Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ski training site planned for Elkhorn

Project touted as boon for community, resort


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

This sketch shows a possible design for a new ski training facility in Elkhorn Village.

The Elkhorn side of Dollar Mountain is being prepped for a new ski-training site as well as snowmaking capabilities, following an agreement between the Sun Valley Ski Academy and Sun Valley Co.

The ski academy, established by the Community School last year, entered into a memorandum of understanding with Sun Valley Co. to upgrade the Elkhorn slopes, according to a news release issued by the academy.

The academy will raise funds to cover much of the cost for a snowmaking system on the site. In exchange for providing the funding, a portion of the Elkhorn hillside will be set aside to be used primarily by the competitive alpine and freestyle ski teams.

The ski academy, the Community School and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation want to provide more opportunities for competitive skiers and snowboarders who attend the school, as well as for members of the foundation.

Many racers and coaches have eyed Elkhorn for a training site because of its varied terrain. But inconsistent snowpack has always posed a problem, according to ski academy Executive Director Steve Shafran.

Shafran said he is willing to donate to the ski academy a parcel of land immediately adjacent to the base of the Elkhorn lift.

"I bought that land with a view to building a training center on there for the academy," he said.

The site has foundations for townhouses that were never completed. The land has to gain approval from the Sun Valley Elkhorn Association to allow a change of use to a training center. Shafran said his donation of the land is contingent upon that approval.

Association President Pam Bailey said she is enthusiastic about the plans.

"To have access to Dollar from the Elkhorn chairlift all season long will contribute to the Elkhorn community and be a benefit for Elkhorn homeowners and guests," she said in the release.

Shafran said he hopes construction on the training center could begin this summer, and be completed by summer 2013. He envisions snowmaking to be in place by next winter.

Millions of dollars would need to be raised for the project, he said.

"We've not finalized what the capital campaign would be," he said.

However, he said that to fund a new training center, snowmaking and a dormitory, it could run more than $5 million.

"It's a big deal for the mountain, for the town, for the school and the ski team," he added. "Each step is a little victory. I'm really excited about where we are."

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Sun Valley Co. may be willing to lease the old Elkhorn golf clubhouse to the ski academy for use as a locker room until a new training facility is built.

"We're in discussions," resort spokesman Jack Sibbach said Tuesday.

As envisioned, the new training center would include locker and wax rooms for alpine, freestyle and snowboard teams, a 2,200-square-foot gym, a video room and offices for coaches and staff.

Alpine and freestyle mogul skiers would train on the Elkhorn side of the mountain, while freeriders and snowboarders would use the Elkhorn lift to access the halfpipe and terrain park on Dollar from the training center.

Local architect Janet Jarvis is working with the academy and the foundation to design the facility.

"A great center can be designed on the existing foundations," Jarvis said in the release. "The building will be designed to maintain a consistent look and feel with the surrounding properties."

Sun Valley Co. employees would continue to manage and maintain the Elkhorn runs.

Company General Manager Tim Silva said it looked at snowmaking on Elkhorn about five years ago, but the project was not pursued.

"When the academy came to us and offered to make a substantial contribution towards this improvement, we took a second look," he said in the release.

Benefits will extend to the resort's guests, he said, who will have more terrain to ski as well as a chance to watch elite skiers and snowboarders train and compete.

"This will provide a boost to Sun Valley's reputation as a home for competitive skiers and snowboarders, and is consistent with our efforts to attract more events to the area," he said.

Ski foundation Executive Director Don Wiseman called the agreement "a game-changing development."

"We have said from the beginning that the [Sun Valley Ski Academy] was going to enhance and increase opportunities for all of our athletes," he said. "[The ski academy's] efforts to bring snowmaking to Elkhorn and make this new training center a reality is a major indicator of their commitment to expanding opportunity and access for all youth snow sport athletes in the Wood River Valley."

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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