Utah's Olympic Legacy

Promotion of the Olympic experience focused on the West

By: R. Scott Macintosh

Utah has reaped the benefits that come with being an Olympic Games host high exposure, improved infrastructure and more government revenues. But even though the Olympic buildup proved to be a boon to Salt Lake City and the state, a post-Olympic world may not be as rosy.

More than $680 million was spent in preparation for the games, thousands of jobs were created and world-class facilities built. The Olympics dropped a worldwide spotlight on the city and the state, which it successfully used to its advantage. A survey conducted after the games revealed that 7.1 million more adults said that they would vacation in Utah, than before the games.

State officials have noted that with a substantial increase in tourism capacity, a big part of Utah’s post-Olympic legacy could be its increased tourism business.

But given a budget shortfall, economic uncertainty and a looming war the state is facing limitations in what it can do to promote its legacy, while it is still fresh in the hearts and minds of the public.

Domestic leisure travel was the only source of growth for state tourism in 2002. In a post-9/11 world, the majority of visitors to Utah last year were people who drove over from Western states. Both business and international travel declined in 2002, despite the high-profile Olympics.

As a result, domestic travelers, especially car-driving westerners, have been the state’s marketing priority and it will likely remain that way. A state budget crunch is expected to chip away at some of the $4 million used to promote tourism. And the winter season may prove to be less of a priority, since roughly half of the $4 billion generated by tourism is made in the summer.

The window may be closing on the emotional pull that the 2001 Olympics have on travelers. Utah’s Olympic memory is expected to fade as most do once the next torch is lighted.

“The Olympics gives a type of awareness bump that would be impossible any other way,” said Jon Kemp, a research coordinator with Utah Travel Council. “As time passes and people don’t have that immediate recall, people will still remember that the Olympics were held here. It becomes a brand identity, and that doesn’t go away.”

Olympic Facilities

The Olympics have left behind million-dollar facilities, now open to the public for recreational use.

Mountain resorts invested more than a quarter-billion dollars to prepare for the Olympic games and continue to spend millions on upgrades.

In addition to resort investments, the Olympics left the state with a $76 million legacy fund to develop future Olympic talent and to maintain the state-of-the-art venues that were built for the games.

At the Utah Olympic Park, just a ten-minute drive from Park City, visitors can arrange for a slide down the Olympic bobsled course, on a sled ridden by real Olympic athletes. The park also houses a museum and conducts ski-jumping clinics on its ramps.

The Kearns Speed skating Oval in Salt Lake City is open to the public, as is the Olympic curling facility in Ogden.

All the places can be accessed from the Salt Lake City airport in less than an hour.

Olympic ski runs were held on three different mountains. Here’s an assessment of the Olympic ski areas, after a recent press trip that was sponsored by Ski Utah:

Best Kept Secret

Snowbasin emerged from more than 60 years of obscurity, when it was selected as the Olympic venue for the downhill, combined and super-G skiing competitions. Now Snowbasin is a an anomaly among ski resorts: It has world-class facilities and no crowds.

“In terms of skiers, a week in Vail is the equivalent of a year here,” said Kevin Stauffer, the guest services supervisor with Snowbasin.

The resort once hosted the national championships on an out-of-the-way run that eventually became overgrown and unused, since the only way to get there was a steep hike up the mountainside.

But in 1998, a $70 million infusion transformed the old course into the resort’s prized Olympic runs.

The Snowbasin resort nearly doubled its size adding two gondolas, a quad chair and a 15-passenger tram to serve the Olympic courses.

Snowbasin is still in the process of transitioning from a local resort to a world-class venue. A golf course for summer recreation is on the way, as is lodging.

The Pampered Crowd

The moneyed skier, looking for more than just skiing, should consider Deer Valley.

The resort hosted Olympic alpine slalom, aerial and freestyle mogul events and tends to cater to a high-end clientele.

It has award-winning food in its lodges and was voted the best North American resort in 2001, by the readers of SKI magazine.

It is also home to the tony Stein Erikson Lodge with luxury suites going for $1200-plus a night.

“For the most part, out-of-state visitors will go out of there,” said Nathan Rafferty, a spokesman for Ski Utah.

“They really focus on the destination skier there the skier who looks for great service and wants more of a vacation.”

Radical Mountain

The Park City Mountain Resort has been the cornerstone of Utah skiing.

Opened in 1863, it was the first resort in Park City.

During the Olympics, the resort hosted the men’s and women’s alpine giant slalom and snowboarding events.

Park City Mountain has the second most runs in the state of Utah, just behind the neighboring Canyons Resort.

Park City is also designed for families, with ski and snowboard programs and family-focused amenities.

As a contrast to Deer Valley, the Park City Mountain Resort has captured the youth market with special runs aimed at a new generation of skier and snowboarder, living on the cutting edge of the sports.

The resort has a regulation halfpipe and claims it has the world’s only Olympic superpipe both open to the public.