Chances are you’ve visited the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) to see athletes compete, feel the rush of a bobsled, or swoosh down a ski jump into a pool. With nearly 400 acres, the park is hard to miss.
Over 20 years ago, the world turned its eye to Park City for the 2002 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. After years of preparation, we were ready. But Utah did something unique: it not only planned for the games, it planned for the future.
“We’re a living legacy,” says Colin Hilton, president and CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation (UOLF). “Today, our training facilities are four times busier than they were just after 2002.” Those facilities include the UOP, Utah Olympic Oval, and Soldier Hollow Nordic Center.
Most recently, the UOP expanded its offerings with a new Alpine ski racing training center that relieves the demand on local ski areas while also creating a home base for local ski teams. “Ski resorts are challenged to make early snow, get the mountain ready for visitors, train athletes, and host competitions on busy winter weekends,” explains Colin.
The project, called the “Mountain Expansion,” has created a place where developing and elite athletes can train side by side and national and international teams can compete on an Olympic-caliber hill. To realize the project, UOP partnered with the state, Park City Ski & Snowboard, Rowmark Ski Academy, and the University of Utah. The generosity of many donors and stakeholders, and support from Park City Mountain, Deer Valley Resort, and Woodward Park City was integral to the project’s success.
“The UOP is second to none, it caters to athletes’ needs and what we want to see in terms of terrain and consistency,” says Tommy Eckfeldt, Alpine program director at Park City Ski & Snowboard. “It allows us to provide top-notch programming every day of the week. At times, we’ve been restricted by sharing space with other teams. Now, we can showcase our athletes on home turf with little constraint.”
Efficient training is key, especially for students who are balancing school, work, and training.
“This shortens travel time because the team can start early, park in the lot, get on the chairlift, and go,” says Justin “JJ” Johnson, head Alpine coach at the University of Utah. “They don’t have to wait until the resort opens or stand in line with the public.”
The teams also have control over the state of the terrain. “We can turn on the hoses, get hard snow, and tell the cat drivers where, or where not, to groom,” JJ says. “That gives us a competitive edge.”
But the facilities aren’t only for future Olympians. “We’re committed to getting kids off the couch, off their screens, and out having fun with friends,” says Colin. “Our programs help us get good coaches so kids learn life lessons and develop good skills. We’re just as excited about the 99 kids having a fantastic experience as we are about the one that goes on to be an Olympian. Our facilities and programs are for all ages and all ability levels. We’re dedicated to cultivating champions in sport and in life.”
Phase 1 of the Mountain Expansion was completed in 2019 and features an enhanced intermediate hill with six new acres of Alpine and freestyle ski training and competition terrain that includes slalom and giant slalom runs.
“Park City Mountain also provides a tremendous training venue but it’s getting tougher to access. Increasing traffic and parking are becoming hard to overcome,” says Todd Brickson, program director at Rowmark Ski Academy. “The new UOP venues give us all more space and accessibility to train on exactly what we need, when we need it. It’s a state-of-the-art project and a game changer to develop world-class ski racers.”
A $5 million grant from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation helped get Phase 2 up and running in time for ski season. “This helps us make early snow as soon as it’s cold enough,” says Colin. The new facilities include 25 acres of advanced training and competition terrain for Alpine and freestyle athletes. Enhancements include a new high-speed quad chairlift, two additional advanced ski runs, state-of-the-art snowmaking systems, and lights for night training.
“Spence Eccles has been a huge supporter for many years,” says Colin. “This incredibly generous gift helps complete Phase 2 and attract and broaden the users in Alpine and freestyle winter sports.”
Each of the Mountain Expansion stakeholders have helped make the new UOP facilities more affordable and more accessible to kids. It provides a place where positive relationships can be built — both locally and globally.