Now that football is over, our sports-saturated culture will look to obsess over the next exciting sport that presents itself. Entering right on cue, the Sochi Winter Olympics begin today! Sports that we only watch once every four years will become a daily drug for many Americans, as we glue ourselves to our television sets. Also around this time of year the subject of Bozeman hosting a Winter Olympics seems to make a few local headlines. Apparently this is more than a pipe dream, with at least one website (www.bozeman2026.com) dedicated to bringing the winter games to the Gallatin Valley in 2026. While this alone doesn’t say much (there is a website for every obscure cause these days) does Bozeman actually have a shot at hosting the biggest international winter sports event someday?
Of course, like many things in sports, the first aspect of hosting an Olympics is money, and being named host is no financial picnic. This year’s Sochi Olympics are estimated at costing a record $50 billion. This is probably not a great indicator of what an Olympics would cost in Bozeman, as Russia is buying an extravagant Olympics to show off their country, much like China did in Beijing in 2008. A better model to go off of is the last time the U.S. hosted a winter games, in Salt Lake City in 2002. That year, Salt Lake City spent $1.2 billion, with $600 million coming from local taxpayers. Every citizen in Gallatin County would have to contribute over $6,000 in extra taxes to reach this figure. This number would go down to $600 per person if everyone in the state of Montana voted to get behind the effort, but this increase would be too much for state citizens to justify the games, given that the primary benefit would be for the Gallatin Valley. Not to mention the total estimate of $1.2 billion is low to start with, as it is from twelve years ago and in a city with more infrastructure in place. The bottom line is that the organizing committee of Bozeman 2026 would have to jump through some major financial hoops and look for monetary help from either the federal government or private investors in order to get the games off the ground. Even if funding could be secured, hosting an Olympics is a major future financial risk. The Montreal Games of 1976 took 30 years to pay off their Olympic debt, and Athens in 2004 lost so much money that it was a major contributing factor to Greece’s total financial collapse as a country.
Another major factor is infrastructure. Bozeman does have great skiing infrastructure with Bridger Bowl and world-class resort Big Sky nearby. Bobcat Stadium could host the opening ceremonies, but the seating capacity would have to at least be doubled. While the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse could host some events, the city would have to build at least four more arenas with a combined capacity that is bigger than the city’s population. Another critical aspect would be transportation and housing. An estimated 2.1 million people attended the first three days of the London 2012 games, double the population of Montana. Building enough hotels, restaurants and amenities for all the people the games would bring, in addition to over 2,500 athletes participating in the games, is an extremely tall order for a town of just under 40,000 people. The airport would have to be given a major expansion and the Gallatin Gateway highway to Big Sky would have to be expanded and tunneled through the mountains, creating environmental issues. The biggest problem with all this is when the games are over. The events only last two weeks, but the buildings and infrastructure are permanent. If left empty or unused, this could result in local and regional financial collapse.
While all of these issues and many others I have not touched on are daunting, they aren’t the biggest reasons why I would advocate for not hosting an Olympics in Bozeman. The Olympics would forever change Bozeman, and not necessarily in a good way. The Gallatin Valley would have to see an increase in population and tourism in order for the games to be a financial success, and this influx of people would forever take away Bozeman’s small-town feel. Bozeman has all the recreational benefits of a world-class mountain town without the crowdedness or other problems of a bigger city like Salt Lake or Denver. Part of what makes this town special is that its residents know it is one of the nation’s best kept secrets for a great place to live. That secret would be ruined with Olympic exposure, and could end up being the biggest price to pay of all.