Soft opening for AVSC; grand opening Nov. 25 | AspenTimes.com

Soft opening for AVSC; grand opening Nov. 25

AVSC staff report

In a career that has spanned more than 40 years in the ski industry, three marquee events stand out for Walt Evans, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club's director of excellence.

Competing on the 1968 alpine team for the University of Wyoming that won the NCAA title was a big event for the young athlete.

So was coaching the powerhouse U.S. juniors team, winners of the 2004 Marc Hodler Cup.

Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety and Andrew Weibrecht shined in Slovenia at the competition that rewards the nation with the most top-10 finishes in all disciplines, including combined.

Competing for a spot on the podium in Evans' top memories was Saturday's opening of the Stapleton Training Center at Aspen Highlands.

As AVSC team athletes waited for the 9 a.m. start of the Thunderbowl lift, Evans looked proudly at the kids lucky enough to be invited to the Nov. 15 soft opening of the venue.

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"Saturday was one of those marquee days when everything came together between Skico, the weather, our athletes and our coaches," Evans said.

Aspen Highlands Mountain Manager Kevin Hagerty was on hand for the opening.

Recent storms had blanketed Golden Horn with a nice white carpet to augment snowmaking.

Evans, who started his ski career in Steamboat Springs back in 1970, smiled when recalling "sending those first kids up the lift to ski and ride on the Dave Stapleton Training Center."

This was the earliest that AVSC has been able to get on snow for local lift-accessed skiing and riding.

The naming of the center honors the Stapleton family, whose involvement in alpine racing spans more than 60 years as competitors, race officials, volunteers and AVSC board members.

One of the upper Roaring Fork Valley's original ranching families, the Stapleton's legacy continues through their contributions to the development of the Highlands venue that allows athletes to train early season in their own backyard.

The Stapleton Training Center also will host visiting teams. Tuesday saw the arrival of the Park City ski team, in advance of the national team later this week.

Farther down the mountain, moguls are starting to develop naturally, as snow groomers start preparations for the relocated bump course.

"The pitch and length make it one of the best mogul courses in the world for training," said AVSC Freestyle Director Eric Knight.

Near the bottom of Thunderbowl, skiers and riders got their tricks on by hiking the short distance from the base to make repeat laps on the two rails.

Preparation of the venue for the early season should pay benefits in April when AVSC hosts FIS Spring Series speed events including a pair of downhills and super-G's that last year attracted Olympians including Hodler Cup winner Andrew Weibrecht.

Those races should be the culmination of a season that started in mid-November, included the Wilder Dwight memorial races, a late January FIS speed series, USSA age class slaloms, RMD moguls events, Paralympic training, town series and masters racers and the National Brotherhood's downhill, giant slalom and slalom events.

First, though, is a fete to honor the grand opening of the Stapleton Training Venue. The public is invited to the Highlands Pizza Co. on Tuesday from 2-5 p.m. for food, refreshments and celebration.

Weekly with Walt

AVSC's new alpine head coach, Johno McBride, is the featured guest on the GrassRoots TV program "Weekly with Walt," which debuts for the season tonight (Nov. 19). McBride will talk about his storied coaching history, which includes a tenure as Bode Miller's private coach, his history with AVSC and the changes he has made to the program this year as the club begins its 78th competitive season.

Also featured on "Weekly with Walt" is Kari Kiker, a former collegiate racer and the new volunteer coordinator for AVSC's myriad activities.

The show will air at 7 p.m. on GrassRoots TV, channel 12 upvalley and channel 82 below Catherine's Store, or anytime at grassrootstv.org.