US Ski Team partners with Copper for training run

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 14 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

At the top of the course, the snowmaking guns are already churning out a steady stream of snow flakes. Soon, the blowers will kick in on the lower portion, as well.

This is far from cheap, even given the short window of availability. The operational costs will run close to $350,000 annually.

"But it's one of those investments we've made that absolutely impacts directly on athletes and their preparation," Marolt explained.

And while the target date could fluctuate, there soon will be a skiable cover of snow on the ground. There's not much precipitation in the forecast over the next few weeks.

"Whether or not Mother Nature comes to the ball early, we'll still provide a great product," Rodgers said.

Working with the U.S. Forest Service, the resort removed 1½ acres of trees to make the course wider. It also navigated around three patches of moonwort, a small perennial fern that's environmentally protected.

The course begins on the upper part of a trail called "Andy's Encore," meanders through a section dubbed "Oh No" and winds up on "Rosi's Run," with the finish line situated almost on top of the first tee of Copper's golf course.

The cost of the endeavor will be split between the resort and the U.S. Ski Team, which will receive support from its sponsors.

For the team, the expenses mainly center around providing infrastructure, items such as the 20,000 feet of new fencing to protect the skiers, as well as the water lines and power cables to run the snowmaking guns, which one of the team's partners is helping provide.

In turn, the resort will produce the snow and maintain the course with two winch cats keeping the terrain in race-ready condition.

Eventually, the venue could be a revenue generator. The team plans to lease the course to other interested countries, possibly even using it as a bargaining chip. If another nation wants to use the slope for, say, three days of training, a deal might be brokered to use that country's facility later on in the World Cup season.

Those details are still being ironed out.

For now, the terrain will be open to the World Cup squad, along with USSA clubs and regional programs.

And no restricted access, either.

"With this, we can go out at a realistic time and have all day to train," Marolt said. "With this, we give our athletes more of an expanded opportunity than we've ever had in the past. It gives us an opportunity improve to our chances internationally and in the Olympic Games every year.

"That's why this is a game-changer."

AP Sports Writer Pat Graham can be reached at http://twitter.com/pgraham34

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