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Climate Change The New Calculus For A Potential Winter Olympics Bid

Photo of Utah Olympic Park.
Brian Grimmett / KUER
Much of Utah's infrastructure from the 2002 Winter Olympic Games are still intact. But, there's a larger question of whether the weather will work in the games' favor in 2030.

With Salt Lake City now officially in the running for another Winter Olympics, officials are now looking at ways to protect the region’s biggest asset: cold weather.

Utah officials spoke to this reality during Friday’s press conference celebrating the announcement that the U.S. Olympic Committee had chosen Salt Lake to bid for another Games.

“Fortunately, if you look at most of the host candidates out there, we’re in a better position than most of them around the world,” said Fraser Bullock, former chief operating officer of the 2002 Games.

According to a report from the University of Waterloo in Ontario earlier this year, only eight out of 21 locations that have hosted the Winter Games will still be cold enough to do so again by the end of the century.

“The advantage you have is you’ve got the cold — so even if you don’t get the natural snow, you can make the snow,” said Daniel Scott, an author of the report.

He said the global climate is already having a major impact on the future of winter sports in that there are fewer places that can host the Games.

Salt Lake’s Olympic Exploratory Committee included a section on climate change in its proposal this year, Bullock said.

“It is a concern,” said Bullock. “So probably we’re going to have to narrow the total span of our games, which are Olympic and Paralympic, and move them closer together because the winter season may be a little shorter.”

At Friday’s press conference, Mayor Jackie Biskupski said they hope to create what she called a “sustainable Games.” She said being able to reuse many of the facilities from the 2002 Games is part of that, but officials want to go further.

“All the transportation options [will be] driven by renewable energy, and we have really, truly a ‘green opportunity’ here to transition our communities to deliver on that vision that the USOC and the IOC have for future Winter Olympic Games,” she said.

Planning for the next bid will begin in earnest by 2021, Biskupski said, but Utah is already working to make progress on its climate goals before then.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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