Olympics Frighten Skiers from Resorts

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Salt lake City, Utah Dec. 28, 2001 (AP by Paul Foy)--The Winter Olympics are scaring skiers away from Utah.

``I could be the only one up here,'' said Dan Malstrom, marketing manager for Brighton ski resort.

He was only half joking.

``We'll probably be 20 percent to 30 percent down by the end of the season,'' Malstrom said of ticket sales.

Brighton, a dozen miles east of Salt Lake City, prides itself as a resort for local residents. Other Utah resorts depend more heavily on out-of-state skiers in an industry that has been flat for a decade.

``Unfortunately, skiers stay away from an Olympic city _ before, during and after'' the games, Snowbird resort spokesman Fred Rollins said.

The Feb. 8-24 Olympics could boost Utah skiing in the long run, but resort operators say it is having the opposite effect right now, turning away vacationing skiers who fear they'd have to fight crowds or traffic for much of the season.

Many Salt Lake City hotels are booked for the games, but lodging still is available at some Utah resorts, even some of the resorts holding Olympic alpine competition.

``We're pretty much sold out on hotel rooms for the games, but we still have a lot of condominiums,'' said Bill Malone, executive director of the Park City Visitors Bureau.

Hotel occupancy in Park City is down 7 percent this week, which Malone calls an ``amazing turnaround'' given more dismal holiday projections.

Nearby, at The Canyons resort, two lodges with a combined 506 rooms still have plenty of rooms available for February, spokeswoman Katie Eldridge said Thursday.

The Canyons is offering free skiing during the Olympics for people who make advance lodging reservations. Still, ``People are waiting longer to book before they go,'' Eldridge said.

At Alta's 86-room Rustler Lodge, reservations manager Tauni Powers had to do more advertising than ever to drum up business for the resort that will not hold any Olympic competition.

The Rustler Lodge still has 20 rooms available for the first week of the Olympics. The second week is fully booked, but Powers credits that to a bounty of Utah snowfall.

Like many Utah resorts, Alta already has received half its usual annual snowfall _ 243 inches, a powerful draw for skiers from the East Coast, where snowfall has been anemic.

``With all that extra snow, it's helping now. And people are getting so they're not afraid to fly,'' Powers said.

Many of Snowbird's 900 rooms will be occupied during the games by Olympic sponsors and their guests. But the resort will not hold any Olympic events, and few of its visitors will spend time skiing, leaving the slopes wide open, Rollins said.

``The month of February will become a local's paradise,'' he said.

Snowbird still has plenty of rooms for March, a month that usually brings a lot of snow.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press