Will the next indoor ski facility be a game-changer for training in North America?


Consulting with the racing community for design, Alpine X’s Fairfax Peak is expected to open in 2024-25

Regardless of the age or level of ski racers, when it comes to training, there is nothing more precious than snow. As teams around the world are well aware, this hot (cold) product is rare, not to mention expensive access all year round. Snow hunting has historically taken teams from around the world to the Southern Hemisphere, European glaciers, and Mount Hood for training in the summer and fall. Increasingly, alpine teams of all skill levels are also looking for training opportunities and indoor ski domes, which are rare in North America.

From the sounds, however, new indoor options are on the horizon and could open major doors for American alpine runners of all skill levels.

For several years, the American slalom team has devoted a summer training block to a session at Snow Valley, an indoor ski dome in Belgium.

Snow Valley indoor ski dome in Belgium.

“Almost every World Cup slalom team trains there,” US Alpine head coach Paul Kristofic said of Snow Valley. “Ski domes are unique in that you can do a very high volume of repeatable workouts on snow. You can get a lot of shorter runs in a very controlled environment on super consistent snow. You can do two sessions per day. They are really good at testing skis. You can control the surface of the snow. It is much more difficult to control it in an outdoor environment. Glaciers are freeze-thaw or glacial ice conditions, which you don’t run on often.

Additionally, access to glaciers is costly and limitations related to Covid-19 and changing regulations across Europe continue to make the prospect of training abroad even less attractive.

The snow inside has become more and more attractive during the pandemic. Many Northeastern ski academies have started training at Big Snow American Dream, the first indoor ski park in the United States located in a mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey. While the site is designed for beginner and recreational skiers and boarders and does not have the ability to control the snow surface for alpine training, academies find value there.

New Jersey Training Center

“The main goal is to eliminate the time between contacts on snow,” says Jim Sullivan of Stratton Mountain School, whose U14 riders began training in Big Snow this summer. “It turned out to be a great transition experience. It’s great for exercising. You can get 30 races in two hours. We will rent all the space for a three hour block with other academies. The snow is not injected, but you cannot be difficult to ski in August. We are going back in October.

SMS athletes training in Big Snow, New Jersey this offseason.

The Stratton team had planned a training camp in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, but “given the uncertainty of international travel” instead went to Big Snow and “were pleasantly surprised at how much we’ve accomplished there, ”Sullivan said.

Over the next decade, there will be many more options for indoor ski training, according to John Emery, CEO of Alpine X, a company that plans to build numerous indoor snow sports facilities in the US. United States, starting with the flagship site in Fairfax, Virginia. .

A new dawn awaits you for access to snow all year round

The opening is scheduled for late 2024 or early 2025, Fairfax Peak will be a 400,000 square foot snow dome comprising an adjoining 200 to 300 room hotel, restaurants, a tubing track, roller coasters, a snow park, at least one high speed chairlift and several ski slopes. Still in its planning phase, Emery estimates a price tag of $ 230 million for the installation.

Previously CEO of Great Wolf Resorts – a company specializing in indoor water parks – Emery’s primary focus for snow facilities is to make skiing and snowboarding more accessible to people of all backgrounds and socio-economic levels who do not ‘might never have the chance to ski or ride. outside.

“Someone coined the term ‘democratization of skiing’. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do, ”says Emery, who grew up in Fairfax and describes himself as a recreational skier who“ visits Colorado every two years and sticks to the blues. Maybe a black one.

“We want to take the exclusivity out of the sport,” he said. “We are trying to develop resorts where all members of the community, regardless of their socio-economic status, can step in. The most significant impact on the racing community is the number of opportunities that more children will have to become competitive skiers or snowboarders. They can’t at the moment because they don’t live near ski resorts. What excites me are the kids who grew up in places like Fairfax – maybe Latin American immigrants – who take part in our program and develop a level of skiing. It’s not just about providing fantastic year-round training for existing enthusiasts, but opening the door to the entire community.

Built on an old landfill, Fairfax Peak will offer a vertical drop of over 200 feet – more than most indoor snow domes in the world. Big Snow, for example, is about 160 vertical feet and Snow Valley about 180 feet.

The largest covered hill in the Western Hemisphere

“It will be well north of 200 [vertical] feet, noticeably taller than Big Snow. The exact height is not yet determined, ”says Emery. “Most importantly, we are working with competition coaches in the racing community to design the length, angles and drop, and we also make sure that we are set up for the right kind of snow quality. That’s all you can think of in a facility to create a good training environment.

Sullivan, along with a handful of other longtime coaches, is a member of the Alpine X Advisory Board, helping to guide facility design to meet the needs of competitive alpine teams.

“I saw their design and appreciated the extra length and vertical. We’re having a good time in New Jersey, but something with 30 to 40 percent more vertical and twice the length is appealing from a runner’s perspective, ”says Sullivan. “They will actually have two tracks, one of which they can maintain for the runners. We talked about ancillary features like places to video and even the potential to run a race there.

Sullivan believes Fairfax Peak and similar ski domes in the United States could be a game-changer for domestic racers.

“I am optimistic and enthusiastic,” he says. “I anticipate these facilities will be great resources for ski academies. This will not replace extended trips to the West or Europe, but will reduce expenses and make the world of ski racing a little more accessible.

Joe Paul, Managing Director of Team Gilboa, brought his team to indoor training in Snow Valley, Belgium on just one occasion. In winter, its athletes train in Hyland Hills, a ski area in Minnesota with a slope of 42 meters of vertical drop. So a facility like Fairfax Peak could more than fill the off-season snow training void for the large Midwestern running community, many of whom cannot afford training camps in the West or in Europe.

“There is general agreement that one thing that makes good skiers besides starting them young is the time spent on the snow,” says Paul. “Now the teams are going to Europe specifically to ski indoors. Just recently, teams are heading to Big Snow, New Jersey. People are realizing that there is more demand for something like this. If teams in the United States knew there was an indoor training facility, at least part of which was equipped or set up for alpine training, they would certainly fly to Virginia. Once it’s there and it’s built, if it’s dedicated to training, I never see it NOT being in demand. “

The future is bright for urban skiers

Paul says a training camp at Mt. Hood costs each athlete in Gilboa about $ 350 per day, including skiing, meals, accommodation, and training costs. Training camps in Colorado are also expensive due to the high costs of accommodation. Besides the cost of the plane ticket to Europe, he says the cost of training at a facility like Snow Valley is relatively cheap, with his accommodation and meals package running around $ 100 per day. and by athlete.

Emery says one of the main draws of Fairfax Peak and Alpine X’s additional indoor snow facilities, which have yet to be announced, is that they are located in urban centers, which means it There is a large airport nearby and plenty of accommodation (including the adjoining Fairfax hotel), making them particularly affordable for alpine teams who would otherwise travel to the glaciers to access the snow.

“In Fairfax, there are two great things to build on a landfill. No. 1, it has a natural slope, which we all want. In addition, the landfill places us at the center of the population. This makes it really affordable. I want people not to have to stay with us. We have millions of people who live within 20 minutes who can come ski for two to three hours and dine for under $ 100, ”he says. “The good thing about being open every day of the year is that we can split our costs more than a traditional seasonal resort. We train future runners and skiers.

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