Through the end of December, votes may be cast after viewing the ads on the Tourism Office's website, www.utah.travel, or on the website of Ski Utah, marketing arm of the state's 14 active resorts, www.skiutah.com.
"This is a pretty unique proposal, letting go with control," said Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty, adding that state and industry officials feel confident in doing so because "we're turning [the decision] over to a knowledgeable group of people."
Locals make up about half of the visits to Utah's resorts, which last year had their fourth busiest season ever. Few locals ever see the national cable commercials that entice out-of-staters to come to Utah for a ski vacation, von der Esch noted, so this will be an opportunity for them to see what is being done with tax dollars to support an industry that generated $1.13 billion for the state last year, supporting 18,000 jobs.
Market research has convinced tourism officials that the snowflakes, with their ebullient personalities, have been effective in catching the attention of viewers, their humor helping to differentiate Utah's pitch for its powder from similar efforts by other skiing-oriented states.
As a result, "Utah has a tremendous brand," said Lt. Gov Greg Bell, noting that skier visits to Utah resorts have increased 35 percent since the 2002 Winter Olympics, an event pursued as means of making Utah the country's winter sports capital.
This year's ad options emphasize three points. One is humorous, with snowflakes floating toward a hot tub. Another stresses how close Utah's resorts are to Salt Lake City International Airport. The third has a funny ending to a scene in which snowflakes whirl in concert with classical music inspired by a skier gliding through deep powder.
No matter which are picked, von der Esch said "we'll be getting [viewers'] attention this year, too."
Rafferty said the season's early start has been good for their efforts to get the world to focus on Utah skiing.
Last year, even with a slow start because of limited snow before Thanksgiving, the state still posted a 2 percent increase from the previous winter and easily could have ended up in second place to the record-setting 4.25 million skier days in 2007-08.
And in the past year, Utah resorts have invested more than $500 million in upgrades the bulk of which occurred at Canyons Resort outside of Park City. A 14th resort has joined the operating ranks, with Eagle Point taking over the mountain outside of Beaver that used to be known as Elk Meadows. It had been shut down since 2002.
The Montage Deer Valley will open in early December, adding another posh establishment to the Park City-area luxury hotels.
"It's a tough economy, but it doesn't really matter," Rafferty said. "People don't want to forgo their vacations."
Having good early season snow clearly influences where they decide to go for those vacations, he said.
Clever advertising helps, too.
2009-10 ski season
4,048,153 lift tickets sold, fourth highest ever.
Visitation up 2 percent from 2008-09.
Industry generated $1.13 billion for Utah economy.
Ski-oriented businesses employed 18,000.
Overall tourism sector had 110,000 jobs, 9.3 percent of state's non-farm employment.
I Click on the winter ad logos for either:
Utah Office of Tourism • www.utah.travel
Ski Utah • www.skiutah.com
O See the online version of this story at sltrib.com to view the commercials.