Don't start waxing your skis yet in hopes that Salt Lake City will host the 1998 Winter Olympics. The contest to become the U.S. bidder for the games may be very competitive, a U.S. Olympic official said.

The U.S. Olympic Committee must choose Salt Lake over Anchorage, Alaska; Reno-Lake Tahoe, Nev.; Lake Placid, N.Y.; and Klamath Falls, Ore., before Utah can compete in 1991 before the International Olympic Committee to host the winter games.Utah's capital city can't be too sanguine about its prospects for securing the U.S. bid for the games, U.S. Olympic Committee Vice President Steve Sobel and Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis agree.

Contrary to rumors that some cities have fallen into disfavor with the committee, its official position is that all five cities stand on equal footing in the bidding process, said Sobel, a Brooklyn, N.Y., attorney.

Anchorage unsuccessfully bid for the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics. Traditionally, the U.S. Olympic Committee doesn't open up the bidding process and stands behind a U.S. city until it wins the bid internationally.

Some Salt Lake officials have said opening the bid process is a sign of committee dissatisfaction with Anchorage. But Anchorage officials, who are still lobbying hard to win the U.S. bid, say they stand in good stead with the committee.

At a U.S. Olympic Committee meeting this weekend in Minneapolis, committee President Bob Helmic commended the Anchorage delegation following a presentation to the committee, said Rick Nerland, coordinator for the Anchorage Organizing Committee.

"In a title fight, the challenger has to beat the champion," Nerland said, referring to Anchorage's selection as a two-time U.S. bidder.

Nevertheless, Sobel said committee members privately may feel differently than the committee's official position, and a committee public relations representative cast doubt on the committee's support for Anchorage.

"It's a common sentiment that Anchorage was a bid city for two years running and doesn't have a lot to show for it," Gayle Plant said, pointing to a lack of major athletic facilities built in the city.

Nerland countered that Anchorage has hosted many amateur winter athletic events and has a plethora of Olympic venues, such as a 50-meter ski jump and a year-round ski camp on a nearby glacier, constructed recently to show commitment, he said.

Reno-Lake Tahoe, Nev., could prove to be a respectable challenger for Salt Lake City.

"We happen to believe Reno-Tahoe is ideally suited," said Bill Martin, coordinator for the Reno-Tahoe Organizing Committee, pointing to the city's experience hosting 20 million tourists a year.

Martin said the city is already laying plans to build a bobsled-luge run, although the city hasn't assembled a financial package for the facility.

"We haven't crossed that bridge yet," he said.

Assembling a finance package for the bobsled-luge run and a speed-skating rink is a prerequisite to bid for the games, the committee ruled last week. Plant said, "There's a possibility it could still be amended."

Lake Placid, which hosted the 1980 Olympics, already boasts Olympic facilities that meet International Olympic Committee standards, said Don Krone, spokesman for New York's Olympic Regional Development Authority.

A newcomer to the bidding process, Klamath Falls announced this week that it will bid for the 1998 winter games, stressing that it is ready to make a commitment to the committee for new winter athletic facilities.