The 2002 Winter Olympics were a party of such epic proportions that those weeks stand out in nearly every Utahn’s mind as one of the most exciting things to hit our fair state since shaped skis and fried scones. Utah’s good citizens revelled in the international spotlight, with an incredible 70,000 people applying for 23,000 volunteer positions. Coveted 2002 Olympic volunteer jackets still dot the ski slopes of the Wasatch today, showing that the pride still lingers.
Take two: Why would we host again?
With a whopping 89 percent of Utahns in favor of hosting the games again, our state’s leaders and legislators have been chasing down the chance to bring the event back for a sequel performance. An Olympic Exploratory Committee was formed and, this fall, all contending cities submitted detailed plans outlining what the games would look like if they had the opportunity to host.
To the surprise of few (hey, we’re proud), the US Olympic Committee agreed that Salt Lake rose to the top, edging out Denver in the competition. What does it mean? That, if a U.S. city is chosen to host the 2030 games, that Salt Lake will be it.
The chances are favorable, too. With Asian cities hosting back-to-back winter games in Pyeongchang and Beijing, then Europe likely to host in 2026, the U.S. would have a strong case for hosting in 2030. Which would bring the excitement full circle, back to Salt Lake City three decades after its first round.
Not only did Salt Lake, Park City, and Snowbasin do an excellent job building out the venues to host—including an Olympic-sized ice rink, ski jumping facility, bobsled course, and Nordic Center—but all those facilities have been immaculately maintained and used ever since then. The Olympic Oval, Olympic Park, and Soldier Hollow remain popular destinations for local families and visitors to skate, bobsled, ski jump, and nordic ski, whether for recreation or training seriously for big events like the Olympics.
That means that the main infrastructure’s already in place, which saves a whopping amount of cash and logistics. It’s good news for games organizers and for us locals who’d rather skip any unnecessary construction.
While the Olympics were a solid success in 2002, Utah brings even more to the table this time. In the early 2000s, we were still saddled by one particularly embarrassing and cumbersome liquor law, which required people to pay for either one-year or two-week “memberships” to enter any bars, which were then called private clubs. Needless to say, this roadblock required many an explanation and an eye-roll among locals and visitors.
But, with much help from the gods of fine spirits (and a lot of lobbying from the tourism and hospitality industry), those laws are no more. You can wash down a big day of winter sport-ing with a proper beer like you would anywhere else.
Another major boon: the Salt Lake International Airport rebuild will be complete in 2020. The expanded facilities will include far more elbow room, more efficient flow of passengers and planes, a more high-tech experience, better parking, a TRAX rail station, and vastly improved sustainability—with builders aiming for a LEED Gold certification.
It’s a lot for locals to be excited about, and if we host the biggest party of 2030, we’ll sure be glad to have the extra space for coming and going.
But wait: Who pays for it?
In a state that loudly embraces fiscal conservatism, the games’ price tag is a fair question. In fact, the cost of hosting is so sky-high that Calgary residents overwhelmingly voted against their city’s plan to bid for the 2026 games.
Would-be organizers for the winter games in Utah say the $1.4 billion (yep, with a “B”) price tag would be covered through selling sponsorships, tickets, and broadcast rights. The only tax dollars used would be from the federal government for security coverage. Backers say this will be possible through reusing 2002’s venues and dipping into Utah’s enthusiastic volunteer base.
The 2002 games brought an estimated $6 billion in economic benefits, so it seems a reasonable investment as well as a good time.
Wait, wait—when will we know?
This is the last big question. The Olympic Committee hasn’t committed to a timeline for its final decision, but it may be a few years out. They’ve cited the need to give other cities around the world the chance to put a bid together and compete for the chance.
While we wait, we can feel pretty comfortable with our strong position against other contenders who lack our pre-built bobsled track and boatload of enthusiasm. With any luck, we’ll be filling the opening ceremony stadium seats once again in just over a decade.