SBJ/March 26 - April 1, 2001/Facilities

All the answers to a busload of Salt Lake City venue questions

What happens when you stuff a gang of journalists from all over the world into a touring bus, then haul 'em up mountain passes and down the valley trails of northern Utah for the better part of a week? Well, everyone learns a lot about the 13 far-flung venues set up for the 2002 Winter Olympics — plus every plug and hook-up of the main media center.

In case you missed the bus, here are seven things you'd almost certainly want to ask:

Q: What events will be contested in the Delta Center, home of the NBA Utah Jazz?

A: None.

Ah, but that's a trick question. Delta Air Lines is not an Olympic sponsor, so the giant signs on the sides of the building will be covered when the Games begin in February. Actually, the structure — to be temporarily christened the Salt Lake Ice Center — will host all figure-skating events, plus most of the short-track skating races.

Q: Will weather be a factor at the outdoor venues?

A: That's up to Ma Nature, but the Games run from Feb. 8-24 and Utah's weather is notoriously fickle around that time. This year's World Cup downhill, which was supposed to be a great test for the world's highest and steepest course at Snowbasin, had to be canceled because of blinding snow.

On the other hand, our touring journalists turned up at Snowbasin on a fabulously bright and sunny day. That same afternoon, U.S. skiing star Picabo Street won a Super Series race that some spectators watched in shirtsleeves.

Two other skiing and snowboarding locations — Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley — face similar weather uncertainty, but the Olympics have been scheduled to allow for delays.

Q: How many Olympic venues will be used by the public after the Games?

A: All of them.

The three full-time ski resorts, of course, should benefit from improved amenities (restaurants, lodges, etc.). The Jazz eventually get their building back, the Utah Grizzlies hockey team can return to the E Center in West Valley City and cross-country skiers reap perhaps the greatest benefit of all, enjoying the new Soldier Hollow trails.

Heck, even local curlers can worry about releasing their stones without crossing the "hog line" once the Games competition concludes in The Ice Sheet at Ogden.

Keep those brooms handy.

Q: What will be the most unusual post-Olympic facility?

A: That's easy — Utah Olympic Park, which was built specifically to host luge, skeleton and bobsled daredevils on its refrigerated track, in addition to 90- and 120-meter ski jumps.

Any stockbroker or housefrau who wants to whiz down the twisting, 1,335-meter track at 60 to 70 mph can ride the "The Rocket Sled" for $40 or jump aboard with a world-class bobsledder to test gravity — not to mention personal sanity — for $175.

Utah Olympic Park and the Utah Olympic Oval speed-skating course will be turned over to the state's nonprofit Utah Athletic Foundation after the Games, with the goal of breaking even financially through public use.

Q: Is the Mormon church really going to affect these Games?

A: It already has, since the Park City-area land (400 acres) for the Olympic Park was purchased from the church for $59 million.

The church also will hand over an entire block in downtown Salt Lake City for the Olympic park where medal ceremonies and other activities are scheduled.

An aside here: Several blocks in the city center, within which are the Delta Center, the medals plaza and the Salt Palace (main media headquarters), won't be open to traffic — or the general public, for that matter. The area already has picked up the acronym SLOS, for Salt Lake Olympic Square, but locals have taken occasionally to pronouncing it "slosh."

Feel free to assume the church isn't thrilled about "slosh," but nobody's going to object publicly.

Q: What's the best bargain of all the venues?

A: Call this one a tie.

The Utah Olympic Oval in suburban Kearns is a functional facility that boasted world-record times and unanimous kudos from athletes in test events, yet it was built for $30 million — compared with the $300 million spent for the speed-skating building at the 1998 Nagano Games.

The other great deal was Soldier Hollow, where the SLOC spent $11.7 million and created a combination venue for cross-country skiing and biathlon. The two disciplines will use common parking and stadium facilities, not to mention the same start-finish lines (at different times, fortunately).

Cross-country and biathlon haven't shared a venue anywhere else in the world, ever. There was some nose-in-the-air sniping about it early on, but now both sports' federations seem pleased.

Q: OK, what about transportation? Isn't it always a mess at the Olympics?

A: Yep, especially at Winter Games, since several venues are stuck off in remote mountain locations.

The SLOC says the International Olympic Committee has called its transportation plan the best ever — considering that it's about 100 miles from Ogden (curling) down to Provo (hockey, short-track races).

As always, however, it's spectator beware. Park City, which is smallish and difficult to navigate in an ordinary winter, certainly will be a zoo with four big-time venues in the neighborhood.

If you're planning to attend the 2002 Games, work on your smile and start practicing Zen.

Steve Cameron can be reached at scameron@amcity.com.

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