Phase one of Mountain Expansion, called a game-changer for winter athletes, underway at Utah Olympic Park
The Utah Olympic Park on Tuesday broke ground on phase one of an $11 million expansion project with hopes of completing the phase by the start of winter season.
Part one of the “Mountain Expansion” is devoting $3.5 million to the extension and improvement of a preexisting training ground, while also creating new facilities that will help foster improvement for skiers and snowboarders in the region.
According to Colin Hilton, president and CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, the overall expansion project will improve training opportunities across the board while adding more course availability for athletes whose disciplines fall under snowboarding, moguls, slopestyle and alpine skiing. Serving as a secondary function, the project will help foster the next wave of winter sport athletes who are expected to grow their respective sports even more.
Partnering with the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation in this expansion project is Park City Ski and Snowboard, Rowmark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City and the University of Utah Ski Team, all of whom are donors and will be using the improved facilities.
“From Rowmark’s perspective, this is the single most important development in my many years at the program,” said Todd Brickson, the academy’s program director. “It is an urgent upgrade for the local ski racing community and the imminent prospect of a dedicated training arena to extend our season to provide the quality of snow service and various terrain. This project is a great example of what is possible when we all come together, a game-changer for the growth and prosperity of ski racing in our community for years to come.”
The first phase of improvements will take place west of the Alf Engen Ski Museum, extending an intermediate training hill to over 1,000 feet. The project will also move a portion of the road that goes up the mountain to a different location, providing a better flow of traffic without interrupting training or competitions.
Also included in the expansion will be a new ski lift and operations center at the top of the hill, providing athletes with disabilities the opportunity to travel to the top and train.
“The National Ability Center is also a partner to our legacy foundation and we are excited to finally have a chair lift that can serve our adaptive athletes,” said Jaime Kimball, general manager of Utah Olympic Park. “… We will now be more broadly able to serve all of our athletes, whatever their abilities are. No joke, we’ve had adaptive snowboard athletes who routinely over the last several years have hopped in the back of a pickup truck to be driven up our road to the top of the hill in order to get some training in.”
While the overall expansion is aimed at world-class athletes looking to take the next step in their respective careers, the first phase regarding the intermediate hill will also be for the novice and regular individuals just looking to enjoy some winter sports, providing them with an opportunity to train at what will be some of the best facilities offered in the winter sports community.
Also in attendance at the groundbreaking were former Olympians Picabo Street and Heather McPhie-Watanabe, two major advocates for the expansion project who strongly believe it will set the Utah Olympic Park apart from other venues throughout the country and world.
“I am beyond excited about this project because one of the things I invest most of my time in is the kids of our future,” said Street, a former U.S. Olympic gold medalist alpine ski racer who also helped found a school in Park City for young athletes. “… The dreamers that are dreaming now of becoming an Olympic champion, making it to Olympics or becoming a decent human being. It’s hard to find words for what a game-changer this is, not only for the Park City community but for Team USA and its future, and the world and sports. When the big competition comes, like it’s right outside the door looming, this is home territory for them and there’s nothing like racing in front of a hometown crowd.”
McPhie-Watanabe, a two-time Olympian in moguls, is a testament to what an improved set of training facilities can do for someone’s career. She originally moved to Park City from Montana to take advantage of what Utah Olympic Park had to offer her as a rising star in freestyle moguls skiing.
“I moved here because of the Utah Olympic Park and because of the training opportunities that it provided for athletes. … It was an absolute game-changer for me and my sport,” McPhie-Watanabe said. “Moguls obviously has two jumps and I was terrible at both of them and so I came here to get better, eventually becoming known for jumping in my sport. I’m thrilled with this expansion project and what it’s going to be able to do for future athletes.”
The improvements being made in the remaining phases of the expansion will give Park City and the Utah Olympic Park the opportunity to host World Cup contests, according to Hilton.
The project will include a new moguls course that will be long enough to fulfill World Cup standards. A new giant slalom run will meet International Ski Federation regulations.
If fundraising continues at a strong pace, the second phase of the expansion is expected to begin in a year or two, although the planning stages are already well underway. This will provide Utah Olympic Park with more ski runs along the west side of the bobsled track.
The project is a small part of what has been a combined effort by the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation and other donors to greatly expand and improve the opportunities afforded winter sport athletes.
In 2018, the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation completed a renovation of the Olympic Oval skate venue, totaling $14 million. Additionally, a new housing complex is scheduled to open in about a month — consisting of 72 rent-subsidized housing units that can be used by athletes or families visiting, training or competing at Utah Olympic Park.
“The young dreamers from close regions are going to be figuring out to come here, and with the athlete housing that’s just been put in, that’s now possible,” Street said. “One of the most rewarding things as a champion is when you come home and share your success with the people who were a part of it, the people who built the structure that you played on that made it all possible. This gets to be the celebration sport for all of the champions to come back too.”
With the new and improved facilities giving way to the opportunity of hosting World Cup and International Ski Federation competitions in the future, everything being done at Utah Olympic Park is part of a larger goal: the 2030 or 2034 Olympic Winter Games, something Utah’s Olympic organizing committee is shooting for.
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