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Ray Grass: Ah, the wonders of Utah's white gold

Which resort is No. 1 in North America?

With most skiers, it depends on which resort they happen to be skiing when the question is asked.

Based on snow alone, it would be difficult to find better skiing anywhere in the world than here in Utah. For one thing, there are few resorts in the world that get as much snow.

And there are few resorts in the world that get the quality of snow. Experts tell us it's the dry air that produces the light, dry snow that feels more like a puffy cloud than flakes of snow.

But, alas, snow is not the only thing that's tossed into the voting mix. Ski Magazine's list of top 30 resorts in the West has readers vote on everything from a resort's nightlife and scenery, to the number of lifts and value.

In the latest edition, Vail was, for the second year in a row, voted No. 1.

Deer Valley was No. 2. Park City was No. 8.

Resorts were rated on individual categories, then scores were added. Vail, for example, was ranked No. 3 in terrain, lifts and activities and was No. 4 in nightlife. In the area of value, it came in No. 75.

Deer Valley, now, was No. 1 in grooming, service and food, and was No. 2 in lodging and dining. It was pulled down in the area of value (No. 78). Park City was No. 2 in access, No. 8 in nightlife and activities, and No. 9 in dining. In value it was No. 59.

The Canyons made it in at No. 22, Snowbird at No. 23 and Solitude at No. 26. Alta was voted the "Best Weekend Escape."

As much as anything, the voting shows just how entrenched Colorado is in the voting ski market.

On the list of the Top 10, Colorado placed six resorts, Utah two, California one and Canada one.

It also points to the fact that when it comes to promoting its own, Utah continues to lag far behind Colorado.

It hasn't helped that Utah, i.e. state government, i.e. former Gov. Mike Leavitt, chose to keep Utah's white gold a secret.

Utah's promotion budget is $3.9 million for 2005. Colorado, Utah's main competitor in the ski market, in 1903-'04 spent $11.8 million. During the same period, Idaho spent $5.3 million, Montana $7.4 million and Wyoming $6.4 million.

Facts are that for every $1 spent on advertising, $8 is returned to the state coffers.

Want proof?

Colorado Tourism Office recently boasted of its marketing decision to spend more money on tourism. Between 2002 and 2003 it doubled its advertising campaign budget and as a result claims more than $1 billion in additional visitor spending was directly attributable to the CTO's advertising efforts.

The increase translated into $65.5 million in additional tax revenues.

Said Stephen Szapor, Colorado's tourism board chair: "The research shows that having a stronger presence in the marketplace pays off. We saw a significant increase in spending and incremental visitors who would not have visited Colorado without the added boost to our tourism promotion efforts."

But there's more. The full impact, reports the study, has yet to be seen. Meaning: Colorado expects to benefit for years to come, including into the 2004-2005 ski season.

Those in the Utah tourism business, among them Kip Pitou, president of Ski Utah, have been trying for years to get the purse strings loosened on Utah's tourism budget, promising huge returns.

As the latest budget shows, Utah lacks believers when it comes to believing in the state's great assets.

And it is becomes increasingly harder for skiers to hear the wonders of Utah skiing, delivered in a whisper, over the roar of claims coming from Colorado.