How Colorado’s Golden Peak may produce even more gold medalists
It’s already considered one of the best early-season training hills in the world. Now, imagine three more runs and an additional 700 vertical feet.
This past summer, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) and its partner, Vail Resorts, formally submitted a proposal to the U.S. Forest Service to expand its training and competition venue at Golden Peak.
With an early November start date — thanks to a state-of-the-art snowmaking system, north-facing slope and high-elevation temperatures — Golden Peak is known for playing host each fall to an international cast of racers looking for a hard training surface in the beginning of the season.
The proposed expansion would extend the existing race hill nearly to the top of the mountain, therefore accommodating downhill training and racing, which would be homologated up to women’s World Cup and men’s Continental Cup.
Of course, the newly developed hill space would be outfitted with the same high-tech snowmaking system that has made the lower half of the venue such a huge success. Coupled with an inherently higher elevation, the proposed expansion also begs the question of how much earlier — and how much later — athletes could be running gates in Vail.
It’s hardly a new idea, but one that has hit roadblocks. In 2009, the Forest Service rejected a similar plan due to runoff concerns that would have resulted from increased snowmaking.
“The proposal has been submitted to the Forest Service, and there is a rigorous process it has to go through,” says Aldo Radamus, executive director of SSCV. “It was a rigorous process when we initially proposed the plan seven years ago, which really identified areas of concern and real issues that needed to be mitigated. That work has taken place in terms of the management of the runoff. We’re hopeful, with the Forest Service, that we’ll be able to achieve approval.”
If all goes according to plan, construction will begin during summer 2016 and the venue will be functional the following winter, a little more than two years from now.
The project calls for two new surface lifts. One will access the top of the mountain; the other will service freestyle athletes, sparing them from needing to repeatedly contend with the congested base area.
A computer rendering shows members of the community the new-look Golden Peak. Courtesy of SSCV.
Above the terrain that already exists on Golden Peak, there would be three new trails: one dedicated to technical training (presumably earlier and later in the season than the current trail near the base); one for speed;, and one that incorporates features for acrobatic sports, as well as skier and boarder cross features, helping serve the club’s recently announced cross programs.
In the past, SSCV has simply used the lower half of Golden Peak to train speed at an abbreviated length. The new speed trail will allow athletes to routinely run gates on a competition-length course while also playing host to FIS events throughout the season — theoretically, anything and everything short of men’s World Cup downhill.
“The ability to be able to provide that training, whenever it’s appropriate, on a season-long basis is something that only exists a few places in the world and no place in North America,” says Radamus. “It really gives us an opportunity to introduce speed elements to our kids as appropriate to their age and ability — and to host events, which is becoming more and more difficult. The number of resorts able and willing to host speed events is continuously getting smaller and smaller.”
The proposed course, according to Radamus, will be a great development-level downhill track, suitable as a Continental Cup venue, but not the most challenging on the circuit. The venue has all the makings of the World Junior Championship site, with several good elements: technical turns, compressions, jumps and side hills, as well as sections of gliding.
Right out of the start would be a 200-meter feature called Elevator Shaft. At a 100 percent grade, or a 45-degree pitch, it would be the steepest single pitch within the Vail Mountain boundary, says Radamus. Right after Elevator Shaft: a compression and a jump.
Lara Gut was among the international racers who stopped by to run gates on Golden Peak.
Radamus compares the section to the Golden Eagle jump and the Abyss on Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey, with the same foot in the same direction. It’s followed by a rolling section with some gliding turns into an off-camber turn onto the one flat on the course — the access road into the GS start.
Speed, according to SSCV Athletic Director Brandon Dyksterhouse, is just one benefit of the project. The new Golden Peak would bring training improvements to all of the club’s five sports while potentially providing late-season opportunities, perhaps complementing Loveland Ski Area just over the pass, which is the current leader in alpine training for late April through May.
“It will allow us to also provide, in house, our mogul lane, skier-boarder cross course, our park lane, halfpipe, as well as alpine,” says Dyksterhouse. “The best part about all of this, what Aldo and the crew have been able to create in November — arguably the premier training ground in the world — very quickly, we could have that in the spring, as well.”
