Utah Olympic Games venue blueprint revealed

A future MLB stadium could be the medals plaza site. Downhill’s destination still undetermined.

(Elise Amendola AP file photo) In this Feb. 10, 2002, file photo, Simon Ammann, of Switzerland, competes in the men's K90 individual ski jump at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in Park City, Utah.

A big-air skiing ramp in Pioneer Park. A ski mountaineering course at City Creek Park. Medals ceremonies and concerts inside an MLB stadium.

Some of those venues, and indeed some of those events, didn’t exist when Utah hosted the 2002 Olympics. Some of the facilities still don’t exist. Yet, as they begin shoring up contracts and revealing venues, it’s clear organizers of the movement to bring the Winter Games back to the Salt Lake area have been thinking more creatively this time around. It’s a matter of necessity as they try to squeeze in about 30 more events while sticking to their promise not to build any permanent venues. And it’s a matter complicated even further by the uncertainty of not knowing if they’ll host in 2030 or 2034 or a date farther down the road. The International Olympic Committee has yet to name a winter host beyond Italy in 2026 but it did give a strong indication this weekend that the Olympics will be returning to Utah sooner rather than later.

[Related: Salt Lake stands alone in its bid for 2034 Olympics. Here’s why it may not get them.]

As local organizers firm up their plans, though, one thing is becoming increasingly evident: When it comes to the Winter Olympics, even if Utahns want another one, it won’t be just like the other one.

“We love thinking outside the box because we don’t want these Games to be just an updated version of 2002,” said Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games. “We want it to be creative, innovative, new ideas, new experiences, and we have a lot of fun imagining what’s possible.”

A mix of old and new

Make no mistake, many of 2002′s most recognizable venues will reprise their roles.

The Utah Olympic Oval, for example, will again host speedskating. Soldier Hollow in Midway is the former and future site of most Nordic sports, including cross-country skiing and biathlon. And Utah Olympic Park in Kimball Junction houses the luge and bobsled tracks and ski jumping facilities. These venues continue to be well-used and well-cared-for thanks to efforts by the Olympic Legacy Foundation, an endowment established during the 2002 Games for precisely that purpose.

Other sites have been kept up, and often enhanced, via state funds or private donations or as business expenses. The Delta Center, for example, will likely again host figure skating and short track speedskating. And last month, Bullock said, the committee came to terms with the University of Utah to retain Rice Eccles Stadium as the site of the opening and closing ceremonies. In 2021, the Utes’ football stadium underwent an $80 million expansion that included adding 4,500 more seats while also carving out a special pavilion for the Olympic cauldron.

The Olympic Village will return to the University of Utah as well, Bullock said. It will include some 4,500 beds for athletes and officials as well as training facilities, restaurants, an Olympics store, a post office and other amenities.

Ski areas that hosted races in 2002 have mostly jumped back into the fray, too.

Deer Valley Resort annually hosts World Cup moguls and aerials competitions, a tradition since those events found a home on its Champions and White Owl courses in 2002. Bullock said the area formerly known as Mayflower but now operated by Deer Valley might be an option for other ski races as well.

Neighboring Park City Mountain, meanwhile, will be a central hub of events. Bullock said the United States’ largest lift-served ski area currently is on tap to host halfpipe skiing and snowboarding, slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, giant slalom and snowboard parallel giant slalom. Park City Mountain is also being considered as the site for ski cross and snowboard cross, both of which are new to the Games since 2010 and 2006, respectively. However, Bullock said those events might find a home at the Utah Olympic Park just up the road.

“There’ll be a lot of activities at Park City Mountain Resort,” Bullock said. “So there’s always the opportunity to be fluid and move certain events between our target venues.”

The site of the medal ceremonies and concerts fits that concept perfectly.

Steve Griffin | Tribune File With downtown Salt Lake City in the background people surround the stage at the Olympics Medals Plaza during the opening night of the downtown venue Feb. 9, 2002.

Bullock said the committee has reached an agreement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use Block 85, also known as the Park Place parking lot on South Temple and 300 West, for that purpose. Just as in 2002, Bullock said the plan is to build a temporary stadium there (that year the Church donated $5 million toward the transformation. Bullock said he did not know if the Church planned to do the same for the next Utah Olympics since donations cannot be accepted before the IOC awards a site the Games). But, according to the contract, Olympic organizers can only use it as long as it is available. So, if the Church decides to sell or develop it — which could very well happen within the next decade — Bullock’s team would need to find an alternative site.

