Games Face - Ski Mag

Games Face

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The Olympic Winter Games are coming to Salt Lake City and its mountains. The state's resorts, strung like pearls along the Wasatch Front, will now trade in image, symbols and nationalism instead of feather-light powder. Utah skiing may never be the same.

After more than 30 years of bidding and begging, Utah will finally light the Olympic torch on Feb. 8, 2002. With Nagano in the rear-view mirror, the ski world now turns to the Wasatch. For the next decade, perhaps longer, these mountains will bask in the Olympic glow. Long eclipsed by the flash of Colorado (which hosts about 25 percent of all skier visits), Utah's ski resorts eagerly await media exposure to more than a billion people-nearly one-fifth of the earth's population.

Resorts already have begun feverish preparation for the Olympic onslaught. Skiers who scurry to the Wasatch over the next three seasons will find elemental change as ski areas spar for the best position in the 2002 Olympic family photo. Lifts and lodges are sprouting at a record rate; trail maps seem to change almost daily. Never has Utah skiing been so rich and rewarding.

At the epicenter are the three resorts that will host the Olympic alpine events. Most skiers know about Deer Valley and Park City, which share the state's largest and most glamorous ski town. Soon they'll discover Snowbasin, a previously obscure hideaway that will be introduced to the world with the Olympic downhill.

A fourth resort with no direct Olympic ties also has edged into the spotlight. From its strategic location between Park City and the Utah Winter Sports Park (the primary Olympic Nordic site), The Canyons-which has been revitalized under the new ownership of the American Skiing Company (ASC)-expects to bask in the reflected Olympic glow with a minimum of disruption and expense. As the state's ski resort executives know better than anyone, it's not just the Winter Olympic Games that will be on the world stage in 2002, but Utah skiing as well. Even resorts removed from the Olympic hype, such as Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Sundance, hope to benefit from the whole world being introduced to Utah's winter wonderland.

"Utah still is pretty much a secret, and there's no way you can measure the benefit of hundreds of millions of people watching worldwide," says Chip Carey, marketing director of The Canyons. "Skiers from around the country talk about Aspen and Vail, but all that is going to change. We're going to harvest the emotion and hype that comes with an American Olympics. It's impossible to overestimate the value."

The three prime Olympic ski resorts and the sundry hangers-on can't wait to greet the world. After all, this is the very reason Utah spent $20 million in the bidding process that began in 1966 and will pop for an estimated $1 billion in preparation costs before Hermann Maier's skis carve Utah snow.

Utah resorts plan to spend a collective $200 million in the next four years to dress up their mountains. Skiers who jump in ahead of the Olympic rush stand to benefit most. They'll find speedy lifts, hundreds of fresh acres of lush terrain and new lodges and bistros galore. Early expansion of the Salt Lake City International Airport means better transportation for everyone. Real estate development is booming. Most of the resort expansion would have been built eventually. But, after all, the Olympic laurels go to the swiftest. "It's kind of a game to see who gets the most guns in place to capitalize," says Chuck English, Deer Valley's mountain manager. "Projects that have been in our master plan for years are getting pushed ahead. There's extra excitement and energy because nobody wants to be bogged down in construction when the Games come."

From the other side of town, Park City Resort Chairman John Cumming hatches similar plans. "We've speeded up our capital improvements so we can be as good as we can be for the Games. One result is that skiers will see immediate improvements." Upgrades this season clude a new six-passenger high-speed chairlift and three additional runs in the McConkey's Bowl area. Before the athletes arrive in 2002, Cumming plans to build a skier-services center and several mountain restaurants, open more terrain and, perhaps, even construct two gondolas, including one to transport guests from town to the mountain. The price tag may hit $40 million.

Deer Valley also offers a fitting example of the pre-Olympic transformation. Once known primarily as a place to be pampered off the slopes, it more recently emerged as something of a muscle mountain-with more sinew on the way.

The resort invested $18 million in improvements this season, including the opening of its fourth mountain, Empire Canyon. With a new gondola and three quads, Deer Valley will boost its hourly uphill capacity from 25,600 to 34,800, an impressive 35 percent increase. Expansion into Empire Canyon-edging closer to a link with Park City-will open 600 acres of slopes ranging from feel-good intermediate runs to three bowls and 10 chutes of expert terrain. The new gondola will climb from Highway 40 to a 60-acre expansion at Deer Crest. Skiers not paying attention the past few years may find Deer Valley's new dimensions stunning: a 3,000-foot vertical descent, 18 lifts, 1,750 acres. Scarcely a blip on the international race calendar to date, Deer Valley will debut large with men's and women's slalom and freestyle events.

Sparkling as the plans at Park City and Deer Valley may be, they pale against the pyrotechnics just down the valley at The Canyons, an obscure mountain known in previous incarnations as Wolf Mountain and Park West. That changed in July 1997 with the acquisition by ASC, which owns numerous resorts nationwide, including Steamboat, Colo., Killington, Vt., Heavenly, Calif., and Maine's Sugarloaf and Sunday River.

In a madcap four months, ASC built Utah's first gondola, along with five other lifts, including three high-speed quads. Until then, the resort never approached 100,000 skier visits a year. But the potential always loomed to make this the biggest ski mountain in the country, with a possible 7,400 skiable acres, much of it in the look-out-below category. In comparison, the Vail juggernaut covers a mere 6,400 acres. Considering the new owner's commitment, the Canyons dream may come true.

Renamed for its deep-cut gulches, The Canyons figures prominently in the Olympic equation even though no events are scheduled there. The location is just a ridge away from Utah Sports Park, site of ski jumping, bobsled and luge events. A few miles in the other direction, Park City will host snowboarding events and men's and women's giant slalom. The Canyons scarcely feels left out and plans to cash in while the whole world is watching. "We expect to become the playground for corporate America during the Games," Carey says.

To ensure there will be plenty to play with, the resort added four lifts this season, including two quads, and began mapping the mountain village that's always been missed. By also expanding into a series of bowls and chutes, The Canyons wants to position itself as Park City's premier place for experts, a niche Snowbird will certainly fight to maintain.

Olympic visitors who make the winding, yet swift, 22-mile climb up from Ogden to Snowbasin to witness the speed events-downhill and super G-are in for a breathtaking surprise. Perhaps the most dramatic resort today that nobody has ever heard of, Snowbasin is a sleeping giant on the brink of an Olympic awakening.

This season, crews installed four lifts, including two gondolas and one high-speed quad. With current terrain the size of Park City, Snowbasin has room to become one of the state's largest resorts, with a master plan for 14,000 skiers daily. "That's big and a long time away,'' says General Manager Gray Reynolds. "The Olympic response will have much to do with how fast we go. Those 16 days are critical for us."

In the interim, visitors will find a skier's mountain with steeps, but few frills. For the immediate future, lodging and night life is in Ogden, but a brisk upgrade in mountain restaurants and facilities is underway to nurture the estimated 40,000 downhill spectators. Skiers will find that a high-speed quad and an eight-passenger gondola to the summit boosts capacity substantially this winter.

Meanwhile, Olympic visitors have the prospect of skiing the freshly carved downhill course. From the start, they'll discover a mesmerizing view of the broad Ogden Valley and Great Salt Lake, then a wild, twisting descent that, as much as anything, epitomizes the Olympic experience.

When the XIX Winter Olympic Games are gone, America and the world will know a bigger, brighter Utah. As for its famous snow, that, thankfully, will always remain the same.

From Ogden to Provo, the 10 separate Salt Lake City Olympic venues sprawl 70 miles from north to south along the Wasatch Front, then another 30 miles into the mountains to the east. Relatively compact by Olympic standards, the 2002 Salt Lake City Games are comparable to the 1994 layout at Lillehammer, Norway, arguably the most successful Winter Olympics ever.

Each venue is 10 to 60 minutes from the Olympic Village. Salt Lake City is the largest metropolitan area ever to host a Winter Olympics and has renovated and expanded its highway system to ferry the estimated 100,000 daily ticket holders who will steam into the area Feb. 8-24. Even the Utah Jazz is doing its part as the team embarks on the longest road trip in NBA history to free up the Delta Center for figure skating competitions.

Information
Deer Valley (800) 558-3337; www.deervalley.com
Park City (800) 222-7275; www.pcski.com
Park City Chamber of Commerce (800) 453-1360; www.parkcityinfo.com
Snowbasin (801) 399-1135; www.snowbasin.com
The Canyons (888) 226-9667; www.thecanyons.com
Tickets Tickets go on sale in the fall 2000, with an estimated 1.2 million up for grabs. Keep current on the Games at www.slc2002.orgind a skier's mountain with steeps, but few frills. For the immediate future, lodging and night life is in Ogden, but a brisk upgrade in mountain restaurants and facilities is underway to nurture the estimated 40,000 downhill spectators. Skiers will find that a high-speed quad and an eight-passenger gondola to the summit boosts capacity substantially this winter.

Meanwhile, Olympic visitors have the prospect of skiing the freshly carved downhill course. From the start, they'll discover a mesmerizing view of the broad Ogden Valley and Great Salt Lake, then a wild, twisting descent that, as much as anything, epitomizes the Olympic experience.

When the XIX Winter Olympic Games are gone, America and the world will know a bigger, brighter Utah. As for its famous snow, that, thankfully, will always remain the same.

From Ogden to Provo, the 10 separate Salt Lake City Olympic venues sprawl 70 miles from north to south along the Wasatch Front, then another 30 miles into the mountains to the east. Relatively compact by Olympic standards, the 2002 Salt Lake City Games are comparable to the 1994 layout at Lillehammer, Norway, arguably the most successful Winter Olympics ever.

Each venue is 10 to 60 minutes from the Olympic Village. Salt Lake City is the largest metropolitan area ever to host a Winter Olympics and has renovated and expanded its highway system to ferry the estimated 100,000 daily ticket holders who will steam into the area Feb. 8-24. Even the Utah Jazz is doing its part as the team embarks on the longest road trip in NBA history to free up the Delta Center for figure skating competitions.

Information
Deer Valley (800) 558-3337; www.deervalley.com
Park City (800) 222-7275; www.pcski.com
Park City Chamber of Commerce (800) 453-1360; www.parkcityinfo.com
Snowbasin (801) 399-1135; www.snowbasin.com
The Canyons (888) 226-9667; www.thecanyons.com
Tickets Tickets go on sale in the fall 2000, with an estimated 1.2 million up for grabs. Keep current on the Games at www.slc2002.org

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