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Utah's top ski promoter says the 1998 Winter Olympics would speed development of Wasatch Front ski areas, a notion that irks Utah environmentalists who say the ski industry can't support more growth.

Salt Lake City was chosen June 4 by the U.S. Olympic Committee to be the nation's Olympics candidate city before the International Olympic Committee, which will choose a host city for the Games in 1991.Winning the international bid for the

Games would be an obvious boon to the ski industry, bringing heightened prestige to the state with the "greatest snow on earth," said Bob Bailey, director of Ski Utah, Inc.

While the industry will grow regardless of the Olympics, Bailey said, the Games will "speed the process" and create a demand for increased chairlift capacity and expansion beyond Utah ski areas' pres-ent boundaries.

Utah's ski business grew last year at an 8.6 percent rate and aggressive marketing plans contemplated by the ski industry could boost that figure higher in the next decade, Bailey said.

"I think that expansion is going to occur anyway . . . as a reaction to increased business. And if the Olympics bring about increased business, then you're about to see more building. I don't think that's bad," he said.

But some do.

Utah environmentalists say the area's natural surroundings, particularly Big and Little Cottonwood canyons east of the city and home to four of Utah's 14 ski resorts, should be saved for skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts, too.

"It's so nice for the people of this valley to have access to these canyons, and they should have them in an untrampled state," said environmentalist Ann Wechsler, co-chairman of Save Our Canyons.

While Bailey maintains that the number of people skiing in Utah jumped from 2.3 million to 2.5 million this year, others say the ski industry in general has reached a demographic plateau.

"Nationally, the ski industry is very slow," said Rep. Dave Jones, D-Salt Lake, who during this year's legislative session fought against a ski lift ticket tax rebate that would have benefitted Utah ski areas.

Nationally, skiing snow-plowed along at a 1 percent growth rate and will decline further, Jones said, primarily because baby boomers who once fueled double digit ski industry growth are now playing golf and participating in less adventurous sports.

"I like the idea of the Olympics," Jones said. "But in terms of ski area expansion, I think that's dumb for the Utah ski industry to consider," he said.

Further, Utah's ski industry contributes only 1 percent to the state's gross product, or only $250 million yearly, according to Dick Jefferies, a professor of finance at the University of Utah.


(Additional information)

Just plowing along...

Utah's ski industry grew by 8.6 percent this year but nationally skiing is snowplowing along at a 1 percent growth rate.