S. and Delores Eccles Center in Park City on Friday at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.; and Peery's Egyptian Theatre in Ogden on Saturday at 3, 6 and 9 p.m.

Tickets are available at REI, Park's Sportsman in Orem and theater box offices, and at ArtTix outlets — 801-355-ARTS or 1-888-451-ARTS. For Park City tickets call 435-655-3114 or go online at www.ecclescenter.org. For Ogden call 801-395-3227 or buy at Peery's Egyptian Theatre. And for Orem tickets visit the SCERA Center box office or call 801-225-ARTS. For more information visit www.warrenmiller.com.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com