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Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
Park City Mountain Resort. Utah's world-class ski resorts boast the "greatest snow on Earth" as well as all the amenities that today's skiers want.

No one knows for sure when the first skis made tracks in Utah's snow. There are pictures of early miners holding 12-foot-long skis back in the late 1800s.

There were several groups from Europe, primarily from Sweden and Norway, who got involved in cross country and ski jumping in the early 1900s.

Then came ski jumping, and in 1936 a rope tow was put in at Brighton, and in 1939 Alta opened with the second known chair lift in the world. Sun Valley introduced the first.

Skiing back then wasn't easy. Skis, or wooden staves with turned up tips, were good for delivering mail or reaching the mines during winters in Park City or Alta, and for sliding downhill for as far as a skier was willing to hike uphill.

But with the lift, suddenly, skiing was more fun. No more long hikes uphill for a short ride down. People could comfortably ride up and ski down — or at least try. Early skiing legends — like the late Alf Engen and Junior Bounous — helped teach people to ski.

Before long, Utah had world-class resorts, and with them a loyal, albeit smaller-than-expected, following of skiers. Back in the 1955-56 ski season, only 121,000 passes were sold. It wasn't until 1971-72 Utah hit the million mark and nine years later the 2 million mark. Utah hit a record 4 million in 2005-06 and upped that to 4.1 million last season.

Few can argue that Utah does, indeed, have the "Greatest Snow on Earth."

All of which, of course, has not gone unnoticed by skiers.

In the latest skier poll by SKI Magainze, five Utah resorts made the list of top 10 on the "best snow" list. There are roughly 700 ski resorts in North America. The five are Alta (1), Powder Mountain (2), Snowbird (5), Solitude (6) and Brighton (9).

Today's skiers, though, want more than just good snow.

And there, said Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, Utah's 13 resorts have responded.

"Good snow is important to skiers, but they also want resorts that offer things like groomed runs and high-speed lifts and an enjoyable meal," he noted.

"And that's where Utah resorts have responded by spending millions each year on upgrading and improving. Again, skiers have responded. Utah has had record seasons for the past four years."

And skiers have come to recognize these efforts.

Among the accolades given out this year:

Alta — best weekend escape (1), best powder skiing (1), best overall skiing (3), best overall satisfaction (1) and best backcountry (5).

Brighton — best value (5), best snow (9), best powder (4) and best overall (6).

The Canyons — best overall (13 and 18), best access (6), best weather (16) and best on-mountain food (19).

Deer Valley — best overall (1), best grooming (1), best service (1), best on-mountain food (1) and best luxury trip (1).

Park City Mountain Resort — best overall (2), terrain park of the year (1), best access (1), best off-hill activities (6) and best dining (7).

Powder Mountain — best snow (2) and best value (3).

Snowbasin — best lifts (1), best on-mountain food (2), best customer service (4) and best resort (22).

Snowbird — best skiers mountain (1), best terrain/challenge (2), best access (3), best snow (5), best powder (1), best backcountry (5) and best overall (4).

Solitude — best powder (3), best weather (6), best access (9), best overall (14) and best value (13).

Sundance — travelers choice in United States (2) and travelers choice in the world (34).

Of all the accolades, the most telling is "access."

"No where in the world will skiers find better access to world-class skiing than here in Utah," said Rafferty.

There are seven resorts within 30 minutes of the Salt Lake International Airport, and 11 within an hour's drive.

One group of Utah skiers hit all 11 resorts in a single day.

One man reported that he surfed in the morning in California, flew to Utah and skied in the afternoon. Another golfed in Arizona and skied in Utah on the same day, and another flew into Utah in the morning from New York, skied and returned to New York in time for a late-evening dinner.

There's little doubt that Utah has the snow and the resorts skiers want and enjoy. Just count the votes.

Utah skiing facts

— The Salt Lake City International Airport is situated within a 2 1/2-hour flight from half of the United State's population.

— The airport served 21.5 million passengers in 2006.

There is nonstop service to all of Salt Lake City's top 50 markets.

— In 2005, the airport was ranked first in the United States for on-time departures and second for on-time arrivals.

— In 2005, the facility was ranked 25th busiest in the United States and 50th busiest in the world.

— There are more than 800 scheduled daily flights from the facility serving more than 100 cities with nonstop flights.

— More than 73,000 daily airplane seats are available through Salt Lake City.

— The airport is located within 60 miles of 11 world-class ski resorts.

— Convenient access to five national and 46 state parks.

— Gateway to 100 golf courses statewide, 24 in Salt Lake County and 25 more within an hour's drive.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com