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Features Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 17:11 GMT
Testing out an Olympic mountain
Snowbasin has an almost picture postcard ambience
By BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay in Salt Lake City

Nestled high in the snowfields some 30 miles from Salt Lake City, Snowbasin will stage the men's and women's downhill races at the Olympics.

Hosting the Winter Games' blue riband event attracts significant acclaim and prestige - yet the rest of the resort remains largely untouched.

That means an absolute field day for keen skiers chasing good snow and empty slopes, and an opportunity too good to miss for 'your man in Utah'.

Snowbasin is about an hour's drive from downtown Salt Lake, and while not a particularly scenic ride, it is noticeable how the highway pierces the inversion and haze currently hanging over the city.

Few other visitors to the slopes makes skiing a joy at the moment

Once in the valley, there is the rigorous security checkpoint to negotiate. It takes 10 minutes today and I'm the only "suspect" around - not the greatest omen for the 22,500 capacity venue.

Nevertheless, the skiing is definitely worth the wait.

The snow is not perfect - the powder is packed rather than fresh - but it is pretty damn good.

With a clear blue sky and sun above, and the high tree-line making the surrounding mountains a lot less bald, it is almost a picture postcard day.

And while the downhill course itself is closed for final grooming and preparations ahead of the first training runs, I can still get close enough to marvel at the sheer terror it inspires.

Though not massive by normal resort standards, Snowbasin's two gondolas and seven chairlifts give access to over 50 runs.

Down the hill at Snowbasin
Salt Lake's Olympic banners welcome skiers at the finish line
The pistes probably do not provide the greatest variety, but with almost no-one else round, I literally have the mountain to myself.

Indeed, it appears the same is true for most of Utah's other major ski resorts.

Skiers are scared of the Olympic circus, and feel it's a gamble coming to a resort which may be hosting races.

But in fact, only small portions of the pisted areas are closed off, and many places are not hosting any events at all.

Anyone who comes out here to ski should not be disappointed - another light dusting would freshen the cover nicely, but there are enough snow cannons available, provided temperatures stay sufficiently low.

And though I could not speed under the finish line and into the impressive grandstand area for real, I was more than made up with my day on an Olympic mountain.

BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay

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17 Jan 02 | BBC Coverage
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