Community December 16, 2015
Going for Gold
A Proposal to Take Valley Athletes to the Next Level

The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) and Sun Valley Economic Development (SVED) are working hand-in-hand to bring forward a project that would launch the young, and the braver old, into the air and, potentially, onto professional careers.

After receiving the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site designation for snowsports in 2010, SVSEF has officially put itself on the map as a breeding ground for future world medalists by being one of 14 such sites in the country. Of course, a lack of this status hasn’t kept the progeny and residents of the Wood River Valley from mounting the podium adorned with the iconic rings. From Kaitlyn Farrington’s Olympic Gold in 2014 and reaching back to Dick Durrance’s Olympic trips in 1936 and 1940, local snow stars have been bringing fame, and hardware, back home for more than half a century.

However, there’s no question that having the stamp from the U.S. Olympic Committee  sends a clear message to the ski and snowboard world that this is the place to be if you have elite snowboarding or Nordic, alpine or freestyle skiing aspirations. Not content to stop there, these nonprofit organizations are hoping to set a new standard for training with a proposed facility to help athletes get vertical, upside down and onto the ground in a safe and fun environment.

The proposal is to build a new “air barn” in the parking lot adjacent to the north side of the Wood River YMCA—a piece of property owned by the city of Ketchum—to house ramps, foam pits and features that would be of great value to skiers, snowboarders, BMX riders, skateboarders and anyone else looking for a way to train with coaches on how to flip, spin and soar in their chosen disciplines.

The SVSEF currently operates an air barn in Elkhorn at Sagewillow, but after a number of upgrades to keep up with the development of young athletes, the organization is eyeing a project of a larger scale that would not only benefit their members, but the entire community as well. Growing from the current 10,000-square-foot space to the proposed 25,000 square feet could also see the incorporation of a human performance laboratory to bring a sophisticated level of sports science to the SVSEF program and athletes throughout the entire Wood River Valley.

“The air barn has had overwhelming response, but we need room to grow and improve because we are limited by space,” said Zach Crist, director of development for SVSEF. “We need to think where we’ll be in five years. I think we should create something that will become a landmark in the competing resort communities.”

To do this, SVSEF and SVED have begun talks with Woodward, a company that operates four locations throughout the country and one in Beijing, and specializes in running facilities and camps that train and teach the skills needed for “inverted” sports, such as doing a backflip out of a halfpipe.

“Why not take it as far as we can, target that elite athlete, and make it unlike anything else out there?” Crist said. “We have history that every resort wishes they had and can become a breeding ground of champions once again. This will help us stand out among other resorts where it’s becoming more and more competitive.”After multiple meetings with Woodward, Crist, along with SVED Executive Director Harry Griffith, are excited about the opportunities it could create for the community. In addition to improving the abilities of local athletes, a facility like this would provide camps for visiting families, potentially increasing year-round tourism.

“The air barn has had overwhelming response, but we need room to grow and improve because we are limited by space.”

Beyond the actual participants, this project could also bring a significant economic impact, according to Griffith. “This is massive in terms of an infusion of new bodies and, ultimately, new residents,” Griffith said. “We anticipate this would create 25 to 30 jobs, both direct and indirect, along with an economic impact of $40 million over 10 years, with revenues exceeding $1 million after the first year.”

Crist and Griffith are quick to emphasize that this project will take investment from the community. But instead of taking what might be considered a more traditional donation approach, these groups are looking at a local investment model where the community can come together, participate in financing the project and benefit in the upside, both from an overall economic impact standpoint and a financial return on the success.

“If this becomes a reality, we can begin to import instead of export athletic talent,” said Crist, noting that athletes like gold medalist snowboarder Farrington had to move out of town to have access to the necessary facilities.

“We will no longer be sending our stars to sports academies elsewhere; they will be coming here instead.”

This article appears in the Winter 2015-2016 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.