Reno Tahoe coalition has hurdles to clear to get the 2026 Winter Olympics

CARSON CITY — The Sochi Olympics are expected to cost $51 billion. And a new study shows that only six of the 19 cities that hosted past Winter Olympics will have enough snow to host them after 2100.

Squaw Valley, 42 miles southwest of Reno, hosted the 1960 Winter Games, but it won’t have the snow to host another Olympics by 2050, according to a study released in January by the University of Waterloo in Canada.

So what’s going to happen to the dream of Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and the Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition? They repeatedly have tried to coax the U.S. and International Olympic committees to award a winter games to the Reno-Tahoe area.

“We still believe Lake Tahoe will be the next region in North America to host a Winter Olympics games,” said Krolicki, chairman of the Reno Tahoe coalition for nearly a decade. “It is our passion. It is a dream you have to believe in. It would be an incredible chance to showcase our region and improve tourism and economic development for generations.”

He noted Wednesday that 55,000 tickets were sold for a curling tournament in Las Vegas last month, evidence that even Southern Nevadans would be eager for a Reno-Tahoe Winter Olympics. Corny as curling might be, it has become one of the favorite Winter Olympics sports.

When the U.S. Olympic Committee decided against having an American city bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics two years ago, the Reno Tahoe coalition just changed the year on its T-shirts and immediately began talking about hosting the 2026 Winter Games.

But that rejection came before the costs of the games in Sochi, Russia, were known and the prediction that few sites of past Winter Games will have enough snow to host them again.

KROLICKi STILL OPTIMISTIC

“Lake Tahoe is in the midst of ski season,” said Krolicki, who lives in Stateline on the south side of the lake. “I attended my daughter’s ski race (Tuesday). I don’t think anyone can make a prognosis on the snowfall decades from now.”

Krolicki noted that there had been a dearth of snow in Squaw Valley up to almost the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 18, 1960.

“Then there was a tremendous snow at the beginning of the games,” said Krolicki, noting that Vice President Richard Nixon arrived late after landing at the airport in Reno because of snow problems.

John Killoran, CEO of the Reno Tahoe coalition, said two of his board members are in Sochi and looking for ideas that might help them in future Olympics bids. One idea they won’t consider is spending anything near what the Sochi games cost.

When it comes to weather, all recent Winter Olympics cities have had backup plans such as storing and making snow, Killoran said.

He said that Reno has more hotel rooms than Salt Lake City — which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics and also wants the 2026 games — and world-class ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. Sochi had neither before pouring billions of dollars into its Olympics effort.

Killoran said that the Lake Tahoe area already has received a lot of attention from athletes who have earned medals. Jamie Anderson of South Lake Tahoe won the gold medal in snowboard slopestyle, and veteran skier Julia Mancuso of Squaw Valley won a bronze in skiing combined. It was her fourth medal in the past three Olympics.

Both Sochi and Reno temperatures have been in the 60s in recent days. Mountain temperatures at Lake Tahoe and Krasnaya Polyana, the ski area outside Sochi, have been in the 40s and 50s.

Until two recent snows, the snowpack in the Lake Tahoe area was dismal. Even now, it is about 20 percent of normal.

“While this year is an anomaly for you, the long-term prognosis for natural snow cover and the ability to make snow is not positive,” said Daniel Scott, one of the Canadian professors who did the “Future of the Winter Olympics in a Warmer World” study.

Scott serves as the Canada research chairman on Global Change and Tourism.

The University of Waterloo study used data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that found global average surface temperatures will increase as much as 8.6 degrees by the end of the 21st century. They also charted average daytime temperatures in February at all of the Olympics sites and found they have steadily increased since 1920.

Squaw Valley on an annual basis gets more snow than most of the other 14 Lake Tahoe area ski resorts. On Thursday, it had a base of 68 inches of snow at 8,200 feet. Kirkwood, which in some years has more snow than any resort in the world, had a base of 18 inches.

OLYMPICS MUST MAKE A PROFIT

In leading the Reno Tahoe coalition, Krolicki had expressed confidence that the costs of a Reno-Tahoe Olympics could be paid through TV rights, ticket sales and grants. He noted that the Salt Lake City games made a $100 million profit.

But total costs of that Olympics were only $2 billion. Costs for the Torino, Italy, games in 2006 climbed to $3.6 billion, and the Winter Games in 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia, jumped to $9.3 billion.

Then came Sochi and the need to construct a winter resort in one of Russia’s warmest regions, create elaborate anti-terrorist security systems and place more police near the Olympic Village than athletes.

Even President Barack Obama, during an interview with NBC, said American cities could not afford the $51 billion it cost Sochi.

When resort owner Alex Cushing won the games in 1955 for Squaw Valley, there was little winter sport activity in the Lake Tahoe area. Squaw had a single chairlift and a 20-room motel, owned by Cushing, a savvy New York lawyer.

“It was the last of the truly amateur Olympics,” Cushing said in a 1988 interview with the Review-Journal. “The athletes all lived under a common roof and ate in a common dining room. There was a friendly spirit. For 10 days, the whole world was there.”

It’s difficult not to think of the 1960 Olympics when you drive around the region. The rings for that Olympics still stand along the entry road to Squaw.

Mancuso, in interviews after her bronze medal performance, mentioned growing up seeing the rings and dreaming of winning medals.

Forbes magazine ranked Squaw Valley as the fifth-best ski resort in the country for 2014. But in its rankings, Forbes noted Squaw’s “capricious snowfall.” It can go a month in winter without any snow and then have 8 feet in three days, according to the magazine.

Heavenly — whose slopes lie in both Nevada and California — generally ranks near the top 10 in some ski magazines. The Best of America website ranks Truckee, Calif., north of Lake Tahoe, as the ninth-best ski town in America. Heavenly earned a No. 5 ranking for nightlife.

The Best of America also said Alpine Meadows on the east shore of Lake Tahoe has the best snowboarding in the country. Northstar at Tahoe has the fourth-best beginner trails, and Squaw Valley has the best off-trail skiing, according to the website.

Krolicki has no interest in duplicating Sochi’s costs.

“We would use the Salt Lake City business model and make a profit from the games,” he said. “If we don’t see an endgame where it would be profitable, we wouldn’t do it.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Follow him on Twitter at @edisonvogel.

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