Next February, you could be at the 2002 Winter Games. Make that shouldbe.
Imagine this: It's February 10, 2002, and you've just hopped on a lift at Snowbasin, Utah. The base area felt like a fire drill at the United Nations, but by the time you reach Strawberry Bowl, the slopes are empty. You proceed to ski two feet of Utah's finest for an hour or so, then head over to the downhill course. You elbow your way past several Austrians and an Italian or two, situate yourself next to a rope and stare at a slope that's awfully icy-looking for a ski area at which you just scored face shots. After a few minutes of standing shoulder to shoulder with some very excited Europeans, a din of cowbells and Teuton-inflected cries sweeps down from the onlookers above. A few seconds later, Hermann Maier arcs the single most awesome turn you've ever seen in your life only a few yards in front of you. He wins the gold medal in the downhill. You go ski powder until the lifts close, then party with the international throng in Park City till midnight. Welcome to the Olympics in Utah.
Immersing yourself in Olympic madness will be sweet for a variety of reasons. The first is the skiing; never will so many world-class slopes be so vacant. Why? Because the majority of the lodging, both in the venue cities and at the ski areas, will be occupied by spectators, sponsors, support teams, the media, and Olympic officials, delegates, and judges. The Cliff Lodge at Snowbird, for example, is already booked solid by corporate clients with Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) alliances. Though these folks may take a run or two, they're not coming to Utah to ski. And the relatively few visitors who are interested in making turns will be dispersed among the many Utah ski areas within striking distance of the Games -- Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, Park City, Solitude, Snowbasin, The Canyons, Deer Valley. Translation: empty slopes, midseason, for two weeks.
Then there are the Games themselves. Finland versus Sweden in hockey. Maier versus Von Gruenigen in GS. Germany versus Jamaica in the bobsled -- all the great rivalries. Getting tickets will be a challenge, but even if you don't get into every event you want to see, you can still watch them on the massive Jumbotron TVs scattered about the venue cities. As a bonus, direct feeds will mean you won't have to put up with NBC's hour-long profiles or inane commentary.
But the best part of the Olympics is their international flavor. You'll hobnob with athletes and spectators from Sweden to Hungary, Liechtenstein to Japan. Never will North American ski areas feel more worldly. It's a dream scenario, really: Utah powder with an international groove. This really is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity; the U.S. probably won't see another Winter Games for 20 years, maybe longer. So don't pass it up.
Booking accommodations is a challenge, but doable. The SLOC has blocked 60 percent of all available rooms for Olympic officials and their guests. In other words: Not you. However, unless these rooms are actually reserved with a deposit by early February 2001, they will be made available to the public (you). Of the other 40 percent of the lodging, most was "unavailable" as of our mid December press time. That means it was not actually booked, but that property managers are waiting to gauge demand before they set their rates (which should be done by early February 2001).
There are two ways to approach lodging: Snatch a room as soon as one becomes available, or play the wait-and-see game. Acting fast will get you a room, but quite likely at a premium. Waiting will probably pay off, but you'll need to be attentive. As Rip Rippetoe of the Visitor Information Service coalition (VIS) says: "History shows that rooms become available as the Games get closer. We're confident there will be plenty of accommodations, you just have to keep checking." Remember New Yeaar's 2000, when hotels and resorts all over the world jacked up their rates and got burned? The same thing will happen in Utah (it happened in Sydney, too).
Start your lodging search at the Salt Lake Games official website, www.saltlake2002.com. In addition to listing the rooms made available by SLOC in February, the site links to the VIS accommodation site and others. Beyond these, there are loads of private reservation managers that represent properties at and near the various ski areas. Get on the Internet, search them out, and work the phones (we've listed many relevant sites and numbers in Olympic Travel Plans, in the related links above).
As with most Winter Olympics, the Utah Games will be spread across several locales. Where to stay depends on what sort of experience you're after. Salt Lake City will be at the heart of the Olympic bustle; it's home to the Olympic Village (where the athletes stay), the Olympic Stadium (opening and closing ceremonies), and the figure skating and speed skating venues. Park City is the place for a trip that's equal parts Olympic spectating and skiing. Park City and Salt Lake will both host official Olympic celebrations and offer free events open to the public every night. The Alpine GS, snowboard GS, and snowboard halfpipe will take place at Park City Resort; nearby Deer Valley hosts freestyle events; and the Utah Olympic Park, where the bobsled, luge, and ski jumping all go down, is right around the corner. Heber City, just a few miles southeast of Park City, should be cheaper and is near the biathalon and cross-country events. Ogden, home to the curling arena, is also the closest town to Snowbasin, where the downhill, combined downhill, and super G will all take place.
The last option is staying at a nonevent ski area, such as The Canyons -- it's just a few miles from Park City, adjacent to the Olympic Park, and convenient to Salt Lake. Stay at Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, or Solitude and you could get snowed in if the canyon roads close. Which would not be so bad: You might miss the speed skating trials, but you might get face shots in three feet of the best snow in the world, on a mountain completely devoid of crowds. In other words: You can't lose.
Get the Ticket
Of the 885,000 Olympic event tickets allotted to the U.S., 85,000 were unsold as of December 12, 2000. Those tickets were set aside for premium packages that are currently available and for an Internet auction that will take place in March or April of 2001. For either option, head to www.saltlake2002.com. The premium packages include multiple events and are on the pricey side -- a package that includes single tickets to a men's semifinal hockey game, the men's 50-km cross-country race, and the closing ceremonies costs $1,500. The Internet auction will be for single tickets, there will be a time window, and tickets will go to the highest bidder. But if you don't get advance tickets, go anyway! Anyone who's ever been to an Olympics will tell you that tickets to many events can be had on the spot. For example, many people who buy premium packages so that they can get into the opening ceremony won't even be around to use their ticket to the men's GS. Plus, scalping tickets is legal in Utah, and you can expect ticket peddlers on every corner. Sharpen your haggling skills and come up with a good rap. Ferreting out tickets is practically an Olympic sport itself, right up there with pin trading. But more on that later.