Steamboat Springs an Olympic venue option for potential Denver bid
March 21, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There are logistics to nail down and venues to be built up, then there are those ghosts that haunt every discussion. Even the most ardent proponents have their questions.
Will the Winter Olympics take place in Colorado in the next 12 years?
"Yes," said Steve McConahey, chief of finance for the Denver Olympic Exploratory Committee, Wednesday morning as community leaders from every corner of Steamboat Springs filed out of Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat.
He paused for a beat.
"Well," he continued, "I hope so."
McConahey was one of a trio of Olympics proponents who briefed the gathering of local leaders on the progress and process of a Denver Olympic bid for either the 2026 or 2030 Winter Olympics.
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Yes, the exploratory committee is currently pushing ahead with a bid.
Yes, it thinks it can be competitive with a potential bid from Salt Lake City, Utah, which played host to the Olympics in 2002 and still has much of the infrastructure in place.
Yes, Steamboat Springs could be in the mix as a venue for Olympic events.
"Absolutely," McConaney said of Steamboat's potential.
The meeting was the last of six scheduled with mountain communities that could play a part in Colorado's Olympics. Committee members previously met with leaders in Breckenridge, Frisco, Georgetown, Vail and Winter Park.
Steamboat was a late add to that schedule, but Wednesday produced a room full of passionate people, and after McConaney and crew shared their vision, those attendees were given a chance to share their thoughts, hopes and concerns about the town's potential Olympic moment.
Their attention often focused on the same points.
Playing host to the Olympics would offer the opportunity to publicize, deepen and celebrate the Steamboat’s existing Olympic heritage.
The potential for new facilities — the large ski jumps at Howelsen Hill would need to be completely reconstructed — would be tantalizing.
Maintaining those facilities after the Olympics could be daunting.
The day-to-day disruption in the city and region could be crippling.
A Colorado Olympics without Steamboat would be crushing.
"Everyone knows there's Olympic heritage here, and the other communities have some there, too, but what's unique here is the community considers it defining," said Reeves Brown, a consultant with the Denver group and one of Wednesday's speakers.
The presentation took place at the base of the town’s towering ski jumps, where scores of young athletes have taken their first steps to becoming Olympians. It all happened in Olympian Hall, where the town's 96 Olympians are each represented with a flag, covering the ceiling.
"It's not just experience and history, it's defining the fabric of the community, and that to me is unique. It's an important legacy," Reeves said.
As for the state's ability to host, speakers Wednesday insisted it's realistic, and they had an answer and some spin for the most common criticisms.
They said the idea that the Olympics are a multi-billion dollar boondoggle is only as prevalent as it is because recent hosts like Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics 2014 included big-budget infrastructure projects that the Colorado bid won't tackle.
Many of the venues already exist in Colorado.
"If you have to widen a road or fix a bridge, you can pay that out of the operating budget, that that doesn't mean cities or towns might not themselves decide to do something," McConaney said. "That would not be our budget. It would be maybe that we were a catalyst for that to happen."
Building ski jumps would come from the Olympic budget.
Building a high-speed rail along Interstate 70 would not.
Focus instead, the speakers insisted, on the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, which they say turned a profit and created lasting venues.
The crowds won’t be as bad as some might imagine, they said, not for a city and a region already accustomed to hosting highly attended events like the National Western Stock Show in Denver and highly competitive events like the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships in the mountains.
And about that mess of a 1976 bid, the one awarded to Denver before being voted down by the public four years before Opening Ceremonies? McConaney said Denver in particular and Colorado as a whole are far different than they were then, with much improved infrastructure and a much greater ability to handle such an event.
"We're in a different place than we were last time," McConaney said. "We want to showcase our state. We're proud of who we are. We have the heritage, the facilities, the know-how. I guess the question is, why not? We think we provide an exciting alternative to Salt Lake."
Nothing's sure at this point, not even that an actual bid will be made.
The next step is for a report from meetings like Wednesday’s to go to the exploratory committee later this month. From there, the committee will decide whether or not to make a recommendation to Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
They'll then decide in the first half of May whether or not Colorado should pursue a bid.
From there, the United States Olympic Committee will decide with of what will likely be three bids to select — Salt Lake City, Reno/Lake Tahoe and Denver.
That will take place by the fall, and the International Olympic Committee will make its selection next year for at least the 2026 Games.
And what if the public wants a say?
Organizers say no public vote is required because they don't plan on using any public money. The hope is funding from the International Olympic Committee, from ticket sales, sponsorships and merchandising deals all combined with a responsible budget sans big-ticket projects like expanded interstates and bullet trains, could yield more than enough to pay the bill.
But, it could still come to that.
"That doesn't mean someone might not say, 'We want a vote anyway,'" McConaney said. "I wish we didn't need one, but if it’s the difference between not going forward and going forward, I'd say let’s have a vote."
It’s all a long way down the road.
Steamboat’s no lock.
One idea is to build temporary ski jumps and Nordic skiing courses on the Front Range, eliminating the need for the drive out to Ski Town U.S.A. The bid itself may not advance much further than it is right now, but nevertheless, Wednesday morning, a room full of Steamboat Springs leaders at least started to consider that the potential for Olympics events in Steamboat Springs is possible.