Aspen School District athletes get new state-of-the-art turf field, shock pad
Not all turf is created equal, and the playing surface the Aspen High School athletes now find themselves competing on rivals that of many professionals.
The Aspen School District replaced its 13-year-old turf field over the summer, upgrading with a new shock pad and infill that gives the Skiers the newest technology under their cleats.
“It’s a fantastic field. It’s the best products out there. We’ve put a great field together for our kids,” AHS athletic director Martha Richards said. “Everything about it is healthier. And it’s an incredible performing field, too. It’s not only that we wanted great healthy products, we wanted it to perform at a really high level. And this is as good a field as you’ll see.”
The crux of the new turf is what’s underneath. Richards brought in Boulder-based Brock USA to install its state-of-the-art shock pad and infill — called BrockFILL — in what ended up being a roughly $800,000 project budgeted by the district. The shock pad includes a 25-year warranty and the new turf should last more than a decade.
The new turf surface — which is more than 96,000 square feet — is a product of Tennessee-based GreenFields. Denver’s Academy Sports Turf was the contractor that managed the different entities of the project.
“It’s going to be one of the best playing surfaces we’ll see in the conference,” AHS boys soccer coach Dave Francis said. “The bounce is definitely more true than a traditional turf. So it’s going to feel a little more like grass. It’s not quite as quick as our old one was.”
The new field made its official debut last week when the AHS boys soccer team hosted Basalt in the season opener, falling 2-1 in overtime.
Artificial turf fields have long been little more than a thin piece of fake grass put down over concrete. The infill used in most cases was sand and crumb rubber, essentially recycled tires that was often seen as unsafe, for a variety of reasons. BrockFILL is made of a softwood pine that provides better, natural footing and cooler field temperatures than crumb rubber, while the shock pad makes sports like football much safer. From the turf to the shock pad, there is about 3 inches of material between the athletes and the base.
“That shock pad layer has allowed the industry to move away from that crumb rubber and that is now what’s installed here in Aspen,” said Brock USA chief media officer Josh Palubicki. “We’ve been striving to find a true replacement for crumb rubber to appease people’s concerns for their children and its impact on the environment and its heat issues.”
Crumb rubber is a main reason older turf fields have a tendency to reach unsafe temperatures, which could be 30 to 40 degrees higher than the ambient air temperature. The softwood used in BrockFILL has the ability to absorb moisture out of the air, which Palubicki said is slowly released throughout the day to help create a cooler playing surface.
The Brock USA team used an infrared drone to compare surface temperature on its newly installed Aspen field and the more traditional turf located on the Aspen Recreation Center’s Iselin Field, and found the BrockFILL kept temperatures more than 20 degrees cooler.
Brock USA also claims its product is environmentally friendly and recyclable and through its heating process the softwood is resistant to fungus and mold. The field has extensive drainage channels that should eliminate the possibility of standing water due to rain or melted snow.
“The BrockFILL will never go to a landfill,” Palubicki said. “For every tree that is harvested to create the infill, 10 more are planted. We only work with certified, sustainable managed forests. And the shock pad underneath will also never go to a landfill.”
Brock USA works with many college and professional teams. A handful of NFL franchises, including the Cowboys, Texans and Patriots, use Brock shock pads in their practice facilities.
The most noticeable difference for the general fan in Aspen will be the new black end zones. The old field had green end zones that matched the rest of the field. Richards pointed out how the end zone closest to town reads “Aspen” while the end zone closest to Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk reads “Skiers.” The new surface also has permanent lines in place for girls lacrosse and for coaching boxes.
“The old turf field had seen its time, and getting a new field in here, safety-wise, is priority No. 1,” AHS football coach Travis Benson said. “No. 2 is having the consistent surface. Obviously there is no secret anymore in my second year as head coach that we like to throw the ball and spread things out and play in space. Any time you can get stable footing is a great home-field advantage.”
The AHS football team will open its season Sept. 7 on the new turf field against Bayfield in what will be a preseason top-10 matchup.
For Richards, who took over in 2017, the installation of the new field was the conclusion of her first significant project as athletic director.
“It feels great. It was a lot on my plate last year,” Richards said. “It was a big one. I’m excited to have it done because A, I want our kids playing on a better surface. But B, it’s also … nice for me to get something this big off my plate so I can really focus on our kids and coaches.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Brock shock pads are used by some NFL teams’ practice facilities.
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The Little Nell Hotel Group, a division of Aspen Skiing Co., announced Friday that it purchased seven acres of vacant land at the base of Mammoth Mountain. It plans to build a Limelight hotel and residences. The size hasn’t been disclosed yet.