Olympics series: Frampton says Sochi topped Salt Lake
March 17, 2014
Editor's note: During this Winter Olympic year and leading up to the 2015 FIS Alpine World Championship season, this weekly series will tell Colorado's rich ski racing history and heritage through stories about its ski heroes and legends.
Harry Frampton says he's been to five Summer and Winter Olympics, including highly acclaimed Games in Los Angeles in 1984, Beijing in 2008 and Salt Lake City in 2002, and it's really no contest: Sochi was "the best of the five."
"Maybe it was because Sochi was a little bit more of an adventure for me and I've been to Salt Lake many times, but I thought (Sochi) was better," Frampton said. "I thought Salt Lake was terrific, but the newness of all the facilities (in Sochi), the transportation was extraordinary and easy, and the venues and the volunteers were fabulous."
As chairman of the board of the Vail Valley Foundation, which in less than a year will host the Vail Valley's third FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, Frampton went to Russia to see what worked and what didn't this past month. Most everything worked very well, said Frampton, who's also president and CEO of East West Partners, a leading national resort development company.
"What's amazing to me and different from all the other Olympics is they built it all from scratch," said Frampton, who was inducted into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame in 2010. "I have to admit I went over there putting on my developer hat. I wore it to get some comprehension of how they could do it all. It's like building Vail in three years."
Frampton was president of Vail Associates from 1982 to 1986 when Beaver Creek was brand-new and struggling to get traction in a brutal regional recession. He formed East West and a real estate firm that later became Slifer Smith & Frampton and helped propel the fledgling ski area — originally conceived as a venue for the 1976 Denver Olympics — to world-class resort status.
Future of Sochi
He thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin's $51 billion investment in Sochi may one day pay the same dividends.
"A lot of people live in Russia, and they're starting to make more money and become more connected," Frampton said. "They don't have a big summer and winter resort there, and I would think that (Sochi) has the potential to be extraordinarily successful as a primarily Russian resort."
A member in 2011 of the Denver Exploratory Committee for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which the United States Olympic Committee later ultimately decided not to pursue, Frampton left Sochi even more convinced Colorado should someday host the Games.
"There's no question that Colorado could put on a great event," Frampton said. "It would be different than what they did in Russia, there's no question about that, but I came away from (Sochi) hoping even more that the USOC would sometime in the near future decide to start again with the Winter Olympics and that Colorado would be able to be the winner of that process."
The USOC appears to be more focused on a 2024 Summer Games bid in the United States than the 2026 Winter Games, but Frampton is convinced Colorado, which rejected the Olympics in 1976, "would be simply extraordinary" as an Olympic venue. "We've got a long history of building resorts and they're beautiful and we've got great weather and snow."
A Different Setting
Some athletes complained about the snow conditions in Sochi's "Mountain Cluster" at Krasnaya Polyana, but Frampton said its proximity to the "Coastal Cluster" along the Black Sea in Sochi — just 30 miles and a half-hour train ride away — is what made Sochi so special.
"You could easily get up to the Mountain Cluster and then you could get back down to the Coastal Cluster, and that was a unique aspect," Frampton said. "If we ended up getting (the Olympics), it would be more like Vancouver in that you wouldn't have the interconnectivity of the two villages, which was what was so nice about Russia. It was so close."
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, it was 78 miles between the city and mountain venues in Whistler, and the Sea-to-Sky Highway was shut down to private vehicle traffic. There was no train service. Vail and Beaver Creek are a little more than 100 miles from Denver, also with no trains.
"That's a little bit of a weakness, but we have a lot of great strengths, too," Frampton said. "There's no such thing as a perfect Olympic site, but what we've got is a great culture of sports, dramatic mountains and great snow, and we'd have to devise an Olympics based on those assets. We can do that."
Frampton doesn't really see a future Colorado Winter Olympic bid as a way to fix the Interstate 70 weekend skier-traffic bottleneck with some sort of high-speed rail system in the corridor.
"I doubt that people in Colorado and the U.S. have the willingness to invest the amount of money that would be required to six-lane (I-70) or put in a train," he said. "It's a staggering amount of money, and my guess is that the political will, for the lack of a better word, is not there to do that."
The Colorado Department of Transportation this past month estimated it would cost $16.5 billion to build an Advanced Guideway System rail connection between Denver International Airport and the Eagle County Regional Airport. The short rail line between Sochi and the mountain venues cost nearly $9 billion.
David O. Williams wrote this story for the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum. The museum is located on the third level of the Vail Village parking structure adjacent to Vail Village Covered Bridge. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 970-476-1876 or go to http://www.skimuseum.net.