Olympic explorations reach Eagle County | AspenTimes.com

Olympic explorations reach Eagle County

Edward Stoner
Vail correspondent

Beaver Creek, which hosts the annual Birds of Prey World Cup ski races, was a host for the Winter Olympics before it was built. A Denver group is exploring bringing the games to Colorado in 2018. (Shane Macomber/Vail Daily file)

VAIL ” The U.S. Olympic Committee hasn’t even decided if there will be an American bid for the 2018 Winter Games. But a Denver committee is exploring the possibility of an Olympic bid for the city, and its members are reaching out to Eagle County officials.

“We’ve been up in Vail and had preliminary discussions with people ” nothing formal,” said Robert Cohen, chairman of the Metro Denver Sports Commission and chairman of the Olympic exploratory committee.

The committee is studying whether the games would benefit the state, as well as more specific issues like what towns may be included in a bid, Cohen said. The committee has eliminated the Summer Olympics as a possibility for Denver and is focusing on the Winter Games, Cohen said.

“If the USOC would make a decision that they would open up bids for 2018 from any U.S. city, then we would like to be considered as a potential contender for that,” Cohen said.

The USOC will likely decide if it wants to make a U.S. bid for 2018 in the next two years. Reno, Nev./Tahoe Lake; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Lake Placid, N.Y., have also expressed interest in the 2018 Games, Cohen said.

The Denver exploratory committee, formed three years ago, is made up of about 30 people, including “community leaders,” but no one from the mountain region, Cohen said.

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John Dakin, vice president of communications for the Vail Valley Foundation, said the Denver group has contacted the foundation.

“Just about their conceptual plans for a bid for a potential games scenario,” Dakin said. “Right now it’s pretty safe to say that everything is still in the investigation stage and trying to understand what they are looking for, what their goals and objectives are both in the short term and long term.”

The foundation puts on the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races at Beaver Creek, the only U.S. stop on the men’s World Cup circuit. It also hosts The Session, a pro snowboarding competition on Vail Mountain.

But the foundation’s help is just one of many pieces in the puzzle, Dakin said.

“It’s not just the foundation saying, ‘OK, we’re in,'” he said. “There are a lot of entities that will need to weigh in on a proposal before anything moves forward.”

Cohen said committee members have also talked informally to Vail Resorts officials “and other key influences within the community.” He declined to say who those “influences” are.

Bill Jensen, co-president of Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division, said the company is aware of the Denver group’s explorations.

“Vail Resorts supports the idea of an Olympic Games perhaps coming to Colorado one day,” he said.

The company hasn’t had any discussions with the exploratory committee, said Vail Mountain spokeswoman Jen Brown.

Earlier this month, the USOC selected Denver as a “community partner city.” Cohen said he wants the partnership to allow the city to attract more top-tier international events as well as promote the Olympic spirit and bring more youth programs to the Denver area.

Denver was awarded the 1976 Olympic Games in 1970. Beaver Creek was selected as the venue for alpine skiing, before the resort was even created.

But opponents said the games would be too costly, environmentally harmful and spur too much growth. Then state Rep. Dick Lamm, who later became governor, led the opposition.

In 1972, Colorado voters rejected funding for the games. Denver withdrew as host and Innsbruck, Austria, took its place.

“I don’t see any fallout existing from ’76,” Dakin said. “I think if there was price to be paid for that decision that invoice has been canceled a long time ago.”

In June, the International Olympic Committee selected PyeongChang, South Korea; Salzburg, Austria; and Sochi, Russia, as the finalists for the 2014 Winter Games. The 2014 host will be chosen next July.