Coaches, athletes weigh in on USSA’s training center plans |

Coaches, athletes weigh in on USSA’s training center plans

Dave Shively

— Looking down the road to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association hopes to establish a cornerstone of national prominence and success. But the snow sports’ national governing body is laying that foundation 300 miles west of the city that has produced more winter Olympians than any other nationwide.

On July 18, the USSA had a groundbreaking ceremony – one USSA president and CEO Bill Marolt called “the most significant event in our 102-year history” – for the construction of the $22.5 million Center of Excellence located in Park City, Utah.

The new three-story structure will supplement the overextended needs of the national Alpine and Nordic training center established by the U.S. Ski Team in former silver mining buildings at what was then Park City Ski Area in 1973.

“Usually, only the Nordic and freestyle teams live here, but when teams come to town, the ski team weight room is just packed,” said Steamboat Springs native Bryan Fletcher, who is preparing for his second year on the U.S. Nordic combined team. “Right now, everybody comes here, and you can only do certain types of training – the endurance training you can’t do well, and the sport therapy area is really small.”

The center plans to house physical training facilities – aerials and snowboard ramps, trampoline areas, weight rooms, a gymnasium and a recovery room – as well as a cardio center, nutrition center, sports medicine and “Space Age communications facilities” that will provide members of the USSA’s hundreds of nationwide clubs with real-time video presentations.

Still, Nordic combined A-team skier Johnny Spillane would rather live and train in Steamboat.

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“I think it’s obviously awesome for the ski team to have everyone centralized, and all that stuff is awesome and helpful, and I’m still spending a ton of time there, but I like it here better,” said Spillane, who recently returned to Steamboat Springs from Utah.

And as far as winter training goes, Spillane still thinks Steamboat offers what the new facility cannot.

“The jumps are in great shape, there’s better cross-country trails and better snow,” Spillane said of his hometown.

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club freestyle program director Erik Skinner also said Steamboat’s natural amenities and existing facilities rival and exceed many of Park City’s, considering Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.’s remarks at the groundbreaking that he hoped the center’s construction would solidify the state’s image as “the premier winter sports destination in the world.”

One example Skinner points to is the Voo Doo course at the Steamboat Ski Area, which he called “one of the premier training/competition courses in the world that the Club builds and maintains and will have a new six-pack chairlift that will only enlighten it.”

In the summer, Steamboat has carved an established training niche with Park City athletes traveling here to jump at Howelsen Hill’s all-weather K-68 and the freestyle water ramps at Bald Eagle Lake.

While Skinner knows, in the short term, Utah clubs surely will benefit from proximity to the Center, he doesn’t anticipate a talent drain from the Winter Sports Club, considering that by the time the Center is complete in 2009, he hopes the Winter Sports Club will have added the few facility extras they currently lack, which the Park City Center will offer club athletes, such as a foam pit.

For now, both he and snowboard program director Jon Casson don’t foresee the necessity of driving to Utah when they have the same resources at home.

“We’ve got most of the things they have planned for there,” Casson said. “There, it’s just the most state-of-the-art.”

Regardless, the coaches know the center can’t hurt. Casson said that upon completion, he might consider taking some riders – who, as USSA members, have access – out in the fall for fitness testing to set training benchmarks.

“It’s close enough driving distance that we can take advantage,” Casson said, pointing out that Steamboat’s location gives it a leg up on the nation’s other clubs. “I think it will be cool and beneficial to help athletes set goals and augment dry-land training, and give kids something to strive for on the U.S. team.”

The center’s completion will answer the question of whether it lives up to Marolt’s billing that it “isn’t just another gym with a fancy strength room.”

For one, it finally will centralize the U.S. coaches and administrators under one roof. For young athletes like Fletcher, knowing the USSA is investing in his future training only bolsters his singular focus to keep improving.

“When I’m in Steamboat, I’m at home, so there’s friends and distractions, but in Park City, it’s business – I need it to be like that when you’re trying to be focused,” Fletcher said. “I know they’re setting up the long-term here, and it’s nice to know it will build athletes up for the future, and that whenever I’m done competing, there’ll still be something there for the next guys.”