Keystone, freestyle ski center part ways |

Keystone, freestyle ski center part ways


KEYSTONE – “Boing” goes the freestyle center.The Landon Sawyer Center for freestyle skiing has moved out of Keystone after insurance negotiations between the two sides of the project – the Landon Sawyer Foundation and Vail Resorts – crash landed when dealing with the necessity of safety harnesses on trampolines.The move was announced Tuesday after two years of planning, which included a signed five-year lease, an installed weight room and trampoline, closure of the old Keystone Tennis Center, fired tennis instructors and ideas of turning Keystone into a mecca for world-class athletes.”We procured our own insurance,” said Ken Sawyer, who created the foundation in the memory of his late son, Landon. “Vail (Resorts) felt they were not comfortable with their own internal insurance to allow us to go forward. Frankly, a breaking point occurred because we cannot offer the kind of training the elite athlete needs.”At issue are “spotting belts” that support an athlete training or conditioning on a trampoline, said Lisha Burnett, spokesperson for Keystone Resort. Burnett said Vail Resorts corporate officials wanted the athletes to use the belts for protection in every instance.”There are risks involved with having athletes on that equipment untethered, Burnett said, “and those were risks that Keystone Resort wasn’t willing to change its mind about.” After a summer of wondering and waiting, Sawyer terminated Joni Ellis, the center’s director of operations, in early November and sent a letter to Keystone explaining the decision to close the center’s doors, according to Roger McCarthy, chief operating officer of Keystone and Breckenridge.Keystone management consulted with the U.S. Ski Team, McCarthy said, and found it uses spotting belts in all its training. McCarthy said the foundation carried $6 million in insurance.”If it’s a catastrophic injury, that doesn’t go very far,” McCarthy said.John Dowling, Team Summit’s freestyle head coach, said he’s never seen a trampoline injury in the 21 years he’s been coaching the sport, and that trampoline training is a vital part of any freestyler’s regimen.”Skiing is way more dangerous,” he said. Team Summit athletes, Dowling said, still have it good. They have snow from November to June in most years and, in all actuality, the center would have provided a supplementary opportunity for off-the-hill training.”People would never come to a center with no snow,” he said.With the decision final, the Sawyers are back to searching for a home for the freestyle center, which would have served as the anchor for the foundation. The foundation – formed after the Sawyer’s son, Landon, died in a skiing accident in 1999 – is designed to help athletes and coaches with education, safety, insurance, training and sponsorships.After months of negotiations between attorneys, Ken Sawyer said: “I have one mission which is fundamental: The money from the foundation has been declared to be always going to the athletes for programs, and that means I don’t want to spend it on lawyers anymore unnecessarily.Now whatKen Sawyer approached Keystone two years ago after meeting Dowling at a competition in Montana. Ken and his wife, Linda, proposed the idea of the center. Dowling suggested Keystone.The Sawyers liked his idea so much they decided to build a center unrivaled in Colorado. They wanted to centerpiece the project with an outdoor water ramp and found the old Keystone Tennis Center to be a prime location. It was close to the resort and had the necessary space, access and parking to accommodate summer camps.Users of the tennis center, however, didn’t like the proposal, and neither did area homeowners. In fact, about 100 homeowners filed a lawsuit against Vail Resorts, but the suit was denied in February because Fifth Judicial District Judge David R. Lass said homeowners must wait for the training center to be built first.Major construction never happened, except for the gutting of the old tennis center and the installation of some equipment – mainly, a floor trampoline and a weight set – and rezoning of the land. The center was rezoned as a recreational facility after approval by Summit county commissioners on Oct. 13, 2003.That zoning remains and, since it’s under the ownership of Keystone Resort, now serves as an empty plot with potential. Keystone is exploring other options for the land, and McCarthy said “we’re not going back to tennis.”Both McCarthy and Ken Sawyer said the outcome was gut-wrenching and disappointing.”If they said they would try it with a harness, we are open,” McCarthy said.”What I’ve learned is that I think you have a real question whether a for-profit entrepreneurial business can partner up with a charitable foundation and find bridges to accommodate everyone’s issues,” Sawyer said. “It’s a philosophical business point I wondered about going in.”McCarthy said Vail Resorts does not have plans for the property and won’t even think about it until after Christmas.”This is not a deep-seated, big-company plot. Now the building is sitting empty after all the time working on it,” McCarthy said. “It’s disappointing.”Jim Pokrandt contributed to this story.Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 257, or at

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