Bozeman hopeful for 2026 Winter Games

With the excitement of the Winter Olympics barely behind us, the world and the International Olympic Committee are already planning the next rounds of games for years to come. Brazil is ramping up for their upcoming Summer Olympic games for 2016, and Pyeongchang, South Korea, is beginning the planning process for the 2018 Winter Olympic games. However, a question circulating around our nation is, when will the United States host another Olympic games?

The last time the United States hosted the Olympic games was more than ten years ago, in 2002, in Salt Lake City. Although the United States has held the most Olympic games of any nation (eight, four summer games and four winter), a bid for the United States is long overdue.

Typically, each nation interested in hosting the Olympics brings forth their pick before the International Olympic Committee nine years prior to the actual game year. Currently, the United States has six cities interested in submitting a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic games: Anchorage, Reno/Tahoe, Salt Lake City, Boston, Denver and our own Bozeman.

There has already been some chatter about Bozeman as a potential Olympic bid, for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Although the United States chose not to submit a city for those games, the possibility piqued the interest of many in the Gallatin Valley nonetheless. Efforts to submit Bozeman as a potential candidate for 2026 have already garnered some attention.

Knee-jerk, the thought of such a major world event in the jewel of Montana seems wonderful. Bozeman boasts some of the best winter sport conditions in the nation, and is certainly more suited for winter games than this year’s host, Sochi. Sochi, strangely, is one of the only places in Russia where snow can actually be scarce. Despite initial hopefulness, there is serious criticism and consideration involving such an endeavor for the Bozeman area, which was discussed in the John’s Sports Talk column in the February 7 edition of the Exponent.

Bozeman is experiencing growing pains. The population of Gallatin County varies from 95 to 100 thousand people, depending on the time of year. Despite this, its infrastructure still resembles that of a 20,000 person cowtown in some parts of the city. Many residents cling to the notion of Bozeman being one of the “last best places”, and abhor the thought of sustained growth, despite its inevitability.

From this, many opponents of a possible 2026 Winter Olympics in Bozeman will claim that Gallatin County doesn’t have nearly enough infrastructure or financial capability to host the games. This is true, for the present, but doesn’t take into consideration that the proposed hosting wouldn’t be for another 12 years. Bozeman has the fastest growing population in Montana, and is one of the fastest growing places in the nation that isn’t under the direct influence of a natural resource. Current population estimates place Bozeman proper at about 95,000 residents in the year 2025, and if the ratio of Bozeman residents to Gallatin County residents remains the same during that time, nearly a quarter of a million people will be living in the Gallatin Valley. The infrastructure at that time will be more than capable of hosting an Olympic event.

Going off of infrastructure, it is important to note the benefit of the various facilities required to host the Olympic games. Bobcat Stadium would almost certainly be built upon to house the opening ceremonies, and Montana State University would become a name recognized around the world. The Fieldhouse would most likely be torn down and replaced with an arena with much more seating. Alternatively, a separate arena could be built, providing Bozeman with a performing arts and sports arena for the future. Outside of the university, Bridger Bowl, Big Sky and Moonlight Basin would all receive significant refurbishments to host the games. Never again would there be a traffic jam to find parking at Bridger Bowl.

In reality, an undertaking such as the Olympic Games is a daunting thought, but it wouldn’t be without great payoff. The chance for Bozeman to yield incredible financial gains, healthy growth and a place in Olympic history is certainly worth the exposure.