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Will ski course fizzle after 2002 Games?

Yes, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee is sinking $8 million into the Soldier Hollow cross-country skiing and biathlon course in Wasatch County.

Sure, it will have a lot of nice things like 15 miles of trails, an 8,000-square-foot building, a start-finish area where spectators can cheer on their favorite skiers, a shooting range and snowmaking equipment.In short, the place will be a fine Olympic venue.

Not enough.

Here's the deal: After the 2002 Winter Games crowds leave and the Olympic flame takes up residence elsewhere and the glamor and glitz are gone, the state is going to be left with a cross-country/biathlon course to manage. Leaders have to act now to make sure people actually come to it rather than have it lie as a moribund reminder of former glories.

"We are probably seven to eight months behind what we should have been doing with SLOC to build a viable venue after the Olympics," said Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas.

The Legislature's Olympic Coordination Committee, of which Ure is co-chairman, met Friday to hear presentations and throw around ideas on what needs to be done.

The long and the short of it: The state is going to have to start working on building things other than the Olympic trails to attract skiers other than the relatively small number of elite athletes who will use the venue to train.

Howard Peterson, founder of the Cross-country Ski Areas Association, says there are about 20 factors that attract people and contribute to the ultimate success of a cross-country ski area -- things like child care, lighted trails, shorter "destination" trails, food service, a large lodge and heated huts along longer trails.

As currently being designed and built, Soldier Hollow will have only one of those factors: snowmaking ability.

"One of 20 isn't very good odds," said Olympic Coordination Committee Co-chairman Sen. Al Mansell, R-Sandy.

State Division of Parks and Recreation director Courtland Nelson, who is overseeing construction of the venue from the state side, said he wants to add those things and more, such as campsites nearby (the venue is within Wasatch Mountain State Park near Midway), summer hiking trails and a tubing hill.

Nelson said the venue as currently being built will likely bring in $250,000 per year if operated year-round, $170,000 if operated only in the winter. That's only 40 to 45 percent of estimated operating costs -- not exactly attractive to potential private operators.

Additional facilities, however, will push that figure up.

Nelson is hoping to get some money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, now being considered by Congress, as well as money from the $40 million state Legacy Fund to build additional facilities. But exactly how much money will be available and who will direct things is still very much up in the air.

"Right now we don't know who to go to," said Alan Ashley, vice president of athletics for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

The problems regarding Soldier Hollow are indicative of some general decisions that must be made regarding Olympic venues in general: Should the state step in and run things in a centralized way, let localities do it or what?

Lake Placid, N.Y., has been successful in converting its Olympic facilities to continued use, Peterson said. On the other hand, Calgary, Canada, is only now trying to rework its venues to make them viable.

"We shouldn't replay that bad experience," he said.