High in the chambers of Utah's House of Representatives is a painting depicting three brothers building a ski jump in the mountains of Utah. The painting is of Alf, Sverre and Corey Engen.

The Engen brothers came to Utah in 1930 to compete in a skiing contest and later settled in the Beehive State. The eldest brother, Alf, is credited with being a major player in the creation of the Alta ski resort and a pioneer in powder skiing.

The picture hangs in the state capitol as a salute to the Engens and their contribution to Utah's history, but it also serves as a reminder to lawmakers and Utahns in general about the importance of the winter sports industry to Utah's economy.

According to Ski Utah, a marketing firm owned and operated by the 14 ski resorts located in Utah, skiing contributes $1.29 billion to Utah's economy and creates 20,000 jobs for the state -- a huge boon for the state. Ski Utah's data also finds that those who do not ski or snowboard in the state benefit from the industry as well as the money made from those hitting the slopes as tourism related money reduced the tax burden on Utah households by $1,076 in 2012.

The numbers are one thing that show how big the winter sports industry is to the state but Ski Utah also argues winter sports add an intangible factor that gives Utah some street cred nationally, a cool factor if you will.

"Not only does the ski industry in Utah bring a lot of money into the state from visitors but it also brings a really cool and unique atmosphere and mentality to the state as well. There are a lot of active people that choose to live in the state because of the of the outdoor activities available here," said Susie English, director of communications for Ski Utah.

English also explained that the jobs brought to the state through the industry play a role in boosting Utah's economy. Jobs created by the industry include ski instructors, snow makers, lift operators and cooks. English notes that some of the jobs are seasonal but explained that many of the resorts have gone to great efforts to turn their resorts into year-round destinations.

"Summers honestly are really busy," said English. "I wouldn't say busier than in the winter, but they are busy."

Nan Anderson, Executive Director for the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition, said the snow sports play a key role in how Utah is marketed to the rest of the country. While many travelers may recognize Utah for the national parks in the southern parts of the state, the ski resorts allow the state to be recognized as a ideal vacation destination during all four seasons.

Anderson stated conversations about Utah and tourism usually include temple square, the most visited tourist site in the state, the red rocks, also known as Utah's national parks, and then skiing. Anderson said with that combination Utah is a state with a lot to offer to a traveler.

"We feel extremely fortunate to have the best snow on earth," Anderson said.

The winter sports industry doesn't end with just skiers and snowboarders hitting the slopes in mass numbers, the economic impact also comes from the many winter sporting events that take place each year in the state.

According to the Utah Sports Commission 16 winter sports competitions have been scheduled to take place in the state for the 2013-14 winter season. The events include figure skating competitions, world cup speed skating events, world cup bobsled, luge and skeleton competitions, and Olympic trials for ski jumping.

"This is a strong winter season," said Laura Shaw, of the Utah Sports Commission, a non-profit organization created by the state to attract sporting events to Utah. "There are more events this year as we lead up to the winter games in Sochi."

Shaw explained many of the events are choosing to come to Utah because many of the Olympic venues used in 2002 have been kept in world class shape. She said those venues make Utah a prime place to host events which in turn boosts Utah's economy with additional tourists, jobs created to put on the events and media coverage that includes the state as many of the events are broadcast on national networks.

The sports commission estimates that the events will have a $27.3 million impact on the state. Events are slated to be held in Park City, Salt Lake City and in Kerns. The next event scheduled is a continental cup event for Nordic Combined skiing- an event that combines ski jumping with cross country skiing. The event will be held in Park City on Dec. 21-22.

The snow sports industry also boosts the local shops that sell and rent ski equipment to Utahns and visitors each season.

Randy Park, owner of Park's Sportsman in Orem, said the winter sports are key to his business. Park explained that he is in the process of converting his store to a winter sports only shop because that was where the customer demand was and what he is most passionate about. Park said Utah's biggest draw to out-of-towners was the location of the ski resorts.

"It is surprising how many customers that we have had come up here and rent equipment and they kind of starting giggling because they hope no one figures Utah out," he said. "Because it is so convenient and so easy to get to our resorts."

It is those customers that Park is counting on as he transforms his business. He said he does get a boost from those who come to visit BYU students during the holidays and want to also hit the slopes but he is also depending on the out-of-staters who come to Utah for the first time and then realize how easy and quick it is to get back and forth to a number of ski resorts in less than two hours along the Wasatch Front.

Park also depends on the locals for his business. Park said in his mind skiing was one of the most family friendly sports to take up. He said skiing and snowboarding was something families of all ages can enjoy. He also said people of all skill levels can go to the mountains and have an enjoyable time.

While some have characterized skiing and snowboarding as "expensive sports" Park said he thinks it is quite affordable. He said savvy skiers and boarders can find great deals to the resorts themselves and stated skiing can be a lot more affordable than golf.

"I think skiing gets a bad knock," he said about the prices to participate in the sport. "You might end up spending a couple hundred dollars on a golf driver, that is just one club, and then you still have to buy a putter."

Park certainly has to be happy with the round of storms hitting Utah this week. It can only mean more great ski and snowboard days lay ahead for this winter.

billy-hesterman
-- Billy Hesterman covers the Utah State Legislature and local politics for the Daily Herald. You can connect with Billy by email at bhesterman@heraldextra.com or by

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