Ground is broken on a bright future for USSA, Utah |

Ground is broken on a bright future for USSA, Utah

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

Superlatives were the currency as ground was broken for the one-of-a-kind Center of Excellence near Quinn’s Junction, with U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt, the governor, the mayor and a stellar lineup of national-team skiers and snowboarders participating.

Emcee Tom Kelly, USSA’s chief spokesman, noted the sun-bathed earth-turning was taking place 939 days from the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

Everyone was in agreement: the national training and education center offered a look at some futuristic technologies and will be a jewel for Utah, boosting the state’s image around the globe. Its impact will be far more than boosting the training opportunities for U.S. skiers and riders, they said.

"There’s no one who can come close to what we will have," Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said, calling it "unlike anything else in the world." Since the Olympics, things have gone well for Utah, he said, noting, "It’s ongoing and every year it gets better and better…

"We can see what the future holds, and with the companies that make the equipment all of these athletes use coming to Utah [e.g., Rossignol to Park City, Salomon to Ogden], it’s a totally integrated marketplace…and that’s very good news for the future."

The governor, with his right arm in a sling following rotator cuff surgery, didn’t even blink in claiming it would make Utah the world’s No. 1 winter-sports destination. But Huntsman may be forgiven his gold-medal cheerleading because participants and spectators acknowledged the new facility – billboarded by Marolt as "the most important project in USSA history," which goes back to 1905 – will have a major impact on the state.

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Park City’s Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, asked, "What’s not to like in this center? It’s such a slam-dunk deal and one more sweet dividend from USSA’s longtime commitment to Utah…and to Park City."

"I think it’s off the charts, no matter how you look at it," echoed Bob Wheaton, president and general manager of Deer Valley Resort. "As we start the 21st century, this is far, far from just another gym."

Marolt called it "a landmark day" for USSA. "When people drive out there," he said, pointing toward the junction of U.S. 40 and State Road 248, east of Prospector, "and they see this building, they’re going to say, ‘Now, that’s an organization that knows where it’s going. It’s an organization that knows what it wants to do. It’s an organization that’s going to achieve.’"

Mayor Dana Williams cited ex-Mayor Brad Olch for his work in helping attract the 2002 Olympics and in supporting various USSA initiatives during his 12 years in office.

"We’ve realized our future is based on these types of things being here," Williams said. "The fact we’re an Olympic venue community is something we take very seriously – and it’s basically a very honorable thing, and we understand that."

Earlier, though, there was something almost bordering on supernatural as USSA staffers arrived shortly before noon Wednesday for a dress rehearsal of the groundbreaking, complete with golden-colored shovels. Next door, on one of the softball fields being used by the Triple Crown softball tournament, one team was getting its game faces on, exhorting each other with "Fired up!…Fired up!…Fired up!…WE’RE FIRED UP!"

It could have been a motivational tape from USSA because Marolt, his staff and the elite-level athletes across 15 teams supported by USSA had been waiting for the groundbreaking for a while.

When weather forecasts early in the week said rain might be an issue, Becky Wooley, USSA’s trail boss for the groundbreaking, ordered a huge tent as a backup to cover the groundbreaking. It never was unpacked as blue skies and gusting winds, which held off some of the day’s heat, formed a perfect backdrop for the ceremony.

The $22.5 million structure is scheduled to open in March 2009. It will be a three-story building covering 85,000 square feet and housing an unequalled array of training facilities, a nutrition center, sports medicine and sports science labs and rehab areas, an equipment testing area, meeting facilities and conference rooms.

A Star Wars-style communications center will take videos and digital data from various points, not only within the center – thanks to a battalion of cameras in nearly every room, but from anywhere on the planet, and then make them available to various parties via secure online access. And the third floor will be administrative offices currently being filled at 1500 Kearns Blvd.

Fired up? Not an issue. When the USSA board gave its approval in May for building the Center of Excellence, Marolt & Co. shifted into warp speed to schedule the groundbreaking. Coincidentally, it helped open the annual Partner Summit at Deer Valley Resort, which the organization runs each summer with its various corporate sponsors and licensees.

Howard Peterson, general manager of Soldier Hollow and a former president and CEO of USSA, pointed out that while the building will be near Quinn’s Junction, the overall center also includes his complex, the 2002 Olympic cross-country and biathlon venue, as well as Utah Olympic Park.

"We were the first part of the Center," he said. "We opened our roller-ski loop Saturday." The USSA partnered with Soldier Hollow to extend the paved roller-ski loops to 7.5 kilometers with a very tough uphill stretch that ran for upward of 1.5 Ks. Marolt and U.S. coaches hailed the new x-c loop for the intensive terrain it provides in addition to the basic safety consideration of getting athletes off roads and onto the non-motorized trails.

In the Eighties, Peterson helped drive the U.S. Olympic Committee to demand permanent legacy facilities from any city seeking USOC support for holding a Winter Games. He also brought the USSA back to Park City from Colorado in 1988, leading to the merger of USSA and the U.S. Ski Team, which has had a presence here since 1973, when the national alpine and nordic training center was created in abandoned mining-era buildings at Park City Ski Area.

"It was fun to see Brad Olch, who was mayor at the time when we were saying, ‘Let’s have this happen in Park City’ and the first step was consolidating USSA and the Ski Team, and then having a leader like Bill, who could maximize that," Peterson said.

"In a way, we teed it up and Bill kicked it through the uprights."

Andy Walshe, USSA’s first full-time sports science director and then high performance director, surveyed facilities around the globe in drawing up plans for the Center of Excellence.

"This facility is an icon for winter sports," Walshe said. "It will be a focus for the athletes, the stakeholders, the parents, the [nationwide winter snowsport] community…

"The strength of the building is it’s being designed around an elite athletic function as the No. 1 goal, as a priority goal, but more importantly, it’s designed to give that community access to the information and essentially the best practices we’re implementing at the top of the game.

"At the end of the day, that’s where the strength of the center lies: in its ability to draw great athletes to a central location, and in doing so to disseminate that information out to the people who are going to be the next champions," according to Walshe.

There are impressive bells and whistles to the technology, Walshe said, "but the key is the ability to tie the functions together – the elite athletes, the stakeholders and the community support…and the responsibility of our organization to share with our stakeholders what we’ve learned and get it into the development pipeline."

Bob Wheaton added, "I’ve been fortunate to watch these plans coming together. For all of us in town, in my opinion, there isn’t a bigger thing. This Center is huge for the sport, and it’s obviously huge for U.S. Skiing and Snowboarding…but it’s huge for Park City, too."

All shovelers donned hard hats – after all, it was a construction site – with Park City athletes, including Olympic champion Ted Ligety and former moguls world champ Nate Roberts, participating.

The mayor earned mythical gold medals for smiles-laden comments. Asked about the Center of Excellence, he nodded and smirked, "I wish we could call City Hall that"…and asked by a reporter if the center and the other growth at Quinn’s Junction were an appropriate gateway "statement" for Park City, Williams, referring to the hodgepodge at Kimball Junction, said he replied with a question of his own: "Have you seen the other [gateway]?"