Colorado may call itself “Ski Country, USA,” but the license plates on most of the cars hereabouts tell a different story.
At the top, they read, “Ski UTAH,” next to a picture of a skier, and at the bottom, “Greatest Snow on Earth.”
There are only 14 ski resorts in Utah, compared to 30 in Colorado, but they are generally more convenient. The two major complexes--Snowbird-Alta and Park City-Deer Valley--are only 45 minutes from Salt Lake International Airport, which in itself is considerably less of a hassle than Denver’s Stapleton Airport.
Naturally, a rivalry has developed between the two states, and it now extends to the Olympics.
Encouraged by Vail’s successful handling of the recent World Alpine Ski Championships, Denver has joined the competition to become the U.S. Olympic Committee’s designated bidder for the 1998 Winter Games.
Of course, Salt Lake City has already lost a previous shot or two at this honor, to Anchorage, but it is now considered at least a co-favorite with the Alaskan city for the ’98 endorsement, due to be determined next year.
Denver is a bit late on the scene, though not critically so. A bigger drawback is the way it treated the International Olympic Committee in 1972, when Colorado voters rejected, for financial and environmental reasons, the ’76 Winter Games, which had already been awarded to the Mile High City.
However, one member of Denver’s organizing committee, Steve McConahey of Kemper Financial Cos., believes that international skiing officials don’t seem to be especially concerned over what happened 17 years ago, adding: “Our sense, from talking to them, is that they are very impressed by the way the world championships were conducted at Vail.”
Significantly, a recent statewide poll indicated that 60% of Colorado voters currently favor Denver’s Winter Olympic bid, while only 18% are firmly opposed.
Here in Utah, Denver’s revived Olympic interest is being used to spur Salt Lake City’s bid, in the interest of not only getting the Games, but of reinforcing the state’s image as the No. 1 skiers’ paradise.
Skiing did not start here in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That’s just when the Utah Travel Council decided to promote the old mining town of Park City as “another Aspen” and then help boost Dick Bass in his multimillion-dollar venture at Snowbird.
Alta, Snowbird’s neighbor in Little Cottonwood Canyon, is celebrating its 50th birthday this season. The second-oldest ski resort in the country--Sun Valley, Ida., turned 50 in early 1986--hasn’t changed all that much over the past half-century, during which it has been the favorite haunt of powder skiers who return year after year and prefer not to be surprised on each visit.
There’s still a rustic feeling to the place, mainly in the five lodges that offer overnight accommodations at the base of the slopes, now served by eight double chairlifts.
However, just a mile back down the road, Snowbird continues to climb sleekly skyward, most recently with the Cliff Lodge, a high-rise hotel and conference center, where the night life is also a bit more active than at Alta.
The centerpiece of Snowbird’s lift system is its 125-passenger aerial tramway, which whisks skiers to some of the most challenging terrain in North America.
Although 50% of Snowbird’s skiing is rated advanced, there are also some intermediate and beginning runs off its seven double chairs. Novices, however, might find Alta’s Albion area less intimidating until they can get the hang of the sport.
Average skiers will probably find more slopes to their liking up around Park City, 27 miles east of Salt Lake City, off Interstate 80. With trails and bowls accessible by eight double chairs, three triple chairs and a four-passenger gondola tramway, there’s something for everyone at the main ski area, which is 25 years old this winter.
Additionally, Park West has seven more double chairs, and Deer Valley offers another double chair and seven triple chairs.
But it’s at Deer Valley that efficient lifts and well groomed slopes have perhaps been best combined with comfortable accommodations and gourmet dining to maximize the total skiing experience. The Stein Eriksen Lodge, at mid-mountain, offers a luxurious refuge from the crowds while being accessible to the lifts and only a 10-minute drive from the town of Park City, with its restored Victorian ambiance.
A good way to sample all of the skiing in the neighborhood is to set up a base in downtown Salt Lake City and visit a different ski area each day. Throw in Brighton and Solitude, in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and there are enough to cover a seven-day week. A car would be desirable but not essential. Utah Transit Authority buses stop at most of the resorts, and there are other shuttle services.
Obviously, Utah can compete with Colorado in recreational skiing, but what about in the staging of international races? Vail and Aspen have both had the world championships, the latter in 1950, and also stage annual World Cup events.
Well, Utah Olympic proponents point out that Park City is the headquarters of the U.S. ski team and successfully played host to season-opening women’s World Cup races in November, 1987, using man-made snow.
The tentative 1989-90 World Cup schedule calls for both the men and women to compete in slalom and giant slalom races at Park City next Nov. 24-26, then continue on to Vail or Aspen before going to Europe in mid-December.
So, the rivalry continues. It is even carrying over to the beer industry. Colorado has long had its Coors, in Golden, and now Greg Schirf, 35, a transplanted Milwaukee native, has twice doubled the capacity of his Schirf Brewing Co., which he opened in Park City in October 1986.
It is Utah’s only brewery, and its presence was hailed by Bob Baily, executive director of the Utah Ski Assn., who says: “In every Utah skier survey, there is a misconception that you can’t get a drink here. It frankly is a result of Mormon influence on society. But once people get here, they find out how easy it is to get a drink.”
Schirf sees his Wasatch brand beers as a symbol of the interstate struggle for skiers, saying: “Particularly as we compete with the Colorado ski industry, it helps us by promoting the fact that we have a brewery in Utah, that after a hard day of skiing, you can drink beer in Utah.”
Then, only half in jest, he adds: “Half the people in Utah don’t drink beer, so it’s incumbent on the rest of us to make up for that.”
World Cup racing concludes in Japan this weekend and next, but there is little suspense left. Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg has wrapped up his third overall men’s title. He has 388 points to 272 for runner-up Pirmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland, an insurmountable margin. Vreni Schneider has 286 points for a 47-point edge over Swiss teammate Michela Figini in the women’s overall standings, and the remaining races are all slaloms and giant slaloms, in which Schneider is undefeated on the World Cup circuit this season.
Absent from the concluding World Cup events is Ulrike Maier of Austria, women’s super-G gold medalist in last month’s World Championships at Vail, Colo. From Hawaii, where she is vacationing with her boyfriend, Maier informed Austrian Coach Raymund Berger that she is three months’ pregnant and will skip the rest of the season. She plans to resume racing next fall, after the birth of her child.
Women pro racers are competing at Sierra Summit this weekend, while the men on the U.S. Pro Tour are racing at Winter Park, Colo., before going to Snow Summit March 10-12. . . . The National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Ski Championships are being held this week at Jackson, Wyo., but most Far West schools will take part in next week’s U.S. Collegiate Ski Championships at Ski Incline, Nev., instead.
Bob Kriegel, co-author of “Inner Skiing,” will conduct an hour-long motivational clinic at Bear Mountain Saturday at noon. . . . The annual North Lake Tahoe/Truckee Snowfest Winter Carnival begins its 10-day run Friday, with a variety of ski events on the schedule. . . . Alpine Meadows will play host to the Far West Regional Grand Marnier chefs’ race Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. . . . The International Master’s Cup race series, for skiers 30 and over, continues at Sun Valley, Ida., next week.