WINTER SPORTS WORLD: 2030 Winter Games host selection appears on course to become a snowy, two-sled race

Salt Lake City bid group meets virtually with Thomas Bach and the IOC, while Sapporo leaders refine bid and budget. Both regions offer lots of snow!

Feb 5, 2021; Park City, Utah, USA; Bradley Wilson (USA), left, competes against Elliot Vaillancourt in the menÕs dual moguls competition at Deer Valley. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2021; Park City, Utah, USA; Bradley Wilson (USA), left, competes against Elliot Vaillancourt in the menÕs dual moguls competition at Deer Valley. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Salt Lake City, Utah committee for the Games Chief Executive Officer Fraser Bullock reveals that the interested U.S. candidate city still has not determined whether its bid will be for 2030 or 2034 – also informing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has not conveyed any timeframe for awarding these 2030 Winter Games – yet somehow, as dedicated skiers can often sense, fluffy, powder snow may be coming soon.

“One of our strengths is the greatest snow on earth and fastest ice on earth, but we also have venues that are all within a one hour drive of the village,” Bullock said, responding to a question from Around the Rings on a media conference call on Monday, following the IOC meeting. “That is a huge advantage for the athletes who will hopefully be here to compete.”

Bullock says that the IOC did not strongly advise as to whether Salt Lake City should seek 2030 or 2034, leaving it up to them, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and LA28, to sort out.

“The IOC recognizes that’s really a decision that is made at the NOC level, or USOPC level, and they’re willing to embrace either position in terms of dialogue,” Bullock said. “They said that’s an issue that you’ll decide in the United States and once that decision is made, then they will work with us specifically on a Games edition.”

Meanwhile, oceans and mountains apart, Sapporo officials are revealing a modified, enticing strategy, having recently noted significant budget cuts and venue plans, to spur enthusiasm to bring the 2030 Winter Games to the northern Japanese city that previously hosted in 1972.

Both bids present very snowy, mountainous winter sports cities and regions, with world class ski resorts, and while the competition to elect a host may unfold largely behind the scenes between candidates and the IOC’s Future Host Commission, everything could be headed towards a win-win for the IOC, no matter how long this may all play out. So grab a hot chocolate, put your feet up near the fireplace, relax and gaze out the window, wondering when exactly this snow will fall.

Mount Yōtei, an inactive volcano located in Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Hokkaidō, Japan. (Grosby)
Mount Yōtei, an inactive volcano located in Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Hokkaidō, Japan. (Grosby)

The IOC insists that there is no timetable for electing a 2030 host, and the Future Host Commission will continue to evaluate and monitor interest among candidates, guided by strategic opportunities for the Olympic movement and the global context. But just like impatient skiers, we want the snow now!

To emphasize yet again, contrasting immensely from the artificial snow that athletes will be forced to ski upon this February, the surrounding mountains and ski resorts of Salt Lake City and Sapporo are a powder skier’s dream. An abundance of snow can dump at any time. Utah’s state moniker has been ‘Greatest Snow on Earth’ while the Japanese ski resorts unofficially promote their snowy slopes as ‘Japow’.

To offer proof and some knee deep perspective, just a few winter seasons ago in 2018-19, Park City, Utah (home to Deer Valley, Park City and the Canyons Resort) received 390 inches of snow, while last season, although skier visits were impacted by the coronavirus, 220 inches of snow fell. In 2013-14, Park City enjoyed a staggering 446 inches of snow.

Snowboard PGS at Park City Mountain Resort during the 2019 world championships (Pinelli)
Snowboard PGS at Park City Mountain Resort during the 2019 world championships (Pinelli)

By comparison, Niseko Ski Resort, a few hours drive from Sapporo and the likely venue for some ski and snowboard events, received 476 inches of snowfall last season, and 588 inches a few years in 2012-13. You can bet your Burton snowboard or Rossignol skis that insufficient snow will never be an issue for these two Winter Olympic candidates.

While budgets, sustainability, public support, legacies, right vs. wrong fits, and other assets and shortcoming may drive the success and failures of bids, hosting the Olympic Winter Games should ultimately come down who has the best, whitest and most snow, right? After Beijing, the IOC Charter may need to be amended.

Bullock, who was chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Orgainzing Committee in 2002, drives home that Utah offers much more than just large quantities of snow.

“We have such unified support in our community – the public, politicians and business community. Our support is so significant - It’s like the winds behind our back pushing us forward.”

Salt Lake City and Sapporo – unlike Vancouver, Barcelona-Pyrenees and the most recent interest from Ukraine – possess all the right stuff. Suitable existing venues, inspiring mountains, Winter Olympic experience (Sapporo hosted in 1972 and Salt Lake City in 2002), winter sports passion, and storied ski histories, and did we forget to mention…plenty of snow, both candidates possess an avalanche of attributes. Salt Lake City may have the edge as far as public support and volunteer enthusiasm is concerned, as the Japanese public is still processing mixed feelings about Tokyo 2020, but perhaps that could be swayed.

At this point, we won’t waste time delving into details about the shortcomings of the other three aforementioned candidates, but wide-ranging issues and challenges from lack of public support and enthusiasm, referendums in the way, quests for independence, unproven venues, limited winter World Cup experience, and a potentially escalating military provocation, leave these candidates on thin ice.

Sapporo’s revised budget, Salt Lake City venues

Visitors wearing masks amid concern over the spread of a new coronavirus take a selfie in front of a snow sculpture on the first day of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido, northern Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo February 4, 2020. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN
Visitors wearing masks amid concern over the spread of a new coronavirus take a selfie in front of a snow sculpture on the first day of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido, northern Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo February 4, 2020. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN

Sapporo officials announced last week that a previous budget to host the 2030 Games, previously estimated to be between 310 to 370 billion yen (2.7 billion USD to 3.25 billion), can be reduced by up to 90 billion yen (792 million USD), to 280 to 300 billion yen (2.46 billion USD to 2.64).

The 20-percent cost reduction can be attributed to the use of existing venues, including, according to the Kyodo News, holding speed skating events in Obihiro, located east of Sapporo, and bobsleigh and luge events in Nagano, the 1998 Winter Games host. Revenues will come from IOC contributions, sponsorships, and ticket and merchandise sales.

Sapporo suggests it will consult citizens in the Hokkaido region by conducting a survey in early 2022, yet it still appears six-to-seven months away before organizers issue a formal plan, and that might allow – as is often said among ski enthusiasts – Salt Lake City to have “first tracks.”

The Salt Lake City arenas and Park City ski resort venues remain in use for World Cup and other international competitions. Their use and maintenance has been greatly assisted through a 76-million dollar endowment fund from an organizers’ surplus hosting the Games in 2002.

FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships Slopestyle Finals
Park City Mountain Resort
February 2, 2011
Photo © Steven Korneich
FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships Slopestyle Finals Park City Mountain Resort February 2, 2011 Photo © Steven Korneich

In fact, multiple world records were set at a World Cup speed skating event at the Utah Olympic Oval, in Salt Lake City, this past weekend.

The uncertainty around 2030 may be swirling like high alpine, ridge top winds, and it could still take months, or maybe even more than one year, until we know which city and neighboring ski resorts, will welcome the world’s premier skiers, skaters and sledders in the winter of 2030.

At least we can be assured of one somewhat forgotten, essential item, that the first Winter Olympic organizers of Chamonix 1924 would certainly be left scratching their wool hats, while gazing up into the sky in disbelief. Fortunately, in 2030, there will be snow!

Follow Brian on Twitter - @Brian_Pinelli