As part of the Golden Peak overhaul, SSCV has also submitted to the town of Vail a plan to redevelop its outdated clubhouse. The project, made possible in part by a land donation by Vail Resorts, will be entirely financed by the development and sale of primo, ski-in-ski-out residential real estate above the clubhouse — in fact, it’s feasible that the project could ultimately turn a profit for the club.
Already one of the best early-winter training sites in the world, Golden Peak in Vail could be getting a major upgrade, with 700 additional vertical feet, enough to host FIS downhill events.
“It has gone from a potential fundraising initiative to one that may actually contribute to the financial health of the organization,” says Radamus. “We still have a long way to go in terms of planning. If everything goes as we hope, then at the end of the season we’ll be moving out and starting to redevelop the clubhouse.”
SSCV is targeting an April 2015 start date for the new clubhouse, with the intention of having it up and running by the following winter. That’s a dramatic improvement for the club — from 7,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet.
For many in Vail, the expansion of Golden Peak would further complement other major capital initiatives and fulfill a dream that has been in the works for a very long time.
“We’re hopeful,” says Radamus. “I can’t say we’re confident. This is a project that has been two years away for over three decades now. Again, the clock is ticking and we’re within two years, and we’re more hopeful than we ever have been.”
Club and community members gather at the Minturn Fitness Center on Sept. 14. Courtesy of SSCV.
Strength in numbers
SSCV also made news this fall with the opening of its brand-new Human Performance Center at the Minturn Campus. The 8,500-square-foot facility represents the latest in strength and fitness training for club-level athletes and a sizeable upgrade from the club’s former gym, an 800-square-foot room at the base of Golden Peak.
The town of Minturn, whose citizens have access to the new gym, paid half of the $2 million bill. “Engaging with the community, we’ve had a really solid response,” says Radamus. “We’ve received feedback from the non-athlete members saying it’s inspiring to be in the environment where the athletes are working.”
For Dyksterhouse, the most immediately noticeable change for the better has been in relief to the schedule. At the old facility, 10 athletes at a time (out of roughly 600) had to be circulated through, creating obvious management challenges for the club.
Ezra Cope, a VSSA student and SSCV mogul athlete, makes use of the new fitness center in Minturn. Geoff Mintz/SR
“Right now, we can have so many more athletes track through there, so that alone is huge,” says Dyksterhouse. “The staff has always been pretty progressive in their training approach, but now with their lab, the TRX room, the movement studio, I think that’s where we’re progressing as a sport, more preventative measures. When I grew up, it was throwing rocks and running down a riverbed, more of the Kostelic approach: If it doesn’t kill you, it’s probably good for you. Obviously, we’re trying to keep the kids in the sport and healthy.”
Lindsey Vonn, Sarah Schleper, Abby Ghent and Alice McKennis have already trained at the fitness center — as have a host of ambitious young athletes whose names may soon carry similar stature.
“It’s pretty much comparable to the Center [of Excellence] that I train at in Park City,” says Ghent, a Vail native and SSCV alum. “But it’s got a little more of a local vibe. I get to hang out with all the people I grew up with. It’s nice to have a home gym.”
SSCV Executive Director Aldo Radamus helps cut the ribbon at the Minturn Fitness Center, now open to club athletes and local gymgoers. Courtesy of SSCV.
With massive infrastructure improvements and program growth during the last decade, Radamus admits that simply being bigger isn’t always better. One of the goals of his tenure has been reducing the cost of ski and snowboard competition — not an easy task for a sport trending the other way.
“A lot of the investments we’ve made as an organization have been in broad initiatives to reduce the cost of the sport,” he said. “A great example is how Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy being a publicly funded snowsports academy significantly reduces the barrier of continuation in the sport.”
Athletes warm up with a quick spin at the new SSCV Minturn Fitness Center. Geoff Mintz/SR
Radamus also points out that the investment in the early-season training venue at Golden Peak also makes competitive skiing and snowboarding more affordable for the kids — and their parents — in Vail.
“Those initiatives have reduced the cost to the athletes,” he says, “and have been a significant driver of the growth that we’ve had — it’s become accessible to more. That continues to be an effort of the club’s in terms of improving accessibility and insuring we have the ability to support performance and not limit advancement by means.”