Takeaways from Summit Daily’s Colorado Olympics discussion

Local residents take part in the "What's Brewing" event at the Frisco Senior Center on Wednesday, March 21.
Hugh Carey /

The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics may be over, but the discussion about whether the Denver metro area and the Colorado High Country should jointly host its own future Olympics is just beginning.

On Wednesday morning, the Summit Daily hosted its latest “What’s Brewing?” event, one focused on the question of whether or not Colorado should bid to host a Winter Games.

The event was organized in the wake of last month’s five “mountain community meetings” hosted by the Denver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Exploratory Committee. The local meetings, which invited Summit County community leaders and stakeholders, included stops in Frisco and Breckenridge.

Wednesday’s What’s Brewing event included some of those same stakeholders while other members of the community were also able to chime in. Here are eight takeaways from the discussion:

Trusting the cost

Even if the Games were privately funded, several people doubted that would be the case in the end.

Citing previous Winter Olympic games that blew past their projected budgets – such as the 1980 Lake Placid Games and the 2014 Sochi Games — several attendees expressed caution in believing initial cost figures or financing plans. The feeling for some was that even if a financial agreement was agreed upon before the Olympic planning process, unforeseen costs — and the billing of taxpayers — would be inevitable with an event the scale of the Olympics.

“In 2030, the chance of (the Winter Olympics) being $70 to $80 billion is not unreasonable,” said Breckenridge resident Jim Trisler. “I can’t see private money carrying that.”

What does a “privately-funded” Olympics mean?

During the discussion, a Dillon resident named Tom (who declined to provide his last name) said he entered last month’s Exploratory Committee meeting skeptical, but left with a more positive outlook on the Games with the knowledge that the committee is looking into private financing.

“All I know is that the committee down in Denver are some pretty wealthy individuals,” Tom said. “The pessimist in me says they will do it because they will make money off of it. But (Denver) Mayor (Michael) Hancock and the Denver Metro Chamber have made it real clear: no tax dollars.”

A few moments later, an unidentified attendee expressed concern with private financing, relaying that it may result in a less accountable group planning the Olympics.

“Over the 30 years that we’ve been here, we’ve seen our land and our wildlife sort of being loved to death,” the woman said. “So it really scares me to think of what this might mean. I don’t want taxpayers to pay for it, but if it goes over to private money, what sort of pressure does that put on decisions that are made by people who maybe don’t live here?

“I see us under a lot of pressure to do it, get it right and get it done,” she added, “and if the money is private, I am worried about that. If the money is public, I am worried about that (too). So the whole thing scares me.”

What can we get out of this?

The vocal majority in attendance at the What’s Brewing event expressed that they were very hesitant to a Colorado Olympics if it cost local Summit County taxpayers.

Throughout their exploratory process, the Denver Exploratory Committee has been adamant that they are focused on identifying ways for the Games to be financed privately.

The common sentiment in the room on Wednesday again was that a Colorado Olympics would only be welcomed with substantial — if not complete — private financing. On top of that, several locals shared that a Games would only be worth it if something was gained in return.

At last month’s Frisco Exploratory Committee meeting, the most vocal answer was a transportation solution, whether it be a rail system or improvements to Interstate 70. On Wednesday, the issue of using the Olympics to improve transportation infrastructure was a common talking point again.

“From I-70 to Breckenridge, how are they going to handle the traffic and the people coming in there? Someone would have to address that, because the people who live in Breckenridge won’t be able to go anywhere,” one unidentified attendee said.

Climate change: A challenge or opportunity?

Throughout the Denver Exploratory Committee’s process, including at last month’s mountain community meetings, one topic discussed has been whether with climate change whether it’s even wise for Colorado to host a Winter Games.

In the wake of this season’s relative lack of snowfall, several members of the community have brought up a worst case weather scenario: One where Colorado hosts the Olympics, but once commenced either warm weather or lack of precipitation drastically affects the event in a negative fashion. A headache in the short term and a poor representation of Colorado’s winter weather and sports for the long term.

But at Wednesday’s What’s Brewing event, town of Breckenridge spokeswoman Haley Littleton — who stressed she was speaking for herself and not for the town of Breckenridge — approached the climate change debate from another angle. What if, considering Summit County’s elevation, our location and facilities could be used to showcase the Games during a time of global warming.

“For the sake of the world, if climate change continues and Summit County is really one of the few viable places to have the Winter Olympics,” Littleton said, “what is our stewardship as a community to the world to facilitate this?”

What of the ski resorts?

If and when Colorado hosts the Olympics, it appears most likely that Summit County resorts such as Copper Mountain Resort and Vail Resorts properties, such as Breckenridge Ski Resort, would be at the top of the list to host freestyle skiing and snowboarding competitions, at the least.

That said, there are a number of hypothetical questions centered around the resorts, including who would host events like halfpipe and slopestyle.

Those questions are far from being answered. For now, one of the locals in attendance, Copper Mountain spokeswoman Taylor Prather, described the resort as still very much in a wait-and-see approach in terms of its interest in an Olympics.

“The jury is still out at Copper,” Prather said. “I think we are all taking it very seriously. It definitely is an opportunity. From my perspective in public relations, it would be a publicity opportunity. But that comes with challenges in itself. We are definitely trying to figure out what the mentality is for our community.”

Giving back to the rest of the world

Several attendees, including Dave Anderson, viewed a Colorado Games as a good way to repay the other Winter Olympic countries and cities who’ve played host to our locals in previous years.

“Transportation will be difficult, there is no question about that,” Anderson said. “But I think, I’ve been watching the Olympics for over 60 years and we in this region are defined by our winter activities to a large degree. We’ve had the benefit of other venues sharing their world with us. And I think it would be very nice if we could pay back to the world what they have given to us, if it can meet all the economic requirements, that doesn’t put at risk (of the) state’s funding.”

BUT Why is Salt Lake City interested again?

The 2002 Winter Olympic host, Salt Lake City, has also expressed interest in a future Olympics, namely the same 2030 games Colorado is considering.

The fact that the Utah city was again interested in hosting was something worth thinking about for Summit County media professional Amy Kemp. Namely, why?

“Is it because (of) the upside, the legacy?” Kemp said. “The University of Utah got dormitories for their students (due to the 2002 Olympics). They looked at it in a different lense.

“We are not a Sochi model,” Kemp added, “we are not a South Korea model. We are more of a Salt Lake City model because of the (existing) infrastructure (in Summit County).”

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