PARK CITY, Utah (July 18) - The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association broke ground last Wednesday on its $22.5 million Center of Excellence - "the most significant event in our 102-year history,” according to USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the national training and education center will be "unlike anything else in the world today” as athletes prepare for more Olympic success.
"No national governing body has anything to rival this Center of Excellence,” World Championships medalist and three-time Olympian Bill Demong (Vermontville, NY) told a sun-bathed gathering of several hundred.
"And, speaking as an athlete, this will be something extra special to help accelerate our drive for greater athletic success.” He and a glittering array of U.S. Olympic skiing and snowboarding athletes including Olympic champion Ted Ligety (Park City) joined the governor, Marolt and Park City Mayor Dana Williams in a symbolic dirt-turning ceremony.
The Center of Excellence, due for completion in 2009, is expected to be the cornerstone for greater U.S. skiing and snowboarding success at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia "and beyond,” Marolt said.
Marolt: Groundbreaking is "landmark day
"Today is a landmark day in the history of our organization,” Marolt said. Reflecting on the 10 years between planning the Center and its groundbreaking, he pointed to "tremendous support” and said, "I stand here with a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, but knowing we've had a tremendous team of individuals and organizations and people that made this all possible.”
He urged athletes and alumni from the 15 national teams, which the USSA supports, to stand and be recognized. He praised their success, but added, "What we're doing now is we're going to provide you another opportunity; we're going to provide you a facility in which you can train harder, you can work together at a higher level...and you can achieve at a higher level.”
Marolt, a 1964 Olympic ski racer who has headed the USSA since 1996, said the Center of Excellence will be "a showcase for our sports” to demonstrate to athletes and the national snowsport community, to show what we do as an organization. It is a physical manifestation of our commitment to be the best.
"When people drive out there [at the junction of U.S. Route 40 and State Route 248, east of Park City] and they see this building, they're going to say, ‘Now, that's an organization that knows where it's going. It's an organization that knows what it wants to do. It's an organization that's going to achieve.'”
The U.S. Ski Team established a national alpine and nordic training center in former silver mining buildings at then-Park City Ski Area in 1973. The Center of Excellence will be a three-story structure with not only physical training facilities - aerials and snowboard ramps and tramps area, strength work, gymnasium, recovery room - as well as a cardio center, nutrition center, equipment and research areas, sports medicine facilities and Space Age communications facilities that will enable members of the USSA's 400-plus grassroots clubs nationwide to have online access to real-time video and presentations.
"This facility will be an icon for winter sport,” said Andy Walshe, who has spearheaded development of the high performance elements of the Center. "It will be essentially a model for elite sport development and a model for stakeholder and community participation in the sport...
"The strength of the building is it's being designed around an elite athlete function as the No. 1 goal, as the priority goal, but more importantly, I think, is it's being designed to enable the greater community - the parents, the clubs, the younger athletes - to have greater access to the information and practices we're implementing at the top of the game.”
Demong sees Center as cornerstone for success
Huntsman prefaced his remarks by noting "I wish this Center were done today.” The governor said, "a one-of-a-kind facility will be built here unlike anything else in the country, unlike anything else in the world today.”
Combining the athletic prowess and the brain power necessary to perform these sports, skiing and snowboarding,” with the state's "majestic” mountains will help solidify the image that Utah is "the premier winter sports destination in the world,” he said.
Demong said he was excited beyond the simple reality of the Center because it will provide an opportunity for the USSA to give back, to "branch out - back to the clubs” where all athletes got their start. He got a rousing ovation when he held up his silver medal from the 2007 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Sapporo, Japan last March and credited not only his coaches but new training equipment and the opportunity to train with other national team athletes.
"I think what we see most importantly about this Center of Excellence is the future holds a lot more - not only hardware [medals] but success for ourselves and for the kids and the athletes who follow down this road,” Demong said.
Mayor Dana Williams said Park City is proud of its long history with the USSA and, for him, one of the most touching developments in recent years "was, for the first time, we saw our children become part of that. And I don't think when Ted Ligety won that [2006 Olympic combined] race there was a dry eye in the State of Utah.” Looking forward to having more Park City skiers or snowboarders join the U.S. teams "is just probably the most supreme thing I've seen in the six years since I've been in office.”
Ligety, one of a handful of athletes participating in the groundbreaking, said he had "great” hometown pride and was excited about the Center being built in Park City.
"I think it's great. It's a cool facility and it's awesome having it in my hometown. I don't have to move anywhere to get the world's best facility. That's really cool.”
Former moguls world champion Nate Roberts (also Park City) added, "I wish I had this when I was younger - not to take away anything from what I've been given, but to have a training facility - summer and winter...well, you can't beat it.”
Peterson: Soldier Hollow is "a total part” of Center
The Center is the natural progression for what former USSA President and CEO Howard Peterson spearheaded in the mid-to-late Eighties. With his leadership, USSA began urging the U.S. Olympic Committee to acknowledge the need for permanent legacy training facilities from any community, which received its support in bidding to host an Olympics. Beyond Park City, the USSA is partnering with Soldier Hollow - the Olympic cross country venue in nearby Midway - for expansion of training facilities, including a newly paved high-level uphill trail for intensive workouts. "Soldier Hollow is a total part of the Center for Excellence,” Peterson said.
"This isn't just another gym with a fancy strength room,” Marolt said. "There is no other place where coaches and athletes will find the tools to succeed like what they'll have at their fingertips when the Center of Excellence is completed in 2009.”
The Center is being funded with private donations from a Legacy Campaign undertaken in 1999, he said, "so no money is being diverted from athletic programs.” In fact, the Legacy Campaign already is adding $1 million a year to the U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Snowboarding programs.
The Center of Excellence in being built on a five-acre parcel of land donated by the Burbidge brothers near the junction of U.S. Highway 40 and State Route 248. Mayor Williams was saluted for his off-the-radar coordinating and liaison in helping bring together the two sides - USSA and the Burbidge brothers - to seal the deal. Marolt also cited the Burbidges because the USSA's prototype strength and conditioning facility was built in a 10,000-square foot bay at their cement plant not far from the new site. "You've been part of the USSA for a long, long time,” he said.