LAKE TAHOE — With the potential for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games out of the picture, will Lake Tahoe submit a bid for the 2026 Games? While it may seem far away, officials say preparations for a bid must be taken now if Tahoe wants to make a serious run at hosting the international event.
The U.S. Olympic Committee made the decision on July 3 to not submit a bid for the 2022 Games, instead choosing to focus on the 2024 Summer and 2026 Winter Games. This decision was made so potential host cities, as well as the USOC, have more time to prepare thorough, well thought-out bids, according to various reports.
While this news may appear as a setback to some, the Lake Tahoe Winter Games Exploratory Committee is not phased by the longer wait.
“The news that came out ... was not a huge surprise for us,” said Andy Wirth, CEO of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, as well as chairman and president of the exploratory committee. The committee is supportive of the USOC's decision, Wirth said, and actually discussed the fact the USOC may not pursue a 2022 bid.
Lake Tahoe, along with Denver and Bozeman, Mont., had all began preparing bids for the 2022 Games. The Lake Tahoe committee has recently joined forces with several former Olympians and local athletes to promote the Winter Games coming back to the area. Athletes such as Jonny Moseley and Tamara McKinny, as well as several other past Winter Olympians, have all stepped up for their home turf in hopes of bringing the flame back to Olympic Valley and the surrounding areas.
Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960.
“(The committee) plans to remain engaged on future Olympic bidding efforts, should the USOC choose to pursue a Winter Olympic Games,” Wirth said. “There remains a great deal of interest in bringing the Games back to Lake Tahoe.”
One group in particular that is interested in bringing the Olympics — and the large crowds that come with hosting such a large event — back to Tahoe are the local businesses. Steve Hoch, executive director of the Tahoe City Downtown Association, said he is in full support of bringing the Olympics to the lake.
“We think it's a spark for commercial efforts here in the basin,” Hoch said. “It puts us on an international stage once again.”
Hoch added that there are a lot of positives to hosting the Games, besides bringing more business to the area.
“... It gives us an opportunity to upgrade our infrastructure and services for long after. If you have the Olympics in the area, you have to have a seamless infrastructure,” Hoch said. “What could happen in 10 years could happen a lot faster with the Olympics in town. There's nothing like the preparation for, and the funding, that goes with an Olympic bid.”
The current transportation around Lake Tahoe consists of a mostly two-lane road, and some ferry services. With the congestion roads around the basin see now, officials have said that construction of wider roadways or a railway system would be needed to accommodate the thousands, if not millions, of visitors the Games would bring.
According to previous reports, a Tahoe bid for the Winter Games would include Reno and Sacramento as event locations; Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who's helped spearhead the effort over the past few years, has said that an ideal bid could have 75 percent of the events happen outside the Tahoe Basin.
While the Games could jump-start Tahoe's economy and provide more jobs, there are environmental concerns for the area. Ron Grassi, conservation co-chair for the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, said the lake's clarity is getting worse every year.
“You have to ask, can the Tahoe Basin handle it? I'm one of many, but I personally can't even conceive that the basin could handle it,” Grassi said. “What we have to figure out here in the basin is, what is the basin's capacity?”
The Tahoe area is already heavily developed, Grassi said, and it can't possibly handle much more construction, condos, hotels, traffic and general pollution that comes along with too many people in one area.
“At some point, we're going to have just too many (people and buildings),” he said. “I don't think the lake has the capacity to handle a full-blown Olympics.”
Laurel Ames, also with the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, echoed Grassi.
“We're not opposed to the Olympics. That is not the issue,” Ames explained. “It's important to separate enthusiasm for the Olympics from the potential impacts on the Tahoe Basin, and that's difficult.”
Ames has lived in Tahoe since 1947, and has seen the area change drastically from what it once was.
“It's going to take a huge amount of planning and money to protect the lake from a large onset of people, and the Olympics bring a lot of people,” Ames said. “That's a very difficult challenge, not that (the committee) can't do it. Hopefully they can make the kind of effort that is required.”
The South Shore-based League to Save Lake Tahoe is another environmental group concerned about environmental impacts the Olympics could bring.
“Hosting the Olympic Games is one of the greatest challenges any community can face,” Darcie Goodman-Collins, the league's executive director, wrote in an email.
The league is concerned about losing funding to construction of roads and facilities associated with the Olympics, Goodman-Collins said, along with the damage these projects could cause the lake.
“Given the fact that roads and construction actively are the leading causes of Lake Tahoe's continually declining clarity, the league is also concerned about the effects these massive construction projects might have on Tahoe's world-renowned crystal clear waters,” she explained.
The league does look forward to, however, participating in conversations on implementing an environmentally beneficial event that protects Lake Tahoe as a national treasure, Goodman-Collins added.
Both California and Nevada civic leaders are working together, pushing for an Olympic bid. While the Reno-Tahoe Coalition no longer exists, the states will continue to work side by side to determine where to host various events, Wirth said.
Still, the concern for the environmental impacts remain.
“There are efforts (being taken) based around sustainability projects that can leave the area better than before the Winter Games,” Wirth explained. “We're building and developing a coalition of the region's top environmental leaders.”
While the coalition has not yet announced the environmentalists involved in the committee, Wirth noted that leaving the Tahoe area better than they found it is one of the main priorities.
“There are certain projects we could consider from staging the Games, (such as) improving the transportation infrastructure in the region. Things like a light rail from Reno to this area are certainly not off the table,” Wirth said. “Increasing quality and clarity of the lake by removing the negative projects surrounding the lake. (We've) set the objectives and strategic goal of having events that leave the lake in better shape than it was.”
Wirth added that these ideas are not unfounded, noting other cities that have hosted the Games have also improved their infrastructure and environment. Wirth explained that both the Salt Lake City and Vancouver Olympics left positive economic, as well as environmental, footprints following the events.
Some conservationists remain skeptical, however, and protective of their lake.
“It's a risky thing,” said Bob Anderson, chair of the executive committee of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club. “It's a lot of risk for the lake. There will be years of increased visitation and development (following the Games).”
“All I can say is I love the Olympics, and I love to watch them,” Grassi added. “I just don't see it fitting in at Lake Tahoe.”