A crucial step in bidding to bring the 1998 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City occurs this week with arrival of the International Olympics Committee's site evaluation team. The team's report is considered vital to the IOC decision in June on where to award the Games.

Utah welcomes the committee members, wishing them a pleasant four-day visit. We hope their stay is a memorable one and that they will like what they see.As the communitywide effort to bring the 1998 Games to Utah goes forward, it's prudent to take a step back and evaluate again the effect of hosting the winter games in Salt Lake City. After all, we're inviting the world to visit, and we need to remember what our invitation will bring.

Hosting the Winter Games will focus the attention of the world on Utah. The state's resorts, winter sports facilities, historic and cultural sites, people, national parks, natural wonders and other attractions will command the attention of the world's news media. That's the kind of publicity that no amount of advertising or a state-generated tourism promotion could ever equal.

Economic benefits generated by hosting the Olympics are measured both directly and indirectly.

Directly, thousands of visitors will pay for rooms, meals and spend time and money in the state. Broadcasting rights will generate millions of dollars, much of which will be spent in Utah. The total benefits now are pegged at $1.4 billion or $400 per person.

Indirectly, after the games are over, the state will have winter sports and training facilities that rank among the best in the world, including ski-racing courses, bobsled and luge runs and ice skating arenas.

These will be available for use by Utah residents but can also be used as training facilities for future Olympic contenders. They give the state the potential to be a permanent home to the various sports federations that sponsor Olympic teams, as it is now to the U.S. Ski Team.

With those facilities in place, Salt Lake City will be in a good position to bid on future international winter sports events, even another Olympics. Lake Placid, N.Y., has hosted two events; Salt Lake City should stay in the running, too.

And our own Utah Winter Games, now an annual, growing event, will also be able to utilize the facilities. Instead of a statewide event, why not expand it into a regional, or even Western winter games competition?

One indirect benefit has already been realized. As community and political leaders began reviewing what is needed to host and support an international event, they looked closely at the transportation, communications, lodging and other systems in the state. Some practical suggestions for improvements have already been made and studies of future improvements are now being done.

It's an impressive list of benefits, especially compared to the relatively small investment of $56 million the state is committing to the games.