Eighteen years since the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the image of a young, unknown Bode Miller up on one ski, his balance gone and careening towards coaches below the Buffalo Jump in the combined downhill at Snowbasin, remains vivid. This was how most of the world met the ski racer from New Hampshire on day six of the Games.
The Salt Lake City Olympics were a coming out party for Miller, who went on to win silver in the that combined as well as the giant slalom. It was also the first time the world met teens Lindsey (Kildow) Vonn and Julia Mancuso, who finished sixth and 13th in the women’s combined at the age of just 17. Another 17-year-old, Park City Ski Team racer Ted Ligety, foreran the slalom. Four years later he would be an Olympic champion.
Last week, Salt Lake City and the State of Utah took a notable next step to bringing back the Olympics, naming the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games. Governor Gary R. Herbert and newly-elected Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall made the announcement in the State Capitol. Two days later, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland came to town, meeting leaders at City Hall and the Capitol.
It was an anticipated next step for hopeful local organizers after the USOPC had named Salt Lake City as America’s Choice for a future bid in December, 2018. That selection came after a short campaign where Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno-Tahoe had their hats in the ring. Salt Lake City was the clear winner.
Despite the announcement, officials have no timeline for a bid, choosing to take their time to analyze what will make the most sense for Salt Lake City, Utah and the USOPC. The 2022 Olympics are headed to Beijing, with 2026 awarded last summer to a consortium of Milano-Cortina. That leaves 2030 and 2034 open. Recently, Sapporo formalized its intent to bid for 2030. Barcelona has hinted at a candidacy, utilizing mountain venues in the Pyrenees.
The 2002 Games were a crescendo on the heels of a 17-year history of FIS Ski World Cups in Park City under the banner of America’s Opening. The giant slalom was held on a new race course in Park City. The slalom took place at neighboring Deer Valley with speed events on a highly-acclaimed venue in Snowbasin, near Ogden.
As much as legacy has played a role for sports and venues over the last two decades, it’s been over 16 years since an alpine World Cup was held on the Utah Olympic venues. If a future bid is formulated, that would clearly change.
In a world where major alpine regions in Austria and Switzerland are questioning the value of the Games, Utah is bullish on its future. Two independent public studies in the last three years have pegged popular opinion as high as an 89% approval of a future Games. Government leaders — from mayors to state legislators and the Governor — are all supportive.
“This is an incredible natural environment in which to host a spectacular Winter Games with the unified support of the community from the state level down to the municipalities,” said Hirshland, after meeting with Mayor Mendenhall. “The support is here at every level — we hear it, we feel it. This environment has everything it will take to have a spectacular Winter Games and we’re excited to do it again.”
For alpine ski racing, a future Olympic bid in Utah would represent an opportunity for refreshing the landscape again on World Cup venues in America in a region that remains a hotbed for racing. Snowbasin has shown renewed interest in re-opening the fabled Grizzly Downhill. The broad shoulders of C.B.’s in Park City continue to play host to FIS giant slaloms. And new resort development in the region may open up additional venue possibilities.
In a way, it seems like a long time in the future — a decade or more. But if you look back, Salt Lake City won its U.S. rights in 1989 — 13 years before the 2002 Games. It lost its first international bid at Birmingham, England in 1991, before celebrating in Budapest, Hungary on a June day in 1995.
The 2002 Olympics in America ignited one of the greatest periods in U.S. Ski Team history, inspiring young athletes like Miller, Ligety, Mancuso and Vonn.
For the alpine ski racing community, now is the time to rally. It’s not that far away!