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Lonely resorts promise best skiing in years

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It was traffic, or, rather, roads too skinny to accommodate large doses of it, that kept Winter Olympics events from the four ski resorts located up Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.

Now the resorts, Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Solitude, are hoping traffic, both the inevitable short supply of it in the Cottonwood Canyons and the flood of it nearly everywhere else, will draw Salt Lake residents, and their visiting friends, to the lonely resort quartet.

With 13 downhill ski resorts in Utah and only three of those, Park City, Deer Valley and Snowbasin, functioning as official Olympic venues, the Cottonwood canyon resorts are certainly not the only ski areas left out of the Olympic picture. However, with the other resorts located more than an hour north or south of Olympic ground zero, it is the Cottonwood resorts that stand to be most affected by the Olympic fallout.

With most downtown hotels, including Shilo, Hilton and Little America, filled with Olympic media, Olympics-goers and Olympic officials, a major source of resort revenue, called their "bed base," will be nearly non-existent during the Games.

While all four resorts expect a partial to significant decrease in skier totals, all of the resorts will maintain their normal business hours.

"Yeah, we'll be open," says Fred Rollins, Snowbird spokesman. "We'll be wide open."

Rollins hopes the promise of smaller crowds will attract more local skiers.

For the most part, the resorts' inability to compete with the Games has led resort marketers to limit their strategies for February to attracting those individuals who either do not want to be a part of the Olympics or are simply looking for a brief Olympic respite.

The marketing technique, as described by officials from all four resorts, is simply "business as usual."

"We like to consider ourselves off the Olympic path," says Connie Marshall, Alta spokeswoman. Marshall says the resort has gone out of its way to avoid any association with the Games. "We want to keep just one thing normal for Utah skiers."

The same goes for Solitude and Brighton ski resorts.

"All we can sell is the snow that we have," says Dan Malstrom, director of marketing for Brighton.

This is not to say the resorts are ruling out an eventual Olympic windfall.

"The exposure that the Games provide is fantastic," says Nathan Rafferty, communications director for Ski Utah, a ski resort marketing association.

Rafferty says Utah ski-areas have the capacity to accommodate more skiers, and he says the Olympics will eventually bring those skiers to Utah — but probably not any time this season.

Rafferty says the Olympic ski-slump typically bleeds into the months before and after the Games.

Still, the Cottonwood canyon resort officials are hopeful that the "wide open" ski hills will prove irresistible to locals.

Indeed, to those locals willing to skip a day of Games, Rafferty promises, "it will be the best time to go skiing in the last 10 years."

E-mail: joliver@desnews.com