That’s where the MLB stadium comes in. Though Salt Lake City doesn’t have a Major League stadium, or team, a group led by Gail Miller has been making a push to bring that to fruition. The site being eyed for the ballpark would be in the new Salt Lake Power District on North Temple, across from the Utah State Fairpark, about 1.5 miles from Block 85.

Bullock said Smith’s Ballpark, currently the home of Utah’s only pro baseball team, is not being considered as a venue.

“If we have that in town, we could have medals plaza there,” Bullock said of the MLB stadium. “Medals plaza is fairly mobile.”

Some less mobile events still don’t have a home, though. Most notable among them is downhill skiing.

New ski resorts in the mix?

When Snowbasin Resort hosted the men’s and women’s downhill, super G and combined in 2002, it transformed the former mom-and-pop ski area into an international resort.

This time around, though, Snowbasin’s managers aren’t sure the resort needs the notoriety nor wants the headaches of having so much security and so little access for its passholders. While general manager Davy Ratchford emphasized his support for the Olympic bid, he said he has not yet signed an agreement to have Snowbasin serve as an event host.

Thousands of spectators get stuck in long lines to the shuttle buses following the postponement of the women's downhill competition at Snowbasin due to high winds at the start of the run. 02/11/2002, 12:12:08 AM

“You do your best to try to lead up to that. You do your best to maximize it after,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a tricky combination of how to balance business and also host and support something amazing.”

Snowbasin was among the mountain sites visited by IOC observers during a spring 2022 visit, along with Deer Valley and Mayflower and Park City Mountain.

Bullock did not offer up any other options for the downhill. He did, however, take some off the table.

The Cottonwood Canyon resorts, particularly Snowbird and Alta Ski Area in Little Cottonwood Canyon, he said, are not an option. As much as that decision has to do with the congestion on State Route 210, Bullock said it’s also an issue of snow. As in, they get too much of it.

“The cottonwoods would never be considered,” he said. “No. 1 is we made a commitment not to put any Olympic events up Little Cottonwood Canyon. And, the Cottonwoods, particularly Little Cottonwood Canyon, get too much snow. …

“When a ski course or snowboard course is prepared, a tremendous amount of work goes into that in terms of contouring and shaping of the hill. And if snow happens, they have to start all over again. It sounds strange, but it’s best to have less frequent snow than the Cottonwoods get in order to have a more predictable course.”

Because it requires so much real estate, the downhill will almost certainly have to be held at a ski resort. For two other relatively new ski events, however, the Salt Lake Valley can literally be their playground.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) USA’s Marin Hamill competes in the women’s big air qualification round at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022.

Big air made its Olympic debut at Beijing 2022 when skiers and snowboarders hucked themselves off a ramp built on a scaffolding at the site of a former steel mill. It was the only ski or snowboard event in the city, and aside from what covered the ramp, the landing zone and a small manufactured snow park about a half mile away, not a speck of snow could be found in the area.

If the event comes to Salt Lake City, organizers envision it also being held in town. Big air competitors themselves have offered up Smith Ballpark, Pioneer Park and even City Creek as preferred options for the venue.

“The nice thing about Big Air is we can put it anywhere,” Bullock said. “And one of the things we’re contemplating is there are a couple of options that we could maybe bring that downtown and bring the sport really close to the people.”

Could that also work for ski mountaineering, which is set to make its Olympic debut in 2026 as a demonstration sport but could also be added to future Games? Sarah Cookler, a USA Skimo board member and coach of the Wasatch Front’s biggest youth skimo team, certainly thinks so.

Cookler said she has sat in on talks with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee about staging skimo in an urban area for the Olympics. Though skimo typically is akin to ultra running, combining long uphill slogs with often-treacherous ridge crossings and fast downhills, the Olympic event is a bit more sterilized and TV friendly. Skimo is competed only in the sprint and mixed relay disciplines at the Games. Cookler said in those formats, a course would require only about 330 feet of vertical and several truckloads of manufactured snow.

“They were talking about, and maybe just throwing out the idea of: ‘Boy, could we hold this in an urban setting like above the Capitol?’” Cookler said.

If that seemed unfeasible, she said holding the event at the Utah Olympic Park is a “no-brainer.” She also thought Nordic Valley, a small ski resort near Eden that was not a host in 2002, would be a worthy showcase.

John Allison, the executive director of Utah Skimo, said he thinks holding it at a resort would be best to ensure better snow quality. If Alta and Snowbird aren’t options, he’d prefer to have it at Snowbasin or maybe even near Town Lift at Park City Mountain. He’d also prefer it to have a variety of terrain to keep things interesting.

“Let’s throw some gates in and let’s throw some jumps or throw some whoopdeedoos or maybe a skate section,” he said. “You know, kind of, kind of get creative with it.”

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