Although Idaho’s Picabo Street just skied her way to a gold medal in the Olympics, Idaho doesn’t have a special license plate that promotes its skiing.
Neighboring Utah does.
Lawmakers on the House Transportation Committee enthusiastically endorsed a bill Wednesday to remedy that slight.
And after Rep. Paul Kjellander, R-Boise, told the committee that the Idaho Ski Areas Association would pay the entire cost and that proceeds from sales of the plates would benefit Idaho’s efforts to win tourism dollars when Utah hosts the 2002 Winter Olympics, five committee members signed on as co-sponsors.
Said Kjellander, “If you go to other countries, they don’t know anything about Idaho, and if they do, it’s about the fact that we have famous potatoes. Why not capitalize on the fact that we also have famous skiing?”
The Idaho Department of Commerce and the Elgin Syferd Drake advertising firm came up with a design for the special plates. They’re red, white and blue, like regular Idaho plates. But the county designator is missing, making way for the figure of a skier flying downhill through powdery snow.
At the top of the plates, where regular ones say “Scenic Idaho,” these say “Ski Idaho.”
And across the bottom, where regular plates say “Famous Potatoes,” these say “Famous Skiing.”
Georgia Smith, Department of Commerce spokesman, said, “There’s nothing wrong with being known for potatoes, but it’s also nice to be known for something else.”
“Certainly we are famous for our skiing.”
Street, Olympic women’s Super-G gold medalist, grew up near Sun Valley, where she trained and became a top racer. While Sun Valley has brought Idaho attention for its skiing since early times - the resort had the nation’s first chairlift - Idaho now has nine major ski areas, plus smaller ones.
The ski plate fits in with legislation that’s pending this year to require all new plates to match Idaho’s red, white and blue color scheme and fit design standards. That legislation is designed to keep plates easy to identify for law enforcement.
In addition to the potato plate, Idaho now has special license plates that promote the timber industry, war veterans, the state bird, and more.
Potato lobbyists who last year opposed a proposed University of Idaho license plate that replaced “Famous Potatoes” with “Go Vandals” still are around.
“We’d like to see ‘Famous Potatoes’ on everything,” said Roger Sieber, lobbyist for the Potato Growers of Idaho. “We think it’s a worthwhile slogan.”
Russ Westerberg, lobbyist for the ski areas association, said he had proposed a slogan of “Ski the Great Potato.”
But the committee liked the new plate design as is.
There’s precedent. Idaho had a ski license plate in 1947, featuring a ski jumper in mid-air and the slogan, “Vacation Wonderland.”
The new ski plates would cost $35, with a $25 annual renewal. Ten dollars of each initial fee or renewal would go to the Department of Commerce’s tourism fund, to promote efforts to bring both Olympic teams seeking training spots and tourists to Idaho during the 2002 Utah games, and to promote Idaho’s ski industry.
State tourism director Carl Wilgus is in Japan now, researching ways Idaho can profit from a nearby Olympics in 2002.
With a top Idaho-bred skier making international headlines, Kjellander said, “If we’re not quick enough to try to capitalize on this, then I think we should kick ourselves.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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