Sample winter sports at world-class sites around Salt Lake City Utah's Olympic Hopes

January 08, 1995|By Gary A. Warner | Gary A. Warner,Orange County Register

You can blast down the mountain where Picabo Street will go for the Olympic gold or twirl on the ice where Michelle Kwan hopes to dazzle the ice-skating judges.

Maybe. If everything goes as planned and if you happen to go to Salt Lake City.

For the second time in four years, Salt Lake City is holding its collective breath, hoping that the 94 demigods of the International Olympic Committee decide Utah's capital city will be the center of the 2002 Winter Games.

"We're feeling good, really good, about our chances," said Robert Hunter, spokesman for the local organizing committee.

And unlike most of the other eight candidates for the games, Salt Lake City can already offer visitors use of the future Olympic sites.

Park City, one of the nation's top-rated ski resorts, would be the host of the giant-slalom competition. The resort averages a good 380 inches of snow each season, less than some other nearby Utah resorts but enough for a long season. When Mother Nature doesn't cooperate, there is snowmaking capacity for 440 acres. Every November, America's Opening World Cup slalom competition is held at this resort.

A gondola, two high-speed quads and 11 chair lifts speed skiers to the slopes. While 30 percent are marked "black diamond" for expert skiers, there are plenty of trails for beginning and intermediate skiers.

Noted as one of the best party-town ski spots, Park City has great restaurants, including the Barking Frog and Grappa, along its famous Main Street. In an era of sterile chalet-style resorts, Park City has an Old West feel, thanks to the dozens of its buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Future Olympic hopefuls can visit the U.S. Ski Team headquarters in town.

Park City has kept the improvements coming, adding C.B.'s Run, a new giant-slalom course.

Getting a first-hand taste of the proposed Olympic sites doesn't stop with Park City.

Nearby Deer Valley Ski Resort also wants to attract Alpine events, and another resort, Snowbasin, is the planned site for downhill skiing. The runs at both that could be used in the competition are open to the public for winter use.

Forty-five minutes north of Salt Lake City is the Ogden Arena, home to the recently opened Olympic-size ice sheet. It would serve as the site for women's ice-hockey competition. It's already drawing big crowds of weekend competitive and recreational skaters.

In early 1995, the Speed Skating Oval in Salt Lake City will open. By fall 1996, an entire Winter Sports Park will be in operation, where the public will be able to learn how to bobsled, ski jump or skate.

Among other features that the Salt Lake Olympic Committee is boasting about is an Olympic Village that can house 4,000 residents at the University of Utah and an adjacent Olympic Stadium that can be expanded to hold up to 50,000 people. All of the proposed competition sites are within an hour's drive from the Olympic Village.

Salt Lake City has been trying to bring the Olympics to Utah since 1966, when it lost to Sapporo, Japan. It seemed on the verge of realizing the dream in 1991, but the politics of geography stepped in to crush the city's hopes.

Again it was Japan -- this time Nagano -- that won the 1998 games. Salt Lake City had the best facilities. But Atlanta also had the 1996 Summer Games.

"There was strong sentiment not to go back to back to the United States," Mr. Hunter said.

A record 10 nations originally applied to the International Olympic Committee to be the host of the 2002 Winter Games. Alma Alta, Kazakstan, later withdrew. The group will be cut to four later this month in Lausanne, Switzerland. The final vote will be in June in Budapest, Hungary.

If it wins, Salt Lake City would be the sixth North American city to be host of the Olympics in 25 years, after Atlanta, Montreal (1976), Lake Placid, N.Y. (1980), Los Angeles (1984) and Calgary (1988).

The eight places vying with Salt Lake City and their strengths and weaknesses are:

* Graz, Austria: Great mountains and beautiful scenery, but it is ,, hurt by the candidacies of other sites in neighboring Switzerland and northern Italy.

* Jaca, Spain: This small village in the Pyrennes might not have much of a shot were it not that International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch is Spanish. That's probably good enough to get it into the finals but not enough to be the committee's choice.

* Ostersund, Sweden: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The town is a seven-time bidder, and Sweden has never been host of the winter games. But it's too soon to return to Scandinavia after the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. A good bet for 2006.

* Poprad-Tatry, Slovakia: Good skiing in this half of the former Czechoslovakia, but doubts about the new nation's ability to build world-class facilities by 2002 makes this a dark horse at best.

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