After losing the Olympic bid to Nagano, Japan in 1998, one of America’s favorite ski destinations finally won the chance to showcase its top-notch facilities and powder snow to the world. Plagued by financial scandals and security concerns in the months after September 11, the games in Salt Lake City were a triumph thanks to a combination of national pride, great organization, and knee-deep snowfall the week before the games.
Skiers know there’s no dearth of excellent terrain in Utah: Park City, Deer Valley, Snowbird, Alta. However, the downhill course was ultimately constructed at the then relatively unknown Snowbasin resort just East of Ogden, Utah, because it was the only ski area with a base area large enough to handle Olympic-sized crowds.
Designed by famed course architect Bernhard Russi, the aptly named men’s “Grizzly” course was a bear. Dropping 2,900 vertical feet in just under two miles, the Grizzly has been described as the most difficult downhill in the United States—or the “Kitzbuhel of North America,” a reference to the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuhel, Austria, widely acknowledged as the fastest and most treacherous in the world.
Today, the Grizzly run looks a bit different. It’s groomed, and its jumps have been ironed out. But the spectacular views of Wasatch Front, the Ogden Valley, and the Great Salt Lake remain the same. The neighboring Wildflower run, the women’s downhill, offers nearly the same vertical drop of 2,625 feet. Carole Montillet-Carles of France took the gold in the women’s downhill, while Austrian Fritz Strobl won the men’s. However, the queen of the 2002 winter games was Croatia’s Janica Kostelić who won three gold medals in slalom, giant slalom, and combined and a silver in the super-G, making her the first Olympic alpine skier to win four medals at one Games.