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Freestyle center would be a top Summit attraction

John Dowling

I’m writing this to shed a little light on the discussion of the proposed freestyle center at Keystone. So far, you’ve printed an article, a few letters, an editorial, and conducted a poll, so I figure that people are entitled to a few details.

I’ve been working on the project since I first heard that The Landon Morley Sawyer Foundation

(www.Landosmojo.org) was planning to build an international freestyle center somewhere in Colorado.

Ken and Linda Sawyer, the foundation founders, had already begun talks with Steamboat and Winter Park about the project. As head coach for Team Summit Freestyle, this worried me.

We were already struggling at a disadvantage to better-off programs like Aspen, Vail, Winter Park and Steamboat – something like this center might just ruin us.

I immediately talked with the Sawyers and told them that I was interested in bringing the project to Summit County. I had no idea of how to proceed, but when I talked with Arapahoe Basin Director of Operations Alan Henceroth about the center, he mentioned that Keystone was in the midst of closing down its tennis center and might be looking for a new project on that site.

To reiterate: the tennis center was already going to close before the idea for the freestyle center was broached.

Alan put me in touch with Keystone Chief of Operations Chuck Tolton. Chuck informed me that the idea of a training center dovetailed perfectly with Keystone’s mission to revitalize the resort with offerings for youth – a vision that already included building North America’s largest terrain park and was looking at building a permanent aerial site.

Chief Operating Officer Roger McCarthy, who oversees Keystone and Breckenridge, joined the discussion and threw the weight of Vail Resorts behind the project.

McCarthy, Tolton, Henceroth, Ken and Linda Sawyer, Chuck Martin and Kristen Brown (Colorado based freestyle coaches) and I worked on refining the vision for the project.

From the Sawyers’ point of view, we gained the perspective that the center should revolve around getting great coaches and educators to run programs there – that the sport has to develop its sport science and share its findings throughout the freestyle community in order for the sport to progress.

From Keystone’s point of view, the center needed to be vibrant and involve youth culture with a skateboard park, access to many groups of athletes, teams and individuals.

The coaches saw that the center had to have the draw of snow training to lure in teams from across the country and globe. Everyone could see that Summit County, Keystone in particular, is the perfect place for it.

The Utah Olympic Park in Park City, The Antigravity Center in Carrabassett Valley Maine and the Wingate Institute in Tel Aviv, Israel, are some of the successful sport centers that we’ve been examining as models for the freestyle center.

These sports centers offer programs for athletes, teams and individuals from different sports and nations as well as for local kids and adults.

Should the project go forward, we plan on installing equipment for trampolining and tumbling, weightlifting, balance and plyometric training.

If the initial offerings succeed, the plan could expand to more facilities such as water ramps, a skatepark and a playing field.

There are a number of groups, both local and international, already hoping the center succeeds so that they can pursue training opportunities with the center.

Team Summit alone has over 300 athletes in freestyle, snowboard and alpine that would like to train there.

Likewise, Quantum Winter Sports is interested. Ben Way from Summit Gymnastics is interested. Beth Flaherty, coach for the Summit High Gymnastic Team, has expressed interest.

On the international scene, the U.S. Mogul Team, the Australian Aerial and Mogul Teams, Japan’s Jr. National Team and Canada are all hoping to secure training with the freestyle center.

Just working on this project has been a great experience for me.

I’ve been coaching in Summit County for 12 years. During that time, our freestyle teams have put more athletes onto the U.S. Mogul Team than any other program in the nation.

Yet if the team were to fold tomorrow, there would be no trace that we were ever here – no jump hill, no academy, no facilities whatsoever.

So, yes, it’s exciting to see Keystone providing a real future for freestyle by supporting a project that offers Summit kids a best-in-the-world training scenario.

It’s refreshing to see Keystone offering something unique, when so many other developers seem only to be making each place more homogeneous with syndicated retail stores and strategically placed Starbucks.

Besides, what better thing for a ski resort to build than a ski training center?

Sure golf is fun, as is mountain biking and tennis and everything else, but why ignore skiing?

Frankly, a center for almost anything else here makes less sense. We have skiing here from October to June or even July. We have more skiing than anyone. Skiing is the thing we’re best at here in Summit County.

We produce more world-class athletes in skiing and snowboarding than any other sports. As a coach, I know it’s important to shore up your weaknesses so they don’t prove your undoing, but it’s even more important to know your strength and play it to your advantage.

I hope this letter helps explain the intent and the possibilities for the proposed freestyle center.

Moreover, I hope that even those who may not use the facility and see a direct benefit will be able to see the overall benefit of the project.


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