Soldier Hollow to host first Biathlon World Cup in 17 years
Next February, Soldier Hollow is set to host its first biathlon World Cup in 17 years.
It’s a big moment for the venue, which will have invested $1.2 million into improvements by the time the competition arrives, and a big moment for the U.S. team, which has trained there almost every year since the 2002 Winter Olympics.
On Monday, athletes and representatives of the U.S. Biathlon team, plus Colin Hilton, president and CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, announced the World Cup location at a press conference at Soldier Hollow.
“Attendees; that’s our biggest thing,” Hilton said at the announcement. “We want to get the folks in Utah out to watch this competition. We want to see five; six thousand fans every day. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Utah to showcase our love of Olympic winter sport and the fact that we someday want to host another Olympics here in the United States, and we think our location here in Utah is perfect for that.”
Max Cobb, president and CEO of U.S. Biathlon, said the 2002 Winter Games drew 16,000 people to the venue to watch the biathlon and cross country competitions.
“So maybe we won’t have as many as the Olympics, but let’s try and get close,” he said.
Then there’s television.
Cobb said NBC has announced it will cover every World Cup competition through its Olympic channel and sports network.
“That’s the first time we have coverage of every World Cup race happening around the world available in the United States,” Cobb said. “It’s a huge milestone for us.”
The coverage is part of NBC’s “Snow Pass,” which is part of the company’s Sports Gold streaming service. In addition to biathlon, the pass will provide coverage of FIS World Cups and Championships in alpine skiing, Nordic combined, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, freestyle skiing and snowboarding. The service is $69.99 for the season, which runs until April 30.
When Soldier Hollow hosts the World Cup, Cobb said NBC’s coverage will run at primetime in Europe and could reach as many as 25 million viewers worldwide.
The added coverage and World Cup come at a good time for the upstart U.S. team.
Last year, USA finished fourth overall in the World Championship medal standings after Susan Dunklee took silver in the women’s 12.5K mass start, and Lowell Bailey (who retired last season after finishing the national championships in a neck-and-neck race with his teammate, Tim Burke, at Soldier Hollow) took gold in the 20K individual race.
“We had an amazing World Championships, and we saw what America is capable of,” Dunklee said at the press conference. “But that’s just a taste.”
She added that, in the coming years, she expects Americans to become more interested in the sport, and the four-year deal with NBC is going to be “huge.”
Hilton said the television revenue will also play a part in mitigating the costs of hosting a World Cup, allowing the venue to “almost break even” in the process.
Then there’s the improvements.
The Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, which took over the venue in 2015, is receiving financial help from the Utah Sports Commission, and will have spent approximately $1.2 million in improvements to earn the necessary certifications to host the World Cup.
Hilton said the projects include an underpass that was constructed two summers ago that allows officials to reach the other side of the course without crossing over the snow, snowmaking, the venue’s power supply, trails, shooting range and parking lots.
Hilton said the parking lots will be expanded to stage 72 temporary team cabins and host as many as 5,000 people who drove to the event.
“It will also be used for every event we do, from sheepdogs, to Dirty Dashes, to other summer event stuff,” he said.
Meanwhile, a construction crew is installing around 3,000 feet of new piping to stop leaks that made snowmaking difficult last season, and together with unseasonably warm weather, forced the relocation of a large collegiate cross-country race to Montana.
“For a number of years it’s been an issue,” said Scott Peterson, head of mountain operations. “It will be really nice to have some new pipe in the ground. Much more reliable, hopefully.”
The system had not been replaced since it was installed in the runup to the 2002 Winter Games. Last season there were times when the system was leaking as many as 330 gallons a minute, according to Peterson.
Hilton said the Legacy Foundation started making improvements and seeking another World Cup soon after the organization took over management in 2015.
Before that, Hilton said the cost of hosting a World Cup was prohibitive for the venue, which was run separately from the Olympic Park and Olympic Oval.
“Lets just say it’s a higher priority now,” he said.
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