It's the only game in town


Got the barbecue fired up? Dogs and burgers at the ready? Cooler packed with ice and cold drinks?

Sure, you're all set for Labor Day.

So now is the perfect time to begin thinking about -- snow. And ice. Not the cube-kind that you put into your drinks, the flat-kind that people zip around on, wearing funny shoes with blades on the bottom.

I'm talking Olympics. Winter Olympics.

That's right, the games are only a few months off; six, to be exact.

Funny -- seems like only last year . . .

It was only last year that Albertville, France, was host to the Winter Olympic Games. But, in their infinite wisdom, the members of the International Olympic Committee decided that, instead of conducting the Winter and Summer Games in the same year, it would be much better for all concerned to hold the Games on a biennial basis, alternating Winter and Summer Games. The Winter Games and Summer Games would still be held only every four years, but there would be an Olympic extravaganza once every two years, either summer or winter.

To start this biennial rotation, however however, one set of Games would have to be held only two years after the last Games. The Winter Games were chosen; so, the skaters and skiers and bobsledders and hockeymeisters will gather in the heretofore-unheard-of hamlet of Lillehammer, Norway, Feb. 12 to Now, we're discussing the Winter Games in early September because I wanted to do a favor for those of you who were toying with the idea of traveling to Norway for the games in February. Actually, two favors.

The first is to tell you that now -- now -- is the time to make your arrangements. Tickets are going fast, as are accommodations.

The second is to give you time to meet with your banker, your accountant and the appraisers so that the home-equity loan you're going to need to finance a trip to the Olympics can be finalized in time for the Games.

I'm not kidding.

They may call them games, but the Olympics are strictly big business for everyone involved. Particularly those involved in serving the traveling public.

Last year, during the Summer Games in Barcelona, a standard, tourist-quality double room in the host city went for $10,000 a week. One week. No tickets to the games, no insider cocktail parties, nothing. Just a room for two (oh, yeah, they did throw in bus transportation between the hotel and the "venues").

If you were willing to commute for an hour or more each way, you could get a room for two in an outlying coastal resort area for a bargain-basement $5,000 a week, bus transport included.

Things weren't much different in Albertville for last year's Winter Games, and they won't be different in Lillehammer in February.

Prices will be lower than those at the Barcelona Games; but then, during the Summer Games, you could actually get a room in the same city in which the Games were held. At Lillehammer, spectators will all be commuters -- long-distance commuters. The town of less than 25,000 has very few accommodations, all of which will be taken by Olympic officials and media.

Most travelers to the games will have to stay in Oslo, a 2 1/2 -hour train ride (about $30 round trip) south of Lillehammer. Officials say the trains will be plentiful and will shuttle between the two towns at frequent intervals, but -- 2 1/2 hours each way?

Cartan Tours, the California tour operator that has been named the exclusive ticket agent in the United States for the Winter Games, is offering three packages, all including round-trip airfare from Newark International Airport in New Jersey:

* Six nights in a tourist-class hotel in the city of Honefoss, about a half-hour north of Oslo; breakfast daily; tickets to opening or closing ceremonies and to several of the most popular events; airport transfers, bus transportation between Honefoss and Lillehammer and a pass for the Olympics transportation system -- $3,300 per person, double occupancy.

* Same as the package above, but with no tickets to events NTC other than opening or closing ceremonies -- $2,999 per person, ++ double occupancy.

* Six nights in a Norwegian home (yes, the family will be there, too) including breakfast daily; opening or closing ceremonies ticket; airport transfers and an Olympics transportation pass -- $2,499. (The homes are all in the town of Hamar, which is within the Olympics transportation network.)

While it is the sole agent for Olympics tickets, Cartan is not the only agency operating tours to the Lillehammer Games.

Ski-See Norway Tours is a McAfee, N.J., firm run by Asbjorn Ostevoll, a transplanted Norwegian and certified skiing teacher who has been operating tours to his native country for 15 years.

Ski-See has put together several packages, ranging from $1,695 for a seven-night stay (including one night in Oslo) to a top-of-the-line 18-night deal for $11,995 -- all per person, double occupancy.

The Ski-See packages include round-trip air fare between Newark and Oslo via SAS Scandinavian Airlines and airport transfers; most include breakfast. What is not included in any of the packages are tickets to any of the Olympic events and ground transportation between the hotels (mostly at other ski resorts in what could be only loosely termed the "greater Lillehammer" area) and the Games venues.

To get events tickets, you'll have to go through Cartan. And you're going to have to act fast; according to Cartan officials, tickets for opening and closing ceremonies are almost gone and tickets for popular events like the figure-skating and hockey finals are moving rapidly.

"The demand for tickets has been twice as great as for any Winter Olympics I've worked on," said Don Williams, Cartan's vice president for marketing and sales. "We've had over 55,000 ticket requests. The most we had for Albertville was about 24,000.

"I'd say, right now, the impossible ticket is figure skating," Mr. Williams said. "We're working with the organizing committee to secure additional tickets for the U.S. market."

As I said earlier, if you want to go to Lillehammer, you're going to have to act now. Then you can go back to the grill.

IF YOU GO . . .

Cartan Tours Inc., Olympic Division, 1334 Parkview Ave., Suite 210, Manhattan Beach, Calif. 90266; (800) 841-1994.

Ski-See Norway Tours Inc., Box 818, McAfee, N.J. 07428; (800) 447-5473.

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