Ski tour group impressed with SLC

SkiTops » The slopes, the Olympic Oval and a Jazz game dazzled.

By Mike Gorrell, Salt Lake Tribune

One day, visiting ski tour operators were taken skiing up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The next day, they hit the Little Cottonwood resorts.

But skiing was not the only activity on the itinerary of the Ski Tour Operators Association during its four-day stay last week in Salt Lake City. Far from it. There was a night at a Jazz game, and an excursion to the Utah Olympic Oval, where they could skate laps, play a little hockey, even try their hands at curling.

It was all part of a Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau effort to show tour operators that if they bring their groups to Utah's capital city, their clients will have access to all kinds of amenities not available in other destination resort communities.

Aspen might have jazz, but not the Jazz.

The snow is better here, too.

"We promote Salt Lake as a world-class ski destination, emphasizing that the best thing about staying downtown is that you also can enjoy the big-city entertainment," said Kaitlin Ye, director of tourism sales for the bureau and its Ski Salt Lake program. "People can see shows, dine or go to an NBA game, which they can't do in other places."

It's been 10 years since the association, which goes by the nickname SkiTops, has come to Salt Lake. While the attributes of Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton are well known, SkiTops program chairman David Tanner said "it was time to come back and illustrate to tour operators just how viable

Salt Lake can be as a ski destination in its own right, particularly for other-than-ski activities."

For example, what struck him about the night at EnergySolutions Arena (particularly since the Jazz blew out the lowly Washington Wizards) was the presence of so many teenagers and children. The message that sight delivered: "Salt Lake is affordable for families."

The economy being what it is, affordability is an asset.

"This is a great year for Salt Lake to portray itself to this market as being able to offer different things to different people," said Ye. "Every appointment, we sit down with tour operators and try to connect them with a couple of economy hotels, a couple of four stars, a couple of ski-in, ski-out lodgings so that if someone calls them, they have something for every budget."

That approach resonates with ski clubs, which tend to be price conscious and like the proximity of Salt Lake City International Airport and downtown to the Salt Lake, Park City and Ogden-area resorts. But it also plays well with Internet-based travel planners, such as Travelocity, which help families and small groups book ski vacations.

Ali Kirchen, current president of SkiTops, was impressed by her experience, citing "destination-unique attractions you can't find in a mountain town ... plus easy access from all over the country, which is not always the case. So we've been able to get a lot of good business done, do a little skiing and see some of the best sights in town."

But Kirchen was easy to please. The Milwaukee woman has been a hockey player and actually has curled. So the trip to the Kearns oval, well, it won her over big time.