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On the Trail When Denver Won (and then lost) the 1976 Olympics

February 26 2002 at 9:12 AM
roger  (no login)

Response to 20 Couples Wed on Continental Divide in Colorado

To the left, this ridge swells slightly to the prominence of 13,284-foot Mt. Sniktau. Sniktau — named after an early judge in Clear Creek County — is a relatively easy hike from Loveland Pass.

Sniktau is a footnote in Olympic history. As Colorado’s ski industry began gaining vigor after World War II, there was talk in 1949, 1956, and again in 1963 of seeking to host the Winter Olympics. This latter effort led to the 1970 decision by the International Olympic Committee to award Denver the right to host the Olympics in 1976.

Much as Salt Lake City is doing this year, Denver figured to host the ice skating as well as the opening and closing events. But Denver and Salt Lake City have very different associations with their hinterland ski resorts.

It’s only 30 miles from Salt Lake City to Park City, the site of many events this week. Snowbasin, site of the downhill, isn’t much farther. From Denver, 30 miles gets you to Idaho Springs, which is as dry as a cat box most winters.

The problem for Denver was that Loveland Basin, an hour west of the city, is the closest ski area. It had no course suitable for the men’s downhill or GS.

Looking about, consultants for the Denver Olympic Organizing Committee cast their eyes on Mt. Sniktau. The trails would have led from timberline down the northeast side onto the valley floor near Bakerville. As you drive up I-70 from Silver Plume, Sniktau is the broad peak on the left.

Sniktau eventually was ruled due to snow, wind and terrain problems. Keystone, which had just opened, proposed Independence Mountain, adjacent to the resort. Meanwhile, Pete Seibert, founder and president of Vail Associates, pushed Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek was where the proposal stood when, in 1972, Colorado voters (myself among them) rejected tax subsidies.

Without taxpayer subsidies, the Olympic balloon immediately popped. The 1976 games were held instead in Innsbruck, Austria. Beaver Creek finally opened in 1981, and a garter-snake of a downhill course (it featured a much-ballyhooed Rattlesnake Alley) previewed there at the 1989 World Alpine Skiing Championships. A true, Olympic-caliber downhill course wasn’t designed there until 1999. Independence Mountain still hasn’t been developed, and neither, of course, has Sniktau.

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