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There’s room at the inn for Olympics

More rooms than they’d like, say some area booking agents

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The Sugarplum condominiums, nestled between Snowbird and Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon, are just 30 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

They are within an hour of all the Olympic competition sites. They boast breathtaking views of Mount Superior and the Hellgate cliffs. So they have long since been booked for the Olympics, right? Wrong.

Frank Perkins, co-owner of the Canyon Services rental agency that manages Sugarplum, certainly thought the condos would be booked for the Games by now. But the phone just sits there, refusing to ring.

"I'm starting to feel incompetent," Perkins said. "We ought to be able to fill 15 units. We don't know why we're not getting calls."

Up the road at the Rustler Lodge in Alta, reservations manager Tauni Powers said local media reports about the dearth of hotel rooms may have discouraged Olympic visitors. While return guests have staked out some of the dates, the Rustler has space for at least the first week of the Games.

"I've done more advertising than ever. But we're getting very few calls," Powers said.

Maybe it's a lack of imagination. Maybe people give up when they check the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's Web site and don't immediately find what they want. Maybe they just need to get creative. Because rooms are out there — some expensive, some relatively cheap.

In some cases, prices already are tumbling.

In Big Cottonwood Canyon, even closer to Salt Lake City than Little Cottonwood, Solitude Ski Resort has rentals ranging from $468 for a one-bedroom condo to $962 a night for a four-bedroom townhome. "They actually lowered these by $800 a night about a month ago," said Solitude desk clerk Philip Diana. It was the second price drop since the accommodations went on sale, he said.

Ski Utah spokesman Nathan Rafferty suspects people are giving up on finding lodging because they aren't looking beyond the obvious.

"Those are people who maybe call the Hilton 800 number," he said. "If you were to call any of the central reservation numbers at the ski resorts, they would have lodging available. Not necessarily hotel rooms, because those are by and large booked. But even with hotel rooms, things are changing day to day."

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee's Web site acknowledges it has cornered 60 percent of the area's hotel rooms. But on the same page, SLOC's Visitor Information Services and Coldwell Banker, which is handling private-party rentals, lists hundreds of possibilities.

"It has fluctuated," said Jason Mathis, Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau communications director. "We'll suddenly have 400 or 500 (hotel) rooms released, and slowly they get eaten up."

Salt Lake City is the largest city ever to host a Winter Olympics. "We have more hotel rooms than any other," Mathis said. "And no Olympics has ever been completely sold out."

On any given day, the Visitors Bureau has 1,000 properties in their Olympics inventory, Mathis said. During the last week of August, accommodations ranged from $60 a night for a motel in Price, a two-hour drive from Salt Lake, to $7,000 a night in Deer Valley, minutes from the Park City venues.

Logan, 90 minutes from Salt Lake City and 45 minutes from Snowbasin, has 450 rooms available every night of the Olympics, Mathis said.

At the end of August, Coldwell Banker listed 661 private homes or condominiums for rent. Eighteen were listed for $210 to $400 a night; 92 more were under $600 a night.

Another option has occurred to some savvy travelers: RV parks.

Vicki Orme, office manager at Salt Lake City KOA/VIP, a massive RV park near the heart of downtown Salt Lake, has daily rates of $49 to $60. "We've got a lot of people flying into Las Vegas, renting RVs and driving up here," she said.

At Cruise America RV rentals in Springville, general manager Tom Watson said his company will bring in as many coaches as he can rent. Coaches go for $995 to $1,100 per week, with a two-week minimum.

Cruise America will take the RVs to selected parks, but renters won't be allowed to drive them. "It will be just like apartments," Watson said.

At the pricier end, Mountain Reservations, the booking arm of Park City Mountain Resort, soon will release a "sizeable" inventory of lodging. None of that is near the base of the ski lifts, said Park City resort reservations supervisor Connie Laird.

The Stillwater Lodge, eight miles from Park City, is the closest hotel; its rentals range from $345 to $795 a night. Close-in accommodations are in condominiums or private homes, Laird said, and they tend to be deluxe. One Deer Valley property on a private Web site was offered at $50,000 a week.

Mathis of the Visitors Bureau said while some rates are about double the norm, "the Olympics isn't an event that is for people without a lot of resources. It's a big sporting event."

But people who expected to reap windfalls by living with their in-laws while renting their own homes or condos during the Games are likely to be disappointed, said Ski Utah's Rafferty.

"There was this perception that (people) would be able to sell rooms in their homes at exorbitant rates," Rafferty said. "With all this lodging available, consumers aren't going to pay those rates."

Nor are people willing to rent just anything. Sun Valley, Idaho, resident Scott Hansen, whose Web site auctions Olympics accommodations, said he's had to dash many a hope when inspecting potential rentals.

"To rent their homes, they've got to make them acceptable," said Hansen, who has begun advertising his Web auction in Salt Lake-area newspapers. "We told one woman we were coming out to take pictures, but when we got there, there were dog feces everywhere, kids screaming. She thought if she could make $20,000 it would turn her life around. It was sad."

And then there are the people who would rather ignore all the hubbub, said Alta Lodge reservations manager Leigh Ann Laramee.

Return visitors account for 80 percent of Alta Lodge's bookings, so there are few rooms available during the Olympics. Laramee recently got a call from a Park City woman looking for an escape.

"The people who are calling now, a lot of them are actually trying to get away from the Games," Laramee said. "Most of them just want to ski."