2026 Winter Olympics exploratory effort makes its case to Eagle County officials
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The Denver Olympic Exploratory Committee has a website with additional information about its efforts and a public survey to weigh in on the 2026 Winter Olympics question. Visit http://www.explorethegames.com.
EAGLE — As the Denver Olympic Exploratory Committee gathers feedback from around Colorado regarding the proposal to have the city host the 2026 games, representatives are both sharing information and asking a basic question.
The information piece details the infrastructure and experience the state already has in place to host the games. The question builds on that information.
“Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should,” said Reeves Brown, a consultant for the exploratory committee who is hosting a series of discussion meetings for Colorado mountain communities.
On Tuesday, Feb. 27, Brown was before the Eagle County Commissioners. He explained that the International Olympic Committee has approached the U.S. Olympic Committee to see if the United States would consider submitting a bid for the 2026 games. In turn, the USOC contacted three potential host cities — Reno, Nevada, Salt Lake City and Denver — to see if they are interested in submitting a bid.
“If Denver wants to submit, the mayor and the governor need to submit the bid by April,” Brown said. The candidate U.S. city will be identified this fall, and the IOC will make its 2026 Olympic city announcement in the fall of 2019.
In preparation for that April decision, the committee identified a number of communities that would be most affected if Colorado hosted a winter Olympics. Vail is one of those communities.
Olympic ghost towns
Brown stressed the IOC has a new norm for selecting host cities.
“Sustainability is a key criteria for host cities to consider,” he said. “The IOC doesn’t want cities to construct a lot of white elephant infrastructure.”
As part of that sustainability goal, Brown said Olympic venues can be geographically dispersed to reduce hosting costs.
“We already have 13 of the 16 venues we need,” Brown said. “All of the ski events would be in the mountains; the rink events would be in Denver.”
That was the general plan 40 years ago when Denver was awarded the 1976 Olympics. But those games never happened. In a statewide referendum, Colorado voters turned down the Olympics, and Innsbruck, Austria, hosted the 1976 Olympics. State voters were concerned that the games would cost too much and would result in a Colorado population boom.
“A lot has happened in Colorado and Denver in the last 40 years,” Brown said, detailing infrastructure construction ranging from Denver International Airport to four sports stadiums to the Colorado Convention Center. Additionally, the state has gained experience in hosting large events such as the Democratic National Convention in 2008 and three Alpine World Ski Championships.
Brown noted that the winter Olympics generally generates 600,000 guests during a 17-day period. He said the National Western Stock Show generates an average of 700,000 guests over a similar time frame.
“Hosting big winter sporting events is not new now. I think 40 years ago, this was a much more monumental task,” Brown said.
Traffic, lodging and more
While he made the case that Colorado is well-positioned to meet most of the venue requirements with existing structures, Brown noted that providing an athlete village and transportation to outlying areas would be a challenge.
As he has met with mountain town representatives, Brown said officials have expressed interest in finding a way to dovetail Olympic village facilities with the need for workforce housing.
“Salt Lake City built its Olympic Village next to the University of Utah and converted it into dormitories,” Brown said.
On the topic of transportation, he said DIA has the capacity to handle the Olympic load. Interstate 70 capacity is a more difficult problem.
“Olympics or not, we have to figure out how to move people more sustainably up the I-70 corridor,” Brown said.
In initial meetings between the exploratory committee and representatives from the Colorado Department of Transportation, Brown said CDOT identified weekend traffic as the big problem.
“In their opinion, aside from those weekends, we don’t have a problem,” Brown said.
The cost of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics has been tagged at $2 billion. The exploratory committee has been charged with finding out if that amount can be financed privately, while still meeting all of the IOC requirements. Brown noted Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has said he would be reluctant to move forward with a bid if private funding wasn’t feasible.
“There are some brilliant financial minds on that committee and they do think it can be privately financed,” Brown said.
North America has a good track record of bringing the winter games in on budget, Brown continued. For instance, the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 saw total expenditures of $1.3 billion and revenues of $1.39 billion. Brown noted that Salt Lake used funding provided by the IOC to construct long-term improvements.
“Salt Lake six-laned the highway to Park City, and they didn’t have to give the asphalt back,” he said.
Following the presentation, county representatives cited their I-70 traffic and sustainability concerns, noting they really don’t have enough hard data at this point to decide if they are for or against the Olympics proposal.
“When could we expect to understand the potential impact to Eagle County? It’s hard to give feedback when it is all so hypothetical,” said Commissioner Jeannie McQueeney.
The nature of the bid process means many of the questions won’t be answered before Denver makes its bid decision, Brown said.
Joe Macy, former long-time government affairs director for Vail Resorts, offered his take on the bid.
“Of course we could (host a Winter Olympics),” Macy said. “My question is, should we? My take on it is no. My concern is cost.”
Macy noted he has worked on World Cup and Alpine World Championship events and said he understands the complexity of international competitions. He said hosting an Olympics is an immensely complicated task and Colorado has many issues to solve without adding this challenge to the mix.
“I voted, personally, against the 1976 Olympics, and I didn’t know much about what it took then,” Macy said.
Other voices at Tuesday’s meeting were more interested in exploring the idea.
“It’s and intriguing idea, let’s put it that way,” said Eagle Mayor Anne McKibbin. “I would like to know the impacts, locally, on the communities that aren’t participating directly in the Olympics.”
As he asked local representatives what they thought of the Olympic exploratory effort, Brown was asked what he is hearing form other areas of the state.
“I have been surprised by the level of enthusiasm. It was more than what I was expecting,” he said.