Denver was expected to announce Thursday its intent to join Salt Lake City and a field of four other city's in the race to become the U.S. bidder for the 1998 Winter Olympics, a Denver official said.

"We have enough opportunities, ski-area-wise, as well as the appearance of support in the private sector and other political jurisdictions, to warrant an application," said Paul Hoskins, Denver general services manager.Denver's entrance in the bidding process, which will end in June when the U.S Olympic Committee chooses a city to bid for the Games before the International Olympic Committee, was welcomed by Salt Lake Olympic backers.

"I think it helps put into perspective the decision we have to make as a community and as a state," said Tom Welch, chairman of the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee, which will hold its first meeting Friday.

"Colorado outspends (Utah) by 3 to 1 in trying to attract out-of-state skiers, and they're attracting skiers on about that ratio," he said.

"They recognize the economic gains to their community if they can become the winter sports capital of the United States and that same opportunity is open to Salt Lake," he said.

To meet that opportunity, Welch said the city that will win the U.S. bid must focus not just on hosting the Olympics, but also on becoming a winter sports-training center.

Hoskins boasted Denver has a plethora of ski areas one hour from the metropolitan area. But Welch said Salt Lake City's are closer, an important distinction if the host city is to become a winter-training center.

Denver won the U.S. bidding process for the 1976 Winter Olympics, but citizens turned down the bid in a referendum vote. Salt Lake and Denver officials disagree over how the vote will affect Denver's bid.

"I think the biggest obstacle they have is whether they can overcome their past history," Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said, adding that the defeat was embarrassing to Denver.

But Hoskins said the issues and people that led to the defeat no longer exist. "Mitigating (the vote) is the fact that . . . the individuals and circumstances are not as prominent as they were then," he said.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Olympic Committee said it would require bidding cities to have in existence a mechanism to finance an estimated $25 million in facilities, including a bobsled-luge run and a speedskating rink.

Salt Lake officials have said they would like to see the requirement rescinded. Hoskins said Denver's organizing committee hasn't fully considered the requirement.

"We haven't reached a conclusion on that, but we are aware of the financial requirement," he said.

Denver and Salt Lake City will join, Anchorage, Alaska; Reno-Lake Tahoe, Nev.; Lake Placid, N.Y.; and Klamath Falls, Ore., in the bidding process.

Following a U.S. committee decision, the U.S. bidder must submit a bid to be considered by the International Olympic Committee in 1991.