Olympic visionary receives award from University of Utah Ski Archives
Lately, Howard Peterson, the longtime head of the U.S. Ski Association (now U.S. Ski and Snowboard) and Soldier Hollow, has been thinking about one word: Legacy.
Peterson, 67, will receive the Joseph Quinney award from the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library Ski Archives for his contributions to winter sports in the intermountain West on Oct. 30, and many of Peterson’s achievements can be summarized by that word.
For instance,x it was an idea he pushed as the head of the United States Ski Association when speaking with the United States Olympic Committee about the selection process for the 1998 and 2002 Winter Games, and a large part of the reason Salt Lake was selected to host the Games in 2002.
Peterson told the USOC that it should select a city that would build venues regardless of whether it was selected to host an Olympics or not, and would already have the infrastructure in place along with a plan to use the venues in perpetuity.
The powers that be in Salt Lake City – including the city’s Olympic organizing committee and Utah’s governor, Norman Bangerter – recognized the idea Peterson was pushing, and put forth nearly $60 million toward venues and infrastructure that lived up to the idea of legacy, including the construction of the Utah Olympic Park and Soldier Hollow. Salt Lake City’s main competitor for the bid, Anchorage, Alaska, never embraced the idea wouldn’t agree to invest in infrastructure until nomination by the USOC.
In 1989, Salt Lake City was selected by the USOC as the U.S. venue for a bid by a two-vote margin.
“If just two of those people had changed their votes, Anchorage would have held the Olympics, not Salt Lake, and you and I wouldn’t be talking,” Peterson said in an interview. But even after the bid was secured, Peterson kept pushing the idea of legacy.
Tom Kelly, who was hired to USSA by Peterson in 1986 and worked for the organization retiring in June this year, said the aerials training pool at the Utah Olympic Park was a perfect example of Peterson’s vision.
“Salt Lake gets the bid in June of 1989, and has committed to build these venues,” Kelly recalled. “So at that point, Howard met with the bid committee to outline the venues and why they would be good for Salt Lake City. He went before the bid committee and said ‘You need to build a summer training pool for freestyle.’”
The facility wouldn’t contribute directly to the Winter Games, but Peterson saw value in building it.
Peterson argued it would be the centerpiece of the Utah Olympic Park both as a training center and a tourist attraction.
“Everything he said there has come true,” Kelly said. “And those venues started to come online three years later. …That’s an amazing training center, but it’s also one of the biggest tourist attractions in town, and all of that singularly goes back to Howard Peterson.”
Peterson also played a role in bringing cash prizes to International Ski Federation competitions, resulting in Park City hosting the first World Cup ski competition with an official cash payout, and helped end an era that was characterized by the idea of Olympic athletes as pure amateur who should not be paid to compete.
Peterson recalls convincing Marc Hoedler, then the FIS president, to approve a $75,000 cash prize purse for America’s Opening alpine races in Park City in 1990.
Peterson pitched creating a sizable cash prize while the two toured the UOP.
“Within a few hours I got a reinforcement from the very top of FIS … that it was time to pull the money out from under the table,” Peterson said.
Peterson was also partly responsible for bringing the USSA to Park City, where it merged with the United States Ski Team, and helped bring snowboarding into the fold.
After retiring from U.S. Ski and Snowboard, Peterson ran Soldier Hollow, where he pioneered some of the business practices that have kept the venue afloat.
“He probably was a visionary,” said Scott Peterson, who has no relation to Howard and worked under him at Soldier Hollow for a decade in various roles. He is currently head of mountain operations.
“He came up with the idea to put in the tubing hill and finding summer activities to bring in income – the Dirty Dash and (Soldier Hollow Classic) sheepdog championships. I think Soldier Hollow, without that, would have quickly run into money problems.”
Scott said the organization has stayed in the black every year.
“The tubing hill, we used to joke, funded our racing habit,” he said of the biathlon and cross country venue.
Three years ago, Peterson suffered a brain injury that limited his mobility and his capacity to help direct the venue.
Even though he has stepped back from the winter sports industry, he said he is proud of what the state and area has accomplished – especially in terms of the breadth of programming available to young athletes.
Over the past year he has been working with a physical therapist, and plans to celebrate his award by returning to the slopes for the first time since his injury.
“One of the neurosurgeons told me I needed to stop snowboarding, because it wasn’t worth risking another injury,” he said. “I’ve been a skier or snowboarder all my life, and I’m not going to step away now.”
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