PARK CITY, Utah— Since Squaw Valley played host to the 1960 Winter Olympics in California, the Games have traditionally provided a boost to winter sports. Call it the Olympic Halo or Ski Fever. Once the bug has been unleashed, it is tough for anyone to shake.
One year after the Salt Lake Winter Games, that Olympic bounce is quite evident in Utah.
”We’re having record numbers, which would indicate glow from the Olympics,” Kip Pitou, the president of Ski Utah, a marketing company owned and operated by the state’s 14 ski resorts, said. ”The Olympics paid off for us. Now, I think people realize that they can come here, go skiing, not be proselytized to and get a drink afterward.”
In Park City — which was the site of several events, including snowboarding and Alpine and freestyle skiing at the 2002 Games — the ski areas have felt the impact this season. The Canyons served as the broadcast center for NBC’s ”Today Show” during the Games, has seen a noticeable increase of skier days during the winter. Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort had record numbers of spectators during recent snowboarding and freestyle skiing events.
And the Olympic glow is not restricted to the slopes. At Park City’s Goldener Hirsch Inn, a restaurant and hotel, the numbers have increased since last year.
”We’ve noticed our summer and the early part of the winter have been the best numbers we’ve had in the five years,” said Trent Rogers, general manager of the inn, which is slopeside at Deer Valley, one of the Olympic sites. ”The Olympics definitely had an impact on us. I hope Utah builds on that.”
On the other side of the Wasatch Mountains, Snowbird has seen some of the busiest skier days in its 31-year history.
”The snow year was not that great,” the Snowbird spokesman Dave Fields said. ”But the skier numbers have been very solid. We’ve had a lot of out-of-state interest. Locals tend to be snow snobs.”
Ogden, host to Olympic curling and downhill skiing at Snowbasin, reported that ski-group bookings for the 2002-3 season were up 300 percent compared to the 2001-2 season. The city credits the increase to exposure during the Olympics.
And the bounce extends beyond ski and snowboard areas in Utah to shops and related businesses nationwide. The National Ski Areas Association said there has been an increase in the number of ski lessons. And while ski sales have been relatively stagnant, snowboard sales have steadily increased, with no sign of slowing. At the recent ski industry convention in Las Vegas, most vendors reported a boost in sales.
Even real-estate sales in Park City have surged since the Olympics.
”In terms of transactions, numbers are up 20 percent,” Mark Sletten, a real-estate broker, said. ”Since the Olympics, I think people are seeing what an incredible value Park City is, as opposed to Aspen, Vail, Telluride, Jackson Hole and Sun Valley. The infrastructure is here already and the airport is minutes away.”
Perkins Miller, the editor-in-chief of Skiing magazine, said the Olympics make people think about skiing.
”The Olympics brings skiing to the forefront of people’s minds,” Miller said. ”And people like Bode Miller have been great for skiing. It’s important to skiing to have these heroes out there. People see him as an icon to invest in and support.” The two Millers are not related.
”There’s a lot of energy around the Olympics,” Miller said. ”The Olympics were broadly packaged and people saw how beautiful they were.”
For NBC and the United States Ski and Snowboard Association, the Salt Lake Games were stimulating enough to sign a four-year deal to broadcast eight hours of Alpine and freestyle skiing and snowboarding each winter through the 2006 Winter Games, including the United States Snowboarding Grand Prix, which was broadcast in December during prime time.
”This sets a foundation for the American audience to get excited about snow sports and know more than just Bode Miller, Ross Powers and Kelly Clark as we head in to the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy,” Ted Morris, the association’s vice president of sales and marketing, said.
So, if it seems as if there has been a bit more skiing and snowboarding on television these days and your children are hounding you for the latest Burton snowboard or for a quick trip to the slopes, blame it on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.