Mike Gorrell, Salt Lake Tribune -- A fierce competition is being waged in the Cottonwood canyons this week to capture photographic images of skiing/boarding and Salt Lake County's four resorts in all of their glory.

The impetus is the third annual Ski Salt Lake Shootout, a marketing program of the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau and the four resorts -- Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude -- to show off the majestic mountains, deep snow and alpine ambiance that have lured so many to Utah as guests and residents.

Included among those ranks are many of the 16 athletes selected to perform for the photographers.

People such as Cody Barnhill, whose bio says, "I am from Alaska, but have lived in SLC for six years now because the snow is deep, the women are beautiful and the snowpack keeps you on your toes."

Or Salt Laker Suzanne Graham, who says, "I am 23 years old and as a professional skier and BASE jumper, I feel my life has been elevated to heights I never would have imagined."

Take free-spirited athletes such as these, team them with some of the best outdoor action photographers around, and the result has been stunning, said Salt Lake CVB spokeswoman Laura Barnes.

"The competitive nature of the contest really gets people to produce a lot of photos in a short amount of time," she said. "We want to show off all that our resorts have to offer. The more exposure we get the better."

Case in point, the inaugural 2008 contest. Best of Show went to photographer Grant Gunderson for a shot of an Alta skier at twilight, Little Cottonwood Canyon in the background and a starry night overhead. It ended up on the cover of Skiing magazine.

Said Gunderson of his experience: "The Ski Salt Lake Shootout is a great contest that drives new creative content, but also serves as a great source for putting photographers in touch with new, emerging talented skiers. The ski industry needs to have more contests like [this] to further the creative side of the sport."

Treated to airfare in and out of Salt Lake from anywhere in North America, complimentary lodging and most meals, the photographers also are competing for cash prizes -- $2,500 for Best of Show and $1,000 for first in each of five categories: Air, Big Mountain, Powder, Mountain Lifestyle, City Lifestyle.

In return, they are required to give the CVB and resorts one image from each area and the rights to publish category-winning images for one year in publications and Web sites.

The athletes get to know photographers, who can use them in future shoots. "It's beneficial for everyone. We all get something out of it," said Barnes, noting that the photographers rotate around the resorts on a daily basis.

"As a resort, it's pretty sweet," said Brighton spokesman Jared Winkler. "With the convention bureau bringing in photographers and athletes from the whole country, it gives people who are not hitting Brighton every single day an opportunity to see us and see what we have to offer.

"And hopefully, we'll get some exposure next season in the magazines."