On Nov. 15, The U.S. Ski Team officially opened its new downhill ski racing-focused Speed Center at Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado. Intended as a kind of “hometown” advantage for training U.S. racers, the Speed Center could also help to cement Colorado’s profile as a World Cup hub.
Aspen already hosts the annual Aspen Winternational World Cup stop, with slalom and giant slalom races for women scheduled in 2011 for Nov. 25-27. And Beaver Creek hosts the annual Birds of Prey speed events for men, scheduled in 2011 from Dec. 2-4. In 2015, Beaver Creek will also host the World Alpine Ski Championships. But now, with the Speed Center purporting to offer the only alpine ski racing facility on the planet with full-length downhill training available in November, international racers could be spending even more time on Colorado’s slopes.
“It certainly provides Copper with a unique kind of placement in the industry, and in the sport,” United States Ski & Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt said in an interview with SNEWS.
SNEWS originally broke the story of the Speed Center’s construction on May 20, 2011, in an interview with Marolt, and caught up with him as he drove to the ribbon cutting (photo above).
Marolt said that U.S. Ski Team members and Olympic medalists such as Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety were already training on the run, and that practice sessions had also already been booked by several elite teams.
“As more European teams start to use this venue, it will get more international exposure, and become even more important as a regular preparation point for the season,” said Marolt, who added that with the infrastructure for the center in place, the goal is to have it open each year by Nov. 1.
Including 87 snowguns, two miles of A-Net with steel structures and five miles of B-Net set on 4,500 netting poles, the Speed Center was built to mirror downhill courses around the world. The biggest factor in its ongoing operation is Copper’s 9,712-foot base elevation, and the promise of cold enough temperatures in the fall to warrant firing up all of those guns.
Now that it’s starting to happen, Marolt said, the U.S. is on the verge of realizing a “game-changing” level of training.
“This offers our athletes a unique opportunity for early season training that could provide an advantage now and for years to come,” Marolt said. “When our elite teams don’t get quality training time in the summer, or even when they do, they can come back to Colorado and get that much more time to refine their technique for the season.”
John Cumming, president of Powdr Corp., which owns Copper Mountain, and Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street were among the ski luminaries who participated in the ribbon cutting. The only black mark on the event was when three Copper Mountain employees stole an estimated $6,400 worth of Ski Team uniforms and equipment from a conference room. All three were charged with felony theft, which carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison.
For the USSA, Marolt said that now that the Speed Center is up and running, the association will increase its focus on building a sports academy somewhere near Park City to help wintersports athletes train at the same time that they focus on getting an education.
“We want to build out an education opportunity, so that we can offer our athletes the opportunity to get an education,” Marolt said. “That’s the next step. A lot of parents get to the point where they think that if their kid goes far enough, then they’ll have to decide between becoming an Olympian, and getting an education, and we don’t want them to have to make that decision.”
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