Denver Olympics – Where Bad Dreams Won’t Die
Most Americans don’t know much American history, let alone the local history of areas they don’t live in, so let me help those of you not from Colorado out. Denver, Colorado was awarded the Winter Olympics in 1976. If you are familiar with your Olympic history, you might be thinking, no, the 1976 Winter games were held in Innsbruck, Austria. You are right, but that isn’t the story.
The 1976 Winter Olympics were originally awarded to Denver. However, building everything to actually hold the Olympics in Denver required a citizen approved bond initiative that went down in flames. (One of the leaders of the campaign against the Olympics was Richard Lamm, who leveraged that notoriety into becoming Governor of Colorado.)
Denver remains the only city to ever give up the Olympics once having been formally awarded them by the International Olympic Committee.
Winter Olympics in Denver 2022
Every so often, some folks in Denver decide that it would be a good idea to have the Winter Olympics in Denver. This time, they are shooting to have the Winter Olympics in Denver in 2022.
On paper, having the Olympics in Denver sounds like a great idea. The reality, however, is a different story.
Colorado and Denver sound like wintery, snowy, places to the rest of the world. The reality is somewhat different. While it does get cold and it does snow, it doesn’t reliably do it all that often. Denver is a semi-arid climate, and that is true in the winter as well.
Denver gets big snow storms, that is true. Denver does not get snow every day. In fact, the Denver tourism office likes to tout that the city gets 300 days of sunshine per year. Do a little math and you’ll realize that means it isn’t sunny only 65 days each year. Throw in some cloudy days in Spring and Summer and you’ll see that it just isn’t actually snowing all that often in Denver. Storms come and go quickly.
Of course, none of that really matters because Denver isn’t in the mountains. The city’s well publicized moniker Mile High City is true. There are specially colored steps at the Capital Building showing exactly where one mile (5,280 ft.) above sea level is. Likewise, a row of purple seats at Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies play, also denotes where one mile high is. But, the entire city of Denver and the surrounding metro area are relatively flat. No luge or skiing tracks are going to work around here.
The catch is that the slopes and snows in Colorado take place in the mountains. Weather forecasts regularly call for a chance of snow, but only above 7,000 feet or above 10,000 feet. The ski areas that Colorado is so famous for are well above that. In other words, fully half of the Winter Olympics won’t even take place in Denver, they’ll take place somewhere up in Summit County. The ski resorts in Utah, for example, are much closer to Salt Lake City.
In order for any of the Olympics to actually take place in Denver, you would have to have a split venue scenario where the indoor events, mainly those that take place on a skating rink, are in Denver, and all the outdoor events are up in the mountains somewhere.
Unfortunately, Colorado’s premier ski areas are more than two hours away from Denver, and that’s in good traffic, which brings up the next catch.
The average winter weekend clogs I-70 with people heading up from Denver and Boulder for a ski weekend or day trip. Imagine adding the traffic of Olympic spectators and Olympic teams heading up for various events. And, I-70 isn’t the easiest highway to add lanes to. Another lane of traffic through the Eisenhower Tunnel would require another bore, a decade long project.
Again, in order to be even remotely practical, there would have to be two Olympic Villages, one in Denver and one up in the mountains.
Denver is a great city, and it is a wonderful place to live. Unfortunately, it just isn’t a very reasonable location for the Winter Olympics.