‘Biggest donation’ pays for new ski runs at Utah Olympic Park, diversity effort

$5 million donation from Eccles foundation will also pay for diversity initiatives

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Heavy machinery works on the Utah Olympic Park expansion, on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. The park has received a $5-million donation to build new ski runs in hopes they might one day be used in a future Olympics.

A $5 million birthday gift from a fund run by Spencer F. Eccles, who turned 88 this week, will pay off the Utah Olympic Park’s latest mountain expansion.

The expansion, the second phase in a multi-phase project, will situate the park as a venue for ski and snowboard events if Salt Lake City is chosen to host the 2030 or 2034 Olympics.

“It most certainly will be used for the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said Colin Hilton, the CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, which is coordinating funding for the project.

The primary additions include competition-level giant slalom and moguls courses that meet International Ski Federation and World Cup standards, respectively. The GS course is 3,300 feet long with 1,200 feet of drop and can easily be seen from Kimball Junction. The slalom course is 1,500 feet long with 750 vertical feet. Other improvements include a high-speed quad chairlift, snowmaking systems and pond and LED lights for night training.

The development spans 26 acres of the 390-acre park, mostly to looker’s right of the bobsled, luge and skeleton track. It is expected to be completed and in use this winter.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Olympic Park will soon feature competition-level giant slalom and moguls courses that meet International Ski Federation and World Cup standards.

Even if the Olympics don’t come back to Utah, the new amenities should make the park a better training ground for aspiring Olympic medalists of all ages.

“Our investment in this project is aimed at expanding opportunities for Utah’s youth to pursue interests in winter sports,” Eccles said in a press statement, “and to build a strong future for winter sport training in our state as we prepare to host another Olympic Winter Games.

“Whether kids develop a love for skiing, snowboarding or winter sports they’ll enjoy for a lifetime — or have the talent and determination to become future Olympians — our grant is an investment in Utah’s future.”

Hilton said the grant is the “biggest private donation we’ve ever received.“ Some of the funds donated through the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation will go toward scholarships and diversity programs. The majority will pay off the outstanding balance from the $17.5 million cost of the second phase. The donation was announced Thursday night at the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation’s Anta-Gala held at the park.

Spencer Eccles is the chairman and CEO of the foundation and a former University of Utah ski racer. His daughter, Lisa Eccles, is the foundation’s president and COO.

The Utah Olympic Park was built for the 2002 Olympic Games using taxpayer money, which was repaid after the Games. It served as the site for ski jumping, bobsled, luge and skeleton. It also houses the Alf Engen Ski Museum and the Eccles Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum.

The $4.5 million first phase of the Olympic park’s mountain expansion project was completed in 2019. It added an intermediate ski hill and six acres of alpine and freestyle skiing terrain. It was paid for by the UOLF and donors, including the three clubs that call the park home — Park City Ski and Snowboard, the Rowmark Academy and the University of Utah. UOP staff estimate that area has hosted more than 1,500 athletes each year since it opened.

The second phase will, according to park officials, make the UOP a home base for local ski teams, taking pressure off of nearby resorts. It allows elite competitors to train on an Olympic-caliber hill while also making space for developing athletes.

“The true value of this mountain is to have a dedicated training and competition venue that doesn’t have the challenges of being within a ski resort,” Hilton said. “That allows us to focus on athlete training and events. To have the terrain at a facility right here at the Olympic Park is just terrific for all parties.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Three clubs call the park home — Park City Ski and Snowboard, the Rowmark Academy and the University of Utah.

Options for later phases of the expansion include a snowboardcross course or a halfpipe. The timeline for those additions, Hilton said, depends on if and when Salt Lake City is chosen to host another Winter Games.

The last time the Olympics were held in Utah, they featured 10 alpine skiing events, four freestyle skiing events and four snowboarding events. Park City Mountain Resort hosted the GS, parallel GS and halfpipe. Deer Valley hosted the slalom, moguls and aerial competitions and Snowbasin Resort was the hub for downhill, super-G and combined. Since then, however, about 30 more events have been added to the Winter Games, a 40% increase.

Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, promised last October that no new venues would need to be built for Utah to host the Games in 2030 or 2034. However, because of the increasingly packed schedule and uncertainty surrounding climate change and snowpack at the state’s resorts, local organizers are keeping their options open. The new courses at the Utah Olympic Park and features at the under-construction Mayflower Resort nearby give organizers some insurance while also allowing them to keep their promise that taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill for new venues.

Plus, Hilton emphasized, the new ski runs will see use — and marquee events — even if Salt Lake never hosts another Olympics.

“Having the facilities that are being built for these everyday needs” works in the park’s favor, Hilton said. “Whether we host U.S. National Championships or NCAA championships or World Cup events or that actually every, you know, 20 years we’re holding an Olympic and Paralympic Games, we’re excited for that potential of having a multitude of uses for the facility.”