Utah's ski industry is hoping for the best, despite an economy that is currently anything but hopeful.

As this year's ski season opens, local resorts have poured millions into improvements, and state tourism officials have kicked off a multimillion-dollar national advertising campaign to try to lure visitors to "the greatest snow on earth."

"The ski industry is not going to be totally immune from an economic downturn," said Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty. "But there are still lots of reasons for us in the ski industry to be optimistic."

Utah has seen record numbers of skier days for the past several years, and that may bode well for this year's season, he said. "Last year was the fifth all-time record in a row, so the momentum is really strong."

He added that because of Utah's ease of access to its ski resorts and their close proximity from the airport, the local ski industry has a leg up on resorts in places like Colorado and Wyoming that often require more time and expense to reach.

To keep pace with the competition, nearly every Utah ski area has invested in some measure of improvements for the 2008-09 ski season, said Ski Utah communications director Jessica Kunzer.

Beaver Mountain, located east of Logan, plans to make $300,000 in improvements to the lodge and add seating to better accommodate guests. Brian Head Resort, in southern Utah, is finishing up a major expansion that started last year.

Brighton Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon has built a $1.5 million day lodge, while The Canyons Resort in Park City is scheduled to install a new lift and gondola during the 2008-09 season to go along with other planned upgrades.

Deer Valley Resort has invested $8 million in on-mountain improvements for this season, including upgraded snowmaking and maintenance equipment. Park City Mountain Resort spent $10.5 million on improvements, including a new high-speed chair lift, terrain enhancements and renovation of the Mid-Mountain Lodge.

The resort is also offsetting 100 percent of its power consumption from renewable energy sources by purchasing 13.9 million kilowatts of renewable energy credits that would eliminate nearly 19 million pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions annually.

At Powder Mountain, restaurants in all three lodges have been renovated, and the prices of night lift passes have been reduced to attract more visitors. Snowbasin Resort, near Huntsville, made improvements to beginner terrain, and Solitude Mountain Resort has announced $7 million in lift upgrades.

In an effort to boost the profile of the local ski industry, the Utah Office of Tourism has launched its winter TV and interactive marketing campaign, said deputy director Tracie Cayford. The TV spots have begun airing on several national cable channels — HGTV, A&E, History, Bravo, MSNBC, Bravo, Metro Networks, National Geographic and TLC — and will run until Nov. 26.

Ads slated for Los Angeles began Monday and will run for two weeks on five local stations. The TV campaign, costing more than $1.5 million, is expected to generate about 167 million "impressions," meaning the number of people exposed to the ads.

The $1.66 million TV and Web campaign included $107,500 in online ads that are expected to yield 10.7 million impressions and will run from Nov. 27 through Dec. 1 and Jan 5 through Jan. 26 on TripAdvisor.com, iExplore.com, Go Travel Media, Burst Networks and Gorp.com.

The TV/interactive campaign is part of nearly $3.8 million in spending to market Utah that includes the state tourism Web site, ski partner Web sites, sponsorship of a new Warren Miller ski film, magazine ads and a 90-second video shown on all Delta flights.

Promoting Utah skiing began in August and will continue through February, according to Lee von der Esch, state tourism director.

Ski Utah is also sponsoring the 2008 Fat Flake Festival today at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake, a free event with live music and activities aimed at skiers and snowboarders.

Cayford said most of the state's efforts primarily focus on attracting visitors from neighboring Western states such as Idaho, California, Wyoming and Colorado.

"We think that people tend to stay closer to home," she said. "Over 80 percent of our visitors come by car."


Contributing: Brice Wallace

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com