Analysis: FIS Worlds in Park City: like, but also definitely unlike, a Winter Olympics
The FIS World Championships closing ceremonies on Main Street on Sunday ended the largest winter-sports event in Utah since the 2002 Winter Olympics.
And the event may end up being the largest winter-sports gathering in the state before the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in 2030, the year that the Games could return to Salt Lake City and the surrounding Olympic region. The United States Olympic Committee in December selected Salt Lake City as the nation’s bid city for a future Games, likely those in 2030. The International Olympic Committee is expected to name a host for the Games in 2030 in 2023.
The Park City area is highly important to the Olympic bid. Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort and the Utah Olympic Park are identified as competition venues in a Games map. It seems that upward of half of the sporting events would be staged in the immediate Park City area or nearby Soldier Hollow, and the area would be a priority in transportation, security and celebration planning.
The FIS World Championships included competitions at two proposed Winter Olympic venues — PCMR and Deer Valley — and required a broad planning effort involving different jurisdictions. In those ways, the event had at least some resemblance to what could occur in a Winter Olympics even if the magnitude was scaled back from a Games. But in other key ways, such as the crowd management and security, the FIS World Championships were vastly different from a Winter Olympics.
The FIS World Championships are like the Winter Olympics because:
• the FIS World Championships operated in multiple venues in the Park City area, something that necessitated extensive logistical planning. There were events at both base areas of Park City Mountain Resort as well as Deer Valley Resort, stretching the competitions from the Park City limits into the Snyderville Basin. A Winter Olympics would likewise schedule local competitions inside and outside the Park City limits. The PCMR base area inside Park City and Deer Valley are both identified as potential Olympic competition venues with the Utah Olympic Park also a critical venue. The World Championships also tapped Main Street for a major celebration, something that would be expected during an Olympics. The FIS World Championships required overall logistical plans for the Park City area with similarities to those that would be crafted for a Winter Olympics even if the plans that were devised for the recent competitions were miniature in size compared to those that would be required for a Games.
• the FIS World Championships were susceptible to the weather, as would be the case during a Games. The venues during the recent competitions are some of those that would be put into the Winter Olympic program. Deer Valley’s freestyle setup has long been heralded as one of the best on the World Cup circuit, while the PCMR snowboarding and freestyle facilities have received accolades as well. The venues would likely be very similar to those set up at the resorts during the Winter Olympics in 2002. The impact of the weather is always an unknown in skiing or snowboarding competitions. The organizers of the FIS World Championships were forced to cancel one competition — the snowboard big air contest — based on the snowstorms that hit the Park City area and significantly alter another. A Winter Olympics, though, is a lengthier event than the FIS World Championships, providing additional opportunities to reschedule competitions that are postponed based on the weather.
• the FIS World Championships provided Park City with international exposure even if the publicity from a Winter Olympics would be immeasurably greater than that generated during the recent event. The NBC family — the same network that holds the rights as of now to show the Winter Olympics — televised the FIS World Championships. Many of the competitions during the FIS World Championships were broadcast on secondary NBC channels, but some were shown on the main network, providing the opportunity for a large audience to watch the events. Tourism officials have long seen the international broadcast of competitions at the World Cup and World Championships level as beneficial to the resort industry since the television viewers could be influenced to choose Park City as their skiing or snowboarding destination. The FIS World Championships, like the Winter Olympics would, put the images of PCMR and Deer Valley in front of winter sport fans with more than a month left of the ski season, something that could provide short-term and long-term tourism benefits.
The FIS World Championships are unlike the Winter Olympics because:
• the FIS World Championships did not draw crowds near the size of those a Winter Olympics would be projected to attract. The FIS World Championships, a free event, appeared to be well attended throughout the week-plus run, but the Winter Olympic spectator counts would be expected to greatly exceed those of the FIS World Championships. The difference would require a much more intensive crowd-management system for a Winter Olympics. The organizers of the FIS World Championships did not require the crowds to have tickets, meaning they do not have a precise spectator number. They also did not have an estimate of the crowd sizes by the day after closing ceremonies. The organizers, though, said the crowd at the Saturday night moguls competitions at Deer Valley likely was the largest. The Winter Olympic events in 2002 consistently drew packed houses to PCMR and Deer Valley. The organizing committee that put on the Games said afterward PCMR drew 95,991 spectators, averaging 15,700 per competition session. The organizing committee sold 99.8 percent of the available tickets to the PCMR events. Deer Valley was also jammed in 2002, with 96,980 spectators, or 99.4 percent of the tickets sold, and an average of 13,800 per competition session.
• the FIS World Championships employed parking and transportation plans, but the blueprints were not required to be at the levels of an Olympics since the crowd projections were so much smaller. The team that planned the FIS World Championships partnered with City Hall and the County Courthouse as the details were crafted. The overall plan relied on outlying parking lots and buses running between the lots and the competition venues. Although the concept during the recent event was at some levels similar to the vision of the Winter Olympic planners in 2002, the scale was vastly different. The Winter Olympic organizers built giant temporary parking lots and secured a fleet of buses to use. Bus after bus loaded passengers at the lots and then ferried them to the Olympic venues before returning to the lot to pick up more passengers. There were also heavy restrictions on traffic in Old Town, including a Games-long closure of Main Street to traffic in favor of a pedestrian-only celebration zone, further illustrating the complexities the team that planned the Winter Olympics needed to confront.
• the FIS World Championships involved a security plan that appeared to be consistent with other Park City special events rather than at all resembling the one that blanketed the Winter Olympic region in 2002. Organizers of sporting events of any scale are hesitant to discuss security planning, saying doing so could jeopardize the efforts to protect the crowds and the athletes, and little is known about the methods employed at the FIS World Championships. The Park City Police Department and Summit County Sheriff’s Office were the key law enforcement agencies. Police officers from outside agencies were seen alongside the local ones. The level of involvement of federal and state agencies during the FIS World Championships was not clear. The security plans for the Winter Olympics in 2002 were far more ambitious, addressing numerous threat categories in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks. There were airspace restrictions, a military presence and security teams protecting dignitaries. Assets that smaller agencies like the Police Department typically do not have the resources to acquire on their own, such as robots designed to detonate suspicious packages, were also deployed locally. The sheer number of security personnel assigned to the Park City area in 2002 remains unmatched.
Two people indicated in interviews they are considering mounting campaigns for the Park City Council, a signal the City Hall election could attract an intriguing slate of candidates in a year when the majority of the five seats are on the ballot.