Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sun Valley: Where Olympians come to train

SVSEF earns designation as Olympic training site

Express Staff Writer

After nearly a year and a half of applications and site visits, the Ketchum-based Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation has been officially designated as an Olympic and Paralympic Nordic training site.

“Sun Valley already had a strong reputation for its world-class training facilities,” said Don Wiseman, Ski Education Foundation executive director. “This designation confirmed our region’s commitment to affording American athletes the ability to take advantage of the area’s natural resources, as well as the community spirit, excitement and passion for cross-country skiing.”

Sun Valley is the 15th Olympic training site in the United States, but the first Nordic-specific one.

Official designation had been expected in May or June. Wiseman said the delay was due to the complexity of the process. 

That process began in early 2011 when the foundation partnered with the Wood River Ability Program, the Blaine County Recreation District, Sun Valley Co. and Sustain Blaine economic development organization to develop an application to the United States Olympic and Paralympic committees.

The Wood River Valley, including the cities of Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley, has more than 125 miles of groomed Nordic trails. The area has also served as a training ground for local athletes who have gone on to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Winter games, including Morgan Arritola, Simi Hamilton and Paralympic athlete Andy Soule, who was the first American to win an Olympic or Paralympic medal in biathlon.

According to a foundation press release, training sites must not only be able to offer excellent training facilities, they must have a high level of coaching, media exposure, local funding opportunities and high-quality sports science and medicine.

Alicia McConnell, the United States Olympic Committee’s director of training sites and community partnerships, visited the area in February to view its Nordic facilities and meet with members of the foundation.

McConnell said she was impressed with the quality of the facilities, and Wiseman said at the time that McConnell seemed “blown away” by the facilities and the area’s dedication to training.

“What they saw were the partnerships in the valley, and that’s what they want to see,” he said in an interview. “They want to see communities that promote Olympic spirit.” 

“The Wood River Valley has shown a strong commitment to assisting America’s finest athletes pursue excellence,” McConnell said in a written statement Tuesday. “We applaud their efforts and look forward to a valuable partnership with both the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.”

The association is the governing body for professional skiing and snowboarding, and the foundation needed to sign a contract with it as well as the Olympic Committee. According to Wiseman, that contract would simply alert the association that the foundation would be expand its Nordic training program. The contract between the foundation and the Olympic Committee sets out terms of athletic standards and use of the Olympic trademark rings.

Luke Bodensteiner, USSA executive vice president of athletics, said in a written statement that he believes the designation will only help improve the area’s ability to churn out Olympic and Paralympic-level athletes.

“The designation will provide focus to Sun Valley’s effort to continue to enhance their training venues and athlete support programs,” Bodensteiner said. “Sun Valley has been a strong part of the Olympic development pipeline and this partnership will open up additional opportunities for athletes looking to train here.” 

The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation was established in 1966 and provides year-round training and competition opportunities for youth athletes in the Wood River Valley.

Kate Wutz:

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