Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club upping its game

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
AVSC courtesy photo

The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club aims to get started this summer on a plan that eventually will add or overhaul Nordic, freeride, snowboarding and alpine racing facilities at Aspen Highlands over the next two years.

The ski club is working with Aspen Skiing Co. on proposals that range from adding snowmaking on a nordic course to allow earlier use to building a surface lift on Golden Horn trail that will allow alpine racers to make quicker, more convenient laps on the course.

The ambitious, $5 million plan is necessary, in part, to make sure that the club’s competitors spend more time training on their home turf and less time traveling to facilities elsewhere, said Mark Cole, executive director of AVSC.

The enhancements also will make sure AVSC competitors have the tools they need to compete in today’s tough atmosphere, said Walt Evans, the club’s director of excellence. Some of the facilities will help the club’s athletes train year-round.

The eye-catching components of the plan are a vastly improved freeride and snowboard-training site in the Thunderbowl arena, on the lower slopes of Highlands. Snow ramps of different sizes will be built to allow freestylers to practice aerial acrobatics with safety. A soft air bag will be placed at the bottom of the ramps. An existing mogul course will be relocated east so it doesn’t interfere as much with the flow of recreational skiers, Evans said.

Farther up the mountain on the Golden Horn trail, AVSC wants to expand the alpine training site to turn it into the “Maserati” of venues. A surface lift, such as a platter pull, would be added from the top of the existing Five Trees lift to the top of Golden Horn. Racers could make more training laps because they wouldn’t have to ride the slower Exhibition chairlift out of the base. The surface lift wouldn’t be added until summer 2014.

A key for both the freeride and alpine training facilities is a plan for greatly enhanced snowmaking. Cole said the 40-year-old pipe in Thunderbowl would be replaced and extended up Golden Horn.

The Golden Horn trail is an excellent alpine training venue because it is so wide, Cole said. The shortcoming is it often lacks good early-season snow, so AVSC racers are forced to travel to other resorts to start their training. Six water hydrants for snowmaking will be added along Golden Horn to provide excellent conditions for early-season training.

AVSC would raise operating revenues by renting space at the Golden Horn facilities to other teams seeking venues for early-season training.

“This is a model that’s already operating in Vail,” Cole said.

Snowmaking is also being examined on the cross-country trail loop that starts outside the AVSC clubhouse and travels up the hill. That loop includes the Flume. AVSC wants to add snowmaking to cover the course and add a month of early training to the Nordic skiers’ season. It hopes to run a trial with portable snowmaking guns in the upcoming winter to make sure the concept is sound, according to Cole.

Another vital part of the plan for expansion, though not as sexy as those on the slopes, is the freeride and snowboard training site in the backyard of the Friedl Pfeifer Clubhouse. A foam pit will be added to the anti-gravity center, which already features a Flybed trampoline. The facilities allow elite athletes to hone tricky maneuvers through the summer. The addition of the foam pit will create a low-impact landing zone that will allow younger athletes to use the area more frequently. The facilities in the backyard will be submerged so they are flush with the ground and less obtrusive.

The freeride facilities are designed so athletes progress from the backyard trampolines and foam pit to the ramp with an air bag uon which to land safely in the Thunderbowl arena to ramps with steep snow landings.

Aspen Skiing Co., which has planned the on-slope facilities with the ski club, will shepherd the project through the review process. Various parts need approvals from the city of Aspen, Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service.

AVSC is two-thirds of the way to its goal of raising $15 million for the training facilities and an endowment. The club has received $10 million in commitments for its Secure Our Future campaign. When it reaches its $15 million goal, $10 million will go to the Bob Beattie Perpetual Endowment Fund, which will create a permanent source of funding for ski club participants who need financial assistance. The fund will honor Beattie, a Woody Creek resident who has taken numerous steps to promote and advance skiing in the Roaring Fork Valley and the United States.

AVSC has received commitments for three contributions of $3 million each and three others for between $500,000 and $1 million, Cole said. Donors haven’t been identified. The club is preparing to take its fund-raising effort public to secure the final $5 million. At this point, it’s raised enough to pursue its plan.

“I’m excited you’re going to see some important progress this summer,” Cole said.