SAN FRANCISCO -- Even though Utah will be hosting the world's most important winter sports event in February, the state's ski resorts expect a tough season this year.

Why the counterintuitive expectation? Because destinations that host the Olympics -- whether summer or winter -- traditionally see a downturn in visitor arrivals the year leading to the event, according to a spokesman for Ski Utah, a marketing organization comprised of 14 state ski resorts.

"There is a perception among visitors that the area is congested and there is lots of building going on," he said. So, strange as it may seem, Utah's ski resorts have a marketing challenge on their hands.

Deer Valley is one of the Utah resorts hosting Winter Olympic events in February. The Winter Olympics last just 17 days, Feb. 8 to 24, but the ski season runs from November through the spring. The spokesman said Utah's resorts want skiers to fill hotel rooms and seats on lifts the rest of the season -- and they don't want to lose them to other mountain states because of a misconception that Utah is too much of a hassle this year. "The fact is that even if people come during the Olympics, only 2% of the available ski terrain in Utah is being used for the Games," he said. "The rest of the slopes will be fantastically uncrowded."

The Olympics will take place at only three of Utah's ski resorts -- Deer Valley, Park City and Snowbasin -- and only a small portion of each of those resorts' terrain will be used. Still, the state's ski officials are not pushing skiing during the Winter Olympics, because they acknowledge that finding lodging and air fare might be difficult.

But they are reminding skiers that there are four months -- December, January, March and April -- during which there is still plenty of availability. The spokesman said "there is a big hole in January," where bookings are particularly low.

As reported, to boost interest in skiing here, the resorts have instituted a $20.02 adult lift ticket plan when guests stay a minimum of three nights at a participating lodging property. For information, contact (888) 957-UTAH.

The spokesman said the resorts also are focusing on the traditional fly-drive markets -- California, Texas, the Northeast and Florida.

Thus far, there is little indication that a fear of travel as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is having a big impact on bookings, he added. "We're lucky because skiers are resilient and they will travel to ski. Basically, anybody who lives in the Northeast is going to have to get on an airplane for the best ski conditions."

Utah resorts sold an estimated 3.5 million lift tickets last year, and officials estimate that half of the skiers came from out of state.